How To Handle Tough Questions And Disagreements In Your Presentations

Kenneth speaking to 220 Immigration Officers

Kenneth speaking to 220 Immigration Officers

Do you know that the number one fear in people is the fear of public speaking. It is ranked even higher than death itself. Speaking in front of people is already difficult, but how do you handle it when your audience throws at you challenging questions or even disagrees with what you say? What do you do when people start walking right out in the middle of your presentation?

As a speaker and trainer, I have my fair share of people disagreeing with me. When I speak at seminars or conference to hundreds of people at a time, there will always be that small bunch of people who will either say that they know it all or just cannot agree with me. There’s nothing we can do to them, but being prepared for such things is extremely important.

For most people, when others disagree with them, they tend to freeze and then fumble to get a right answer. Our brains are not naturally wired up to handle rejections and disagreements. Therefore, when this happens, a lot of people tend to blank out and not know how to react appropriately. In addition, when emotions set in, it is really difficult to give a clear answer to your audience.

Here are some scenarios that I have experienced before and hope that it will give you an insight on how I defuse potentially tough situations while maintaining credibility with the audience. Do note that the following is not rocket science but more of a way of doing things. I am not saying that it will always work but it has worked for me and I sincerely hope that it will work for you as well.

1.       A person stands up and disagrees with your certain parts of your presentation openly.

The first thing is to thank the person for their statements and then understand the reason behind the disagreement.


Firstly, we need to set a safe environment to allow people to express their views. If I were to thank a person for their views when they disagree with me, they will tend to be more relaxed and know that I acknowledge his/her views. The unseasoned speakers will tend to quickly disagree with the person raising their objections. This will make the person become defensive and find all ways to prove his/her theory to be true. This is unnecessary conflict we can avoid.

Secondly, I have learnt that if a person is disagreeing based on his or her experience/opinion, I will tend to allow and agree with that person. Why? This is because all our experiences in life are pretty much relative. I will usually say “That’s a valid viewpoint and you could be right. What I was sharing just now was based on what I experienced and found to be true to me.”

By painting a personal experience that I have personally found to be true and good, will quickly help others to know that if it works for me, it might work for you as well. Remember, experiences are never right or wrong. It is how we interpret the events and learn from it that makes it true.

Tip: Remember not to use absolute statements, eg. This is the ONLY right way to do things. You are actually inviting trouble.

2.       A person asks a question that you do not understand.

It is best to ask the person to repeat the question or rephrase it. After that, you can also rephrase the question and ask this person whether you have understood the question correctly. This is a simple process but yet a lot of Asians tend not to do it. We tend to just jump into answering the question without fully getting it.

Here’s a simple phrase I use:

“I heard your question but I don’t get it. Would you mind repeating the question or rephrasing it for me? I will appreciate it.”

Tip: Clarity is important before you reply. Ensure you are answering the right question.

3.       A person walks away out in the middle of your presentation.

We need to always focus on the crowd than allow a particular individual to affect us. Most people will tend to think that person particularly dislike/hate/_________ (fill in the blanks) their presentation and gets affected by it.

You have to remember that if the entire audience is still paying attention to you, we should not let a single person affect you. However, if you notice that more and more people start to leave, it is good to just ask what is happening. The worst thing as a presenter is to be oblivious to what is making people leave.

I had in a few times notice that people left and only to come back. This could because they had to take an urgent call or even need to go to the washroom. Take heart and not let it affect you. There are those who left and decided not to come back. The only thing I could do is to wish them well.

Tip: Consider the forest first before you look at the individual trees.


Being prepared in advance is crucial to help you handle tough questions. I honestly think that you can only get better by doing it and wish you all the best in handling people’s behaviours and questions.