HAVE you ever watched a colleague wrap up a fabulous meeting, field a few questions with flair, and then, just as he is ready to end, you see a hand waving from the end of the board room.

“So Bob, everything you’ve said so far makes sense, but could you explain how this protocol could have been effective with that situation in production last week?” someone asks.

Unprepared for this curve ball, you watch as Bob stammers and stutters next to his pie charts, with an incoherent ramble that mars an otherwise star performance.

Public speaking is a common fear among those in the business sector for good reason. No one likes to be peppered with questions for which they are unprepared.

What’s a major key to minimising that fear? Preparation.

Here are a few practical tips for facilitating question-and-answer periods in which you expect difficult, even hostile, questions from sceptics.

People ask hostile questions for any number of reasons:

* They disagree with what you have said or have wrong information.

* You have not established credibility with them.

* They have misunderstood you.

* They think they are “saving the day” for their organisation.

* Their personality makes them always look for the cloud in every silver lining.

* They have a hostile tone and facial expression without realising it.

* They are angry with someone else and are taking it out on you – consciously or unconsciously.

* Their question is neutral, but you have had a bad day and are “reading hostility into the question”.

Tip: Rephrase a legitimate question minus the hostile tone

If the question is, “Why are you demanding six years of experience for all sub-contracted work? I think that’s totally unreasonable,” rephrase it. Say: “Why do we think six years’ experience is necessary? Well, first of all.. ”

Don’t feel that you have to refute an opposing view in great detail, particularly if the hostile view is not well supported itself. Simply comment: “No, I don’t think that’s the case.”

No elaboration is necessary. Your answer will sound authoritative and final and will make the asker appear rude and argumentative if he rephrases and continues. Avoid matching hostility with hostility; try to maintain a congenial tone and body language.

Tip: Acknowledge and accept feelings

By acknowledging and legitimising the feelings of the asker, you may defuse the hostility and help him receive your answer in a more open manner. Examples: “It sounds as though you’ve been through some difficult delays with this supplier” or “I don’t blame you for feeling as you do, given the situation you describe.”

Tip: Understand that hostility may be a personality pattern

Hostility may be a reflection of a person’s business agenda or personality and have little to do with you. Simply let the asker vent emotions, then briefly state your opinion and move directly on to the next question.

Tip: Agree with something the questioner has stated

If possible, try to find something within the hostile questioner’s comment and question with which you can agree. This typically diffuses some of the hostility and the inclination to argue with whatever response you provide. Then give your answer.

You can expect virtually every high-level presentation to include a Q&A session as part of the agenda. This is not something to fear – think of it as just one more component for which to prepare and use to win over your audience. By learning these Q&A tips, you are already ahead of the game.