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Graham Neil discusses on the spot?

Many presenters deliver great presentations building atmosphere and increasing the attention span of their audiences. Finally their journey comes to a well-rehearsed end, and the moment arrives when the finely polished lines and routine are complete.

But what happens when your audience begin to ask you questions in the dreaded Q & A session? How do you deal with difficult or sometimes even hostile questions? After delivering a solid presentation how can you make sure that you won't buckle at the finish line?

Presentation Article and Advice about Your Audience

On the Spot?

Graham Neil, Presentation Consultant,
One of the toughest moments as a presenter is when your presentation ends and the compere asks the audience, "Does anyone have any questions they would like to ask?"

Those first moments of anticipation, as you look around the audience with an expression that you keep open as if to encourage questions, whilst your heart begins to pump a little faster and you secretly hope that no hands will rise, can sometimes last an eternity. And then, suddenly, the first hand comes up. You put on that pleasant welcoming smile, as you hide your disappointment, and several more hands begin to rise.

The compere points to the first hand, and asks what the question to you is.And so it comes. A question not as you had hoped. Not one to support your presentation, but to question one of your arguments, to call dispute on one of your key points. A question not only difficult, but hostile in nature.

What do you do? How do you respond? How should you react? How can you make sure that your presentation is remembered positively, and keeps the conviction of your audience that you have worked so hard to achieve? How can you overcome this final hurdle?

There are three very simple techniques to remember when standing as a presenter answering a Q & A session.


If you are asked a hostile question, or asked one that apparently or more deliberately questions the basis of your presentation, your response must not be to empower the aggressor.

By entering into a one-on-one discussion with the questioner, you raise them above your audience singling them out in your response, giving their question and person greater power. When responding to aggressive or hostile questions, your aim must be to "defuse" their hostility.

By including all of the audience in your response and maintaining eye contact with your listeners, you will keep their attention, and in keeping their attention, will also keep their trust.

Include your audience in your answer, your points are most likely of benefit to everyone who saw or heard your presentation, and in doing so you will take the focus away from the questioner, and bring the relevance of your points to all.


Let the questioner know and acknowledge that their question, or concern, is valid before answering.

But isn't this suicide?

Absolutely not. When you acknowledge that a question is important and of relevance. The questioner feels that he or she has already done their job. They have had their say and made their point, and got your acceptance that their points were at least as valid if not more important than yours. But were they really?

Again, by acknowledging the questioners concerns, you will not appear defensive or argumentative. In actual fact, as a member of the audience this in itself exudes confidence. Confidence confirms your commitment, and your commitment confirms your conviction.

Responding with the attitude of "yes", the questioner is entitled to their concerns, and so in response you will now share the benefit of information that will be helpful to them, again acknowledges their argument, but illustrates that it is one heard before, and one which has been responded to before, or previously thought through. This again will diminish the power of the aggressive question to the audience as its appearance becomes one that is seemingly obvious, and one that they should themselves have thought to ask rather than one that is overly intelligent, or revolutionary in finding a fatal flaw or hole in your presentation and arguments.

Bridge to your benefits

No matter what the content of a hostile question, you must respond to the question and then bridge to a single or number of positive elements and aspects of your presentation or one of the benefits to your listeners.

In transforming a negative point into a positive response, you clearly illustrate the benefits of your presentation, and purpose of sharing your knowledge and information at the event. Whilst the questioner, if persistent, will only illustrate a negative and destructive meaning, and one which either the compere will quickly interrupt with a diplomatic, "Well time is running against us, are there any more questions?", approach, or call an end to the Q & A session, leaving your reputation, presentation, and ideals intact, whether the questioner's argument is of relevance or not, and more importantly, if their observation or objection holds true meaning.

Many presenters make the mistake of believing that their work is complete on delivery of a presentation. But no matter the visual appeal, or the involvement your presentation may achieve.

You can never rehearse or be prepared for every possible question that may be launched at you, as you stand unshielded before your audience. However, in practicing these techniques, you can prepare to handle doubting, aggressive, and hostile questions, and rather than take a weakened and defensive approach, use the experience to leave your audience in no doubt that the validity of your points only underline, support, and strengthen your presentation.
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