When Your Audience Disagrees With You

Jane Sheffield
Lead Trainer & Owner
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You’re mid-way through your presentation, when suddenly…a hand shoots up.

“I really think you’ve got this wrong,” the audience member says.  They then proceed to ask a question that challenges your presentation!??!!! 

What should you do? 

A natural response is to put up your barriers. Prepare for battle. Respond defensively, with something along the lines of, “I don’t think you have correctly understood me” as your face heats up and your blood pressure rises.  

But defensive answers can escalate issues, make things personal, and create tension. 

So instead, why not try leaning in and embracing the disagreement. 

If you have spent the time preparing for questions (which is always a great idea), this can be an opportunity to really pull your audience in.

Ditch the defensiveness, and try this approach instead: 

1.      Actively listen to the question.

Instead of thinking, “they don’t agree with me”, spend your listening time clarifying the issues they have identified.  E.g., “They are questioning the accuracy of the data I have used”.

2.      Paraphrase the question back to them.

This approach ensures you have understood them correctly and gives you more time to answer.

E.g., “You’re questioning whether this data provides an accurate picture to address this business issue – have I got that right”? 

3. Open the the topic up for discussion.

Try this, (whilst nodding) “I’m really glad you’ve brought this up. You’re making an important point.  Let’s talk about the data we’ve used, and why we have used it in this context”.

This sets the scene for a valuable discussion, rather than a personal argument. And if you do it well, you will win over the group.

Stop presenting. Start talking. Jane

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