Hostile audiences: 4 tips for answering tough questions

Haters gonna hate. Hecklers gonna heck. So what the heck can you do about it? Here’s some advice.

They were understandably nervous in the weeks leading up to their talks, but one part scared them more than any other: the question and answer period.

If you’ve ever done public speaking before a hostile audience, you already know that the Q & A portion is one of the toughest parts of your assignment.

Try not to fret; here are four tips to effectively manage a hostile audience.

1. Don’t rush to offer platitudes.

Imagine you’re furious about a policy and attend a public meeting to air your grievances. If you ask your question and the speaker begins his or her answer with, “I totally understand your concerns,” there’s a good chance you’ll think (or say), “No, you don’t. How could you possibly understand? These policies will affect me more than they affect you.”

It’s not that it’s a bad idea to express your understanding. It’s that you shouldn’t do it too quickly—which leads to point No. 2.

2. Ask diagnostic questions.

When angry audience members complete their questions, don’t answer them right away. Consider asking them a question instead, which makes clear that you really are interested in their concern.

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