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How to Handle Difficult Questioners

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presentationtraining1In every audience, there are types of “questioners” – not just the actual question —  who can distract from the speaker’s key messages and have the potential to sidetrack the presentation.  Here are some tips on the different kinds of questioners and how to handle them.

  • The Detailer:  At every presentation, there’s a questioner who argues details such as facts and figures.  The point is usually minor; deal with it quickly and move on.  If you are sure of your facts, stand by them. If there’s room for disagreement offer to resolve the issue after the session.  The worst thing you can do is get into a debate; once you’ve offered to see the person later, bridge to the larger issue.
  • The Filibusterer: Questioners who filibuster never get around to asking a question; they instead take advantage of the Q&A session to make their own statement or presentation.  Your response should be firm and polite to take back control of the room without alienating the audience by being rude. Handle a filibusterer by using a technique called the “Relay Race Baton Pass.” At the appropriate moment – usually after 25-30 seconds of their monologue – look at the filibuster, address him or her by name, and repeat a few of his/her words verbatim before bridging to the general issue.  Speak louder and more forcefully as you adjust your gaze to the rest of the room.
  • The Negator: A negator uses the Q&A session as a forum to make a negative statement that is not really a question. Unlike difficult legitimate questions, it is difficult to answer a statement made by this type of questioner and the issue is often not relevant to the rest of the audience.  Ask the person if it would be possible to discuss this further after the session due to time constraints, and then bridge the issue back to the main topic.
  • The Supporter: A questioner who gives you a compliment may not seem like a ‘difficult questioner’ but it is still important to make sure that you handle it properly.  A speaker’s instinct may be to thank the person and move on but it’s important to thank the supporter for the statement and use the compliment to bridge to additional positive key messages.
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