Top Tips: Techniques For Dealing With Difficult Questions

Whether it’s during a media interview or the Q&As at your presentation, if you’re faced with a difficult question it can really knock you off your stride and distract you. There are a few things you can do, but you will have to face it and deal with it – pretending it didn’t happen or answering with ‘no comment’ is unlikely to be an option.

We’ve put together these top tips and techniques to help you handle those tricky or difficult questions.


The importance of preparation and input

As with many of the best techniques, the hard work can usually be done in advance as part of your preparation. It’s no good hoping that you won’t get asked anything tough, you have to assume that someone will have dug up that tricky query and will throw it at you, so considering the ‘good, bad and ugly’ questions you might get asked is essential. Knowing that you have prepared and practiced for what could come up, even if it’s a negative issue, will also help to give you confidence in the event.

Asking the people around you for their input as well is likely to help ensure you have covered all or most bases. The second part of this is obviously to think of and design appropriate answers to these tricky questions – care needs to be taken if there are confidential or sensitive issues but some might well be answers you can easily find out, and then deliver, but if not, you may have to rely on some other techniques.

If you can’t answer, this is what you can do… 

Sometimes you will simply not be able to answer the question, you either won’t have the information (if you just can’t remember or don’t have it in your head, say you will come back to them – make sure you/a colleague does) or it may be something that can’t be publicly discussed – don’t underestimate the appetite and skill some journalists have for trying to elicit this kind of information from you. Politely but firmly explaining that you can’t provide that answer will normally make the interviewer realise that you won’t be drawn on the topic, but if you are pressed, don’t be afraid to repeat your ‘polite but firm’ rebuttal again – avoid the temptation to give in a little to their request. It can also be useful to try another tack…


If you don’t want to answer a specific question – consider a tactical approach 

You can, subtly or not, say you don’t want to answer that, but you can then explain there is other information you could provide instead (e.g. “that’s not something I’m able to go into at this time, but what I can tell you is that…”). The alternative answer clearly has to be something ‘safe’ you can disclose and something that will still be of interest to the audience – otherwise there’s little incentive for them to drop their original line of questioning. This method essentially offers a quid pro quo i.e. if you leave that topic alone, I can try and help you in another area.


Bridge or pivot from their question to your response

This is a similar technique to the above; but be careful as if it’s done badly this can make you sound like a stubborn politician, however, if done well it can be an effective way to get the focus and control back on to your own agenda. We tell delegates that it’s as easy as ABC – firstly you have to:

  • Acknowledge their question (e.g. “yes, that’s a point of view some in the market have…”) – if you don’t do this, your response can seem abrupt or rude, as if you’re ignoring their point.
  • Bridge to what you want to say – this is often as simple as adding “…but/however/although…” etc.
  • Communicate your message or the main point you are keen to get across (e.g. “…what clients are telling us is/what we’re seeing in the market is…”).


These are just a few of the techniques you can use to handle difficult or even hostile questions – and it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t ever feel forced to discuss a topic you can’t/don’t want to.

All these techniques need to be practiced to get them right, so you come across naturally, and we obviously go into far more depth on how to use them in the Bluewood training courses, but with these you can make a huge difference to your confidence levels and ensure that you are able to deal with awkward or difficult questions if they come up.


For more information on any of our tailored media training or presentation training sessions, please get in touch – we’d be delighted to help.


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