Even the most seasoned communicators can find themselves in a variety of demanding and difficult situations. What sets you apart from others is the ability to handle these situations while maintaining your confidence and credibility as a communicator. Here are a few examples of demanding situations:

  • You are sharing information that is debatable or is a “hard truth” for the audience.
  • Your audience is skeptical or unfriendly to you, your organization and/or your topic.
  • Your audience is “checking out” of your presentation via a side conversation, a cell phone, checking e-mail or simply nodding off.
  • You are not able to effectively convince or sell your audience on your ideas or position.
  • You have one or more detractors in the audience who are interrupting you, discounting your information or posing questions before you are finished.

Situations like these sometimes occur so it is important to be prepared in advance should you find yourself faced with a difficult audience. Here are a few tips that can help you prepare.

  • Buy yourself some time to think. Pose clarifying questions such as “Can you specify why you are opposed to this?” or “When did you observe this?” Ask for examples or details to help flush out their opinions giving you time to pull your thoughts together.
  • Disengage from detractors. Acknowledge the disagreement without judging. Remember, it is your job to present information without getting into arguments with one person at the expense of others. You can also open the discussion up to a wide audience; chances are somebody else will argue your point for you.
  • Give audience-focused answers. People care about how things impact them or their beliefs, and not so much you or others. Phrase your answers to questions in such a way that audiences see benefits to them.
  • Mirror your audience. Validate their question or comment, but bridge to your answer with phrases such as, “I hear your concerns. We are confident our approach will work,” or “That is an interesting concept, but we are taking a different path.”
  • Know your material from both sides. In advance, play devil’s advocate in an effort to prepare yourself for expected opposition. Prepare what some of the responses will be and how you plan to answer them.
  • Establish a protocol for questions. At the start of your presentation, request that people raise their hand before commenting or questioning or designate time at the end for questions. If someone does interrupt, tell them you will address their point shortly, but stick to the main points of your presentation. If dissenters insist on questions, let them know you’ll be happy to speak to them privately afterwards or during a break.

What tricks have you learned to think on your feet quickly? Tell us in the comments below, or tweet us using the hashtag #mcgblog.

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