By their nature, Q & A's have a give and take, a quid pro quo. But smart public speakers know they must keep their guard up. Learn the right way to answer questions so you stay in charge of the content and the agenda.
1. Prepare key messages for your talk so you can find your way back to those messages when the tough questions start making you feel lost.
2. Listen to the question carefully. Take your time formulating a response. If you're not sure exactly what the person is after, ask for clarification: "Are you asking why the price went down, or who was involved in the negotiation?"
3. Focus your eyes on the questioner while she is asking the question, and while you are thinking about your response. Do not allow yourself to pace up and down while listening, and do not withdraw your eyes from them while thinking. Lack of eye contact can be interpreted as lack of respect, and lack of certainty about your answer. You should also speak directly into the eyes of the questioner when you begin your response.
4. Connect with another person. Here's the real gist of taking control-once you've spoken directly into the eyes of the questioner for a few seconds (to show them you're not afraid), move your eyes to connect with other people in the room. In fact, turn your body away from the first questioner.
Spend a few Mississippi's with each person you look at, and then, when you end your response to the original tough question, keep your eyes focused on a friendlier face.
You'll be tempted to look back at the original tough guy to get his approval, but don't do it. Don't give him that power.
Stay focused on the person you're looking at-the friendly person. In this way, you invite that person to ask a question, and you make it harder for the tough questioner to ask a follow-up question.
5. Move on. This technique will feel awkward at first, because we are in the habit of ceding power to the questioners in our lives-teachers, judges, parents. You must abandon such childish behaviors and act as if your answer is perfectly fine, that in fact it's time to move on to another question.
Of course, the negative questioner may ask a follow-up question, at which point you can turn to him, diplomatically respond, and once again move your eyes and body to focus on others, and end on someone else.
These physical techniques are not a panacea. You must know the strengths and weaknesses of your point of view, and rehearse your responses before you present at a meeting where you expect controversy.
But even if you have all the right answers and feel perfectly in charge, you still should learn how to use your eyes-and your body language-to control negative questioners.