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Master Tough Questions in Four Steps

by David Binder     Apr 1, 2014 8:20:00 AM

 It probably has happened to you during one of your presentations: a difficult question you did not expect, asked in a challenging tone. Hopefully, you maintained–or even built—your credibility by the way you responded.

Or, you stammered and stumbled your way into an abyss and it felt like days went by before you could crawl out.

Here is a four-step process that will help you be as prepared as possible to respond when challenged by well-meaning but impatient members of your audience.

  1. Understand the Question: First, be certain you understand the question by saying in your own words what you think they’ve asked (paraphrasing). You’ll only make a frustrated questioner even more frustrated if you respond before being crystal clear about what’s being asked. 
  2. Acknowledge the Emotion: Since tough questions are typically accompanied by some kind of (often negative) emotion, you should also acknowledge how the questioner is feeling. Skipping this step often exacerbates the situation. (Doubtful, skeptical, or unfair are typical words you might use.)
    • Here is an example:
      • Question: “John, this seems really complicated! Do you REALLY think this idea is going to save us $100,000 in order fulfillment costs?” 
      • Paraphrase: “Mary, you seem skeptical about our savings projections and concerned that execution of the idea may be too difficult. Is that right?” Paraphrasing both the content of the question and the underlying concern often disarms a hostile questioner, which clears their brain and allows them to focus on what’s next: your response.
  3. Pause: Before you respond, though, take a pause. Pausing for a second or two allows you to gather your thoughts, and most audience members appreciate that!
  4. Next, reply using our PREP model: a foolproof method for giving a complete, concise answer with confidence.
    • P (Position): “My position is that the process is simpler than you think, and that yes, we will meet those savings goals within one year.”
    • R (Reason): “The reason I say that is that we have created an order tracking process that is easy to use.”
    • E (Evidence): “For example, we tested the process and it took each of five production engineers 3 hours less time on average to complete an order. This allows us to fulfill 4X more orders in a shorter period of time.”
    • P (Position): “So again, my position is that the process is simpler than you think, and that yes, we meet those savings goals within one year.” 


The fact is, you can never be 100% prepared. You learn from applying the model, and paying attention to the outcomes. In our PowerSpeaking workshops, participants learn and practice the model and get feedback from both trainers and their colleagues.

Related Blog Post: Warm Up Your Voice For Credibility, Connection And Influence

About the Author

David Binder

Topics: Presentation, Career Advancement, Executive Presence, Handling Questions, Presentation Tips

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