Dealing with the Unexpected

You may have people interrupting, grandstanding or dragging you down the rabbit hole in the form of questions. Learn how to deal with these types of interruptions in a calm and collected way.


During your Q&A, several unplanned or unexpected things might happen. For instance, the interrupter—somebody who doesn’t let you finish what you’re saying and just interrupts you, maybe once, maybe twice, maybe constantly. So what do you do with somebody who’s interrupting you? Well, if it’s the boss or if it’s the main person you’re trying to do business with, guess what? You need to let them interrupt you. Why are they interrupting you? More than likely you’re not giving them the information that they want at that moment, so they’re trying to get from you what they really need. So don’t take that interruption as a negative thing happening in the conversation. Go ahead and let it happen. Don’t take it personally. Just relax, let them interrupt you. If it’s not the head person in the room, you may need to take a quick break and pull that person aside and ask them to hold their questions ‘til the end because they’re becoming a little bit disruptive. But usually the audience in the room will start to be on your side as the presenter if someone is doing something that they really shouldn’t be doing.

Another unexpected event during meetings is the grandstander—the person in the room who knows as much as you know or maybe more; or worse, they want to let the room know that they know something that you don’t know. Well, I’ve got to tell you, if it’s the main person in the room let them grandstand for a little bit. But usually it’s not the person in charge. If you walk over to them and make friends with them, and do something like, “Okay, I can tell that you know just about everything I’m going to say here, maybe you even know more than me. I would love it if you’d just keep me honest and if I say anything or do anything that’s wrong, could you pipe up and let us all know?” And usually after you do that, and you make friends with the person, usually they’ll relax and they’ll calm down and they’ll stop grandstanding. So let the grandstander be there, but make them part of the event, make them part of the solution, not the problem.

So another thing that happens during Q&A is getting dragged down the rabbit hole. Someone in the audience asks you a question, you answer the question. That same person asks you another question that drags you further down that line of thinking, and they keep going back and forth, and back and forth. At some point, when you realize that this is happening, it’s your responsibility to ask the audience if you want to continue on this line of questioning and answers, or would you rather take that conversation offline and get back to what the audience wants to hear. And all you need to do is ask. If they say, “No, let’s keep going down that line of thinking,” then go ahead. If they say, “No, let’s move on,” then you have your answer. If it’s the boss, if it’s the main investor in the room, let him drag you down the rabbit hole because that way you know what’s important to them. Simple as that.

Suggested Readings

Founders School || Powerful Presentations: Mastering Q&A || Dealing with the Unexpected || Impact Guide (PDF).

Questions for You

How am I dealing with an interruption from the boss or others in the meeting?

Am I taking the interruption personally or is there a message I’m missing?

How will I handle someone who is grandstanding in my meetings?

How do I handle someone who is dragging me down the rabbit hole?

Tools and exercises

Get two or three people you know in a room and give them a list of typical questions you get during a pitch. Have the “boss” interrupt you and ask you a question. Take this exercise seriously in order to more properly prepare yourself for the actual experience. Set a 10-15 minute timer for the exercise and relax when the bell rings. Analyze the results and repeat.

Plan for interruptions from people other than the boss and experiment with how you will handle them. Have someone interrupt you with a question or statement and then see how you will address this person and situation. Debrief and analyze the results to see how you can improve.

Experiment with one of the people in the room taking the role of the grandstander. Practice how you will handle this situation with grace and poise.

Experiment with one of the people in the room taking the role of trying to drag you down the rabbit hole with questions that continue to dig deeper and deeper. Practice how you will diffuse and handle this situation.