How to Handle Loaded Questions in Innovative Presentations

Whether you call them hostile, inflammatory, or emotionally-charged questions, some of innovative presentation questions are biased and designed to instigate trouble, discredit your points or recommendations, put you on the spot, make you defensive, or even attack your credibility and competence.

Always expect the unexpected attack. Be ready and stay calm and cool.

Luckily, belligerent questions seldom happen, unless a controversial topic or unpopular position is being advocated.

How to use humor to defuse the innovative presentation questioner

Humor can amusingly reveal the true intended nature of an unfair question and show that you are unafraid and confident enough to deal with it. With a smile, you can say something like, “That sounds like a trap to me. Surely, you’re not trying to make me fall into it, are you (with a bigger smile)?”

Or “Jane, before I answer, I’m afraid we’ll have to call in the bomb squad to defuse that loaded and explosive question (said with a big smile).” Stronger still is this example, “Wow. Sounds like that question should come with a fighting piranha, although it has enough bite to it by itself!”

How to employ crowd psychology in innovative presentations

If you think the hostile questioner is alone in his attempt to disrupt you, query the group with, “To better understand the potential impact of that question, let me ask the rest of the group, ‘How many of you feel like that to that extent?’”

If you get no one or just a few out of many people raising their hands, you can say, “I see that no one else is concerned about that or feels that way. So for the sake of all the others, I can’t spend their time on it. However, I will be happy to discuss it with you afterwards. So, we have to move on right now.”

What this tactic does is to leverage indirect peer pressure and confirm silent disapproval of that person’s unsavory goal. Usually, that’s enough to dissuade him from continuing, especially if a senior manager is present. If you find a surprising number of other people sharing that person’s feeling, try rephrasing the question. The question may indicate others feel a negative attitude toward the topic of discussion, not toward you.

How to rephrase the innovative presentation question to neutral or even positive aspect

Say you’re giving a sales presentation and one of the decision makers in the group prefers your competitor. He says, “I notice your company’s net profits have grown by an average of only about eight percent over the last ten years, while your competitors have averaged twice that percentage. Your firm doesn’t appear that successful, does it?”

So respond, “You’re right about the rate of growth of our company. I’ll answer that, but I think an important aspect to consider when deciding on a company like ours is to ask, ‘Who can provide you with the products and services that’ll give you the best returns on your investment over the short- and long-term,’ rather than simply focusing on a firm’s profitability by itself, perhaps out of context.

“You see, our CEO and board decided to forsake three years of partial profit growth, which averaged more than 20 percent per year prior to that, to put extra money into research and development so we could come out with new and improved products for customers like you.

“Actually, 40 percent of all our products over the last two years are new, and we innovated and improved 35 percent of our other offerings. That’s why our profit margins have decreased; we invested potential profit to out innovate our competitors. So, let me summarize again the four reasons our proposal to you today is the best one among all the vendors you are talking to ….”

How to handle a legitimate confrontational question about your innovative presentation

You may get an angry question directed at you, not to sabotage you or your presentation, but because the questioner is righteously indignant about some issue.

For example, someone may surprise you at the beginning of your presentation and say, “Your group was responsible for integrating that new company we bought six months ago into our corporation. I see nothing but delays and a series of problems that are jeopardizing the effective integration of their people, plants, and culture into those of our company. How did your team mess this up so royally?”

If you suspect this is a justified comment, it’s always better to bring it up yourself and answer if before someone else does. In this example, though, you were blindsided prematurely. So, the painful and rather humbling thing to do is admit fault and accountability and reply with a proposed fix such as, “You are absolutely right!” With that direct, immediate admission, you defuse a chunk of a questioner’s anger.

You continue, “I certainly understand your frustration and that you have good reasons for your displeasure.” With that, you show empathy and likely dissipate even more anger.

“We dropped the ball. Let me explain. We missed the targets for these reasons: One: Several faulty assumptions made by our corporation and theirs. Two: Insufficient human resources to get the job done on time and target. Three: While we were behind in our project milestones, we believed we could make up for it in the remaining four weeks.” With that you explain the situation without giving an excuse.

Finally, you communicate your solution to the problem, “So how do we make it perfectly right … and right fast? Let me concisely explain our new eight-part plan that was carefully crafted to address the situation.”

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