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Presentation skills: How do I handle tough questions and interjections?

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presentation skills

The top fear for presenters is questions or interjections that are loaded. Emotionally loaded. Individuals (and whole audiences) can be skeptical, resentful, annoyed, angry… the list is long.  Here’s how to respond so that you gain respect, even from those who still disagree with your argument.  

By Michael Douglas Brown

How not  to handle them. The classic mistakes 

Don’t get angry.  If you show anger, annoyance, or even irritation, you might as well wear a sign: I’ve lost control.   
Don’tget defensive.  Yes, defend your argument, but lose the defensive manner. You’re defensive if you show anxiety. It says you’re not coping. 
Don’tpretend you didn’t hear the emotion. It’s credibility suicide. Many managers and executives fall into this trap by responding only to the face value of the words. An example: 

Interjector:  (frustrated tone), “We’ve tried that procedure four times already.” 

Presenter: (fixed smile) “Actually it was three times. Now, about the schedule…” 

Bad response. The presenter might as well wear a sign: I can’t cope with the way you feel. And now the audience thinks: You don’t care how we feel. Many managers think it’s better to keep the emotions out of it, stick to the facts, then we can get things done.  Wrong – emotions are at the centre of being human. They’re in the room. Pretending otherwise will damage you. 

How to respond in a way that generates credibility and respect for you 

1. For most loaded questions and interjections 

Make it obvious you noticed the emotion behind the words. As you answer, show – only with your tone and body language – that you heard the emotion. You could show that with raised eyebrows, a slight pause, more animation, a slightly raised tone, a nod.  

For most tough questions and interjections, your tone and body language changes alone are enough to acknowledge the feelings involved. 

A nod? When the interjection is negative? 

Yes. You’re accepting an emotion, not agreeing with an argument. It’s subtle, it’s very strong, it connects. Audiences crave it in their speakers.  

Accept the feelings, argue the facts  


2. When the emotions are strong and ‘in your face’ 

Verbally acknowledge the emotion, then answer 

An example: 

Interjector: (angry tones)  “You can’t be serious! How the hell are we going to keep up the payments?” 

You: (warm, intense, animated)  “Yes! That’s the biggest concern for most of us… [looking around] …agreed?  Well here’s how. I’m looking at…”   

Use words like, “difficult”, “frustrating”, “skeptical”, “annoying”, even “angry”.  Phrases like, “Yes, that must be frustrating…”   ”Sure. It won’t be easy…”   ”If I thought that, I would be skeptical too…”   
But isn’t that being negative?  Won’t be undermining my own argument? 
No (unless you’re looking anxious, of course).  You’re not agreeing with anything. You’re simply recognising the emotion as a natural part of your presentation. This is top rate EQ in a presentation context.  

Resolve never to be feel threatened by the emotions and feelings in the room. It takes courage, but you have everything to gain in personal authority and credibility. 

Michael Brown has run hundreds of intensive training workshops on presentation and media skills. He lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. His books are available on Bookboon: How to prepare for your presentation,  How to connect with any audience,  How to handle questions and interjections. How to deal with the media and boost your PR 

Image by: Wave Break Media Ltd /

How to Prepare for your Presentation

This guide is the result of 100s of intensive training workshops, for thousands of people from many nations. The methods are universal, and suitable for meetings, presentations and formal speeches.

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