By Joey Asher

Category: Q&A

You’re giving a presentation involving lots of complex data. Suddenly, a hand shoots up.

“I really think you’re missing a major point here,” one listener says. And then he proceeds to ask a question that he thinks undermines your entire presentation.

What should you do?

Look to the heavens and say, “Thank you!”

Hostile questions can be a gift.

Assuming that you’re prepared for the questions (and preparation for questions is critical), a hostile questioner will make your presentation unforgettable. It’s like watching a bull fight. People will be riveted.

That’s why we say, “Embrace the pushback.” Rather than get defensive, lean in to the question.

Say, “I’m really glad that you brought this up. You’re making an important point. Let’s talk about that.”

And I’m here to tell you that if you handle that person well, your presentation will be a smash hit, guaranteed.

I once gave a presentation where I said, “All capabilities presentations suck. No one wants you to tell them all the things your company is capable of doing. They just want you to know what you can do for them.”

That statement drew a derisive response from one listener. “You don’t really understand our business. Many times we go in to see a client that knows nothing about us. And we have to educate them about us.”

Now this gentleman probably didn’t have to be so harsh with his objection. But he was raising a common and legitimate concern. Indeed that is the whole reason that capabilities presentations exist. “We need to tell you about us first.” I just feel that no one likes to hear them. Ever! They’re the poster children for bad presentations. They’re what make people think, “I’ll never get that hour of my life back again.”

They also fail to grasp the idea that a good presentation takes the client on a journey that should start with the client’s concern. And you can usually accomplish the same thing with a more focused message.

But I didn’t get defensive. Instead I said, “Of course you’re raising an incredibly important point.”

And we then went off on a valuable discussion.   That discussion won over the group. They were all watching and listening carefully. And they ended up seeing my point of view.

The ability to handle a tough situation well is one of the surest ways to win over an audience. Executives in the restaurant industry have known this for years.

I was working with an executive at a large steak restaurant chain. And he told me about how he once thought it would be a good idea for every restaurant to intentionally burn one steak every night.

Why would they do such a thing? Because the stumble gives the restaurant a chance to provide great customer service and impress the customer.

“We apologize,” he said. “We then give them a free dessert and coupons for discounts when they return. People love that stuff because it shows how much we care. They actually become more loyal than they would have been had everything gone perfectly.”

Similarly a hostile questioner is a chance for you to shine. And if you do it well, then you will win over the group.

Speechworks is a communication and selling skills coaching firm. We teach professionals how to craft and deliver complex messages in a simple, persuasive manner. Since 1986, through workshops and one-on-one instruction, we have helped countless individuals become better presenters and communicators. You can reach us at 404.266.0888, or on the web at

Joey Asher

Joey is the President of Speechworks, a communication and selling skills coaching firm. He has worked with thousands of professionals, helping them learn to communicate in a way that connects with clients and audiences. He is also the author of four books on communication skills: “15 Minutes Including Q&A: a Plan to Save the World from Lousy Presentations,” “How to Win a Pitch: The Five Fundamentals That Will Distinguish You from the Competition,” “Selling and Communication Skills for Lawyers,” and “Even A Geek Can Speak.” He can be reached at 404-266-0888


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