Monday, December 22, 2008


There will come a time when you will either be in front of a hostile audience or a hostile question will pop up during a relatively calm presentation. This is a tough situation at best and you have to handle it with kid gloves. Humor can save the day and maybe even help you become President.

When a hostile situation arises, you have to be especially careful that you don't antagonize the questioner or group further by making a flippant response. You can use humor to distract the antagonism, but you should always make a serious reply to the question at hand.

EXAMPLE: Let's say you are speaking at a stockholder's meeting and you are telling them about all the wonderful new productsthat are coming out. Then someone yells out, "What about the supreme turkey of a widget you came out with last year?" Now you are on the spot. If you ignore the question you will look like you are hiding. If you use a comeback that attacks the questioner or makes fun of him or her you will turn the rest of the group against you. So what do you do?

Use a prepared one-liner or some mildly amusing admission of guilt and then immediately go into a serious response to the question.

"We are donating all those widgets to the Navy because they havea shortage of boat anchors this year [pause for laughter]. But, seriously folks, based on all the available research we had at our disposal the widget looked like it would be a good solid seller for us. Then when the gizmo industry took a big hit, we no longer had a market for the widgets"

Then get back to your agenda.

If you expect to be in a position like the above speaker, try to anticipate the hostile questions that could arise and prepare responses for them. You might not be able to anticipate all the questions that could come up, but by preparing in advance you are giving yourself an infinitely better chance of responding correctly. Another good resource is "What to Say When . . .You're Dyin' on The Platform" by Lilly Walters.

One of the most famous examples of good preparation came during Ronald Reagan's 1984 bid for reelection. Reagan made a very poor showing as he stumbled through his first debate with the democratic challenger, Walter Mondale. The media jumped on this and Reagan's age and possible senility became a big issue until about two-thirds of the way through his second televised debate with Mondale.

A question was posed to the president that ask him if he was concerned about how his age would affect his ability to do the job. Reagan's prepared two-line response virtually nailed the lid on Mondale's coffin and squelched the age issue even though he was four years older than he was in the last election. He said,"I'm not going to inject the issue of age into this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political gain my opponent's youth and inexperience." Some say this comment won him his second term of office. That's the power of preparation.

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