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In the Line of Fire

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In the Line of Fire

How to Handle Tough Questions...When It Counts

FT Prentice Hall,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Ever been asked a tough question and fumbled for an answer in front of a large audience? Never again.

Editorial Rating



  • Applicable


Public speaking is considered one of the most threatening situations you can face in your job. Answering follow-up questions can be even more terrifying. Author Jerry Weissman, an experienced presentation coach, has written a short book to teach presenters specifically how to field tough, even hostile, questions without losing control. Using actual transcripts from presidential debates and press conferences, Weissman dissects the professionals’ answers to show how their responses succeeded or failed. This interesting technique provides Weissman with the material to introduce his straightforward response technique. With some practice, even the most timid presenter should gain some confidence. So without waiting for you to ask any tough questions, finds this little book helpful for CEOs, executives and managers who face tough questions from analysts, regulators, investors, competitors or the press. You’ll discover it’s not so much the answer you give that really matters, but how you give it.


Creating Drama

Tough questions build drama. They are also the vehicles for promoting change. In the case of Initial Public Offerings (IPOs), questions provide the basis for investors to make crucial decisions about whether they want to invest in a company that has never been publicly owned. The questioning process triggers some major challenges:

  • Making a mistake in public has significant downside risks in terms of reputation and the ability to raise capital.
  • In a large public meeting, control may shift from the speaker to the audience.
  • Audiences tend to work as a team against the speaker.

An agile speaker can overcome these challenges by employing many of the same critical elements used in the martial arts: concentration, personal defense, control, balance and focus. As the speaker in a question and answer session, you can maneuver several key elements: the question, the answer, the person asking the question, the audience, the time and your abilities.

When you are answering questions, you want to convey one key concept: you are in control. If the audience does not perceive that you are in control, your credibility will be reduced...

About the Author

Jerry Weissman is a leading corporate communications coach. He is also the author of Presenting to Win: The Art of Telling Your Story. He works with Power Presentations in Foster City, California.

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