Are There Any Dissenters in The House?
Published on March 2, 2001
In any presentation, but especially in those given to groups and committees, there is a strong possibility that there will be at least one person sitting at the table whose life revolves around finding a reason to question or criticize something you’re saying. When this happens, you will most likely be dealing with a person in the organization who is looking for a chance to show off his or her technical expertise. So how do you handle this situation?
The first thing to understand is sometimes distracters can be extremely rude. If you respond in kind and attack them with emotion the awkward situation can escalate into outright conflict, which isn’t going to help your presentation. Stay calm, objective, and focused at all times.
The next thing to remember is to acknowledge what the person is telling you and then try to address it as directly and responsibly as you can. If the person still pursues the point after you’ve done this, and the inquiries are clearly distracting you and key decision makers from the main point of your presentation, you can say something like this: “What you’re talking about requires a conversation in greater depth. Can I suggest that we hold off on this and discuss it during a break?” This way you can minimize the disruption in front of the group and deal with it appropriately. Just make sure you deal with it and not sweep it under the carpet.
If you can’t convince the distracter to put off the discussion, consider appealing to the group: “How many people in this group are feeling this same intensity on this issue?” If not many people are raising their hands then perhaps the distracter will realize that the time has finally come to drop it.
If, on the other hand, everyone from the president of the company on down feels that the question deserves fuller examination, it’s time for you to look at the issue raised with new eyes! For this reason, critics can be a surprisingly necessary evil.
The issue at hand is not the dissenter who is interrupting your meeting. It is how you handle the disruption. Regardless of how much merit the objection has, your ability to handle it will determine the effectiveness of your presentation.
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