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How to Deal With An Intimidating Audience

December 1, 2009

A friend of mine, Mark, was recently telling me of his harrowing experiences with his Board of Directors each month. I wouldn’t have expected him to be the type that gets flustered or easily intimidated, since he is pretty powerful in his own right. As a serial entrepreneur in the telecommunications industry, he had already built and sold a company or two, not to mention the boatload of bucks I knew he had scored along the way.

But Mark’s latest business venture had brought in some high-powered private equity suits to the Board, of which he was now firmly accountable (since it was their money that was funding his new business launch). One board member in particular had proven to be somewhat challenging, as he was a – what’s a nice way to put it? – um, a little full of himself. 

“My Boss Makes Me Feel Like an Idiot!”

Mark began to dread his monthly parade before the board, because no matter how prepared he was to present the company’s strategy and performance, this one pompous gentleman would drill him into the ground with trick questions that couldn’t be answered. It was as if this board member was trying to find every opportunity to make my friend fall into the idiot hole, just to prove to everyone else who was the smartest guy in the room.

My friend’s natural response was to get increasingly intimidated and flustered, to the point of losing confidence in his leadership abilities with each successive board meeting. But then he did something that is not taught in most MBA courses: he prayed about it. And guess what? He received a little divine business inspiration in Cantankerous Board relations – which quickly squelched the problem and turned things around altogether. Better yet, Mark told me that this formula completely changed the tone of that nasty interrogator.

Four Tips For Dealing with Intimidation

 1. Do your homework beforehand.

I’m sure you already know this, and you’re thinking, “Well, duh, Bradley. That doesn’t really have much to do with my spiritual life!” But, come on. I must begin the list with preparation as the obvious first step before you go into any presentation, whether it’s the Board or just Barbara in HR. Trust me, God wants you to have the best possible chance at success, so spend the time it takes to be prepared.

2. Don’t try to make up answers to hard questions if you really don’t know

Faking it may seem like the thing to do in the heat of the moment, but the sad truth is that if your audience is smart, they will see right through it. You will then lose whatever credibility you have built up to that point, and end up looking just plain goofy. Admit that you don’t know the answer, and that you will get back to them as soon as possible. Your interrogator will respect your honesty. Just be sure to follow through.

 3. Don’t get defensive

The worst thing you can do is act like you are all entitled, angry and hostile for being questioned. Keep your cool, remain calm and pretend you are in complete control. When in doubt, go to step 4.

4. Compliment the intimidating questioner on their brilliance.

Here  is the clincher, floks, and it delivered bigtime results for Mark. At the next meeting, when the arrogant board member started sharpening his horns and threw out the first un-answerable question, Mark responded in all humility, sincerity and respect with a lob right back at him: “Wow! You are obviously much smarter than me and have had a great deal more experience in this area. That is one heck of a good question!” Instead of defensive bantering, it opened the door to a deeper discussion of what was behind the question, what knowledge the Board member wanted to press in on, and why it was important to the business.  Plus it totally sucked up to his ego. Which pretty much worked like a charm.

 “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
      if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
   In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Romans 12:20-21

Photograph by nAncY, used with permission.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. MsCareerGirl permalink
    December 1, 2009 10:02 pm

    Love this article! I was in an intimidating meeting today and was disappointed in myself for feeling that way. These are great tips I will be passing on!

  2. December 1, 2009 10:08 pm

    Oh, four totally made me smile.

    And I like the spider web photo! Thanks, nAncY.

  3. December 1, 2009 11:19 pm

    woah! fun in the board meetings!
    good advice, good post.

  4. December 2, 2009 3:43 am

    Good advice! Don’t forget to pray for humility after you leave the meeting, otherwise there’s a slight chance of being the next one being “a little full of himself”… (“Yeah, I’ve beaten him!”)

  5. December 2, 2009 9:15 am

    This has applications outside of the workplace as well .
    There are some committees and volunteer boards and parent groups that would benefit from this better take .
    I know a certain somebody who should take note of it next time an extended family discussion about plans for Christmas turn ugly.

  6. December 2, 2009 10:44 am

    Bradley, wow! You are obviously way smarter at blogging about work than I am. This is one heck of a good post!

  7. December 2, 2009 11:08 am


    God is really smart, isn’t He? You would think after praying about it, He’d come in a dream, tell him He’d stop the mouths of the lions, and give him a divine wisdom. Nope. He gave him practical advice that any of us could follow. Sweet.

  8. December 2, 2009 11:29 am

    My husband and I were discussing this subject the other night. He related a story about briefing a general. After the general made a remark, he responded to the general, “You’re absolutely right, Sir.” A pall was cast. My husband said he pondered this, until someone clued him in. “You never tell a general he’s right. He knows he’s right.” Lesson learned: Ask a question that will let the general’s brilliance shine. He’ll remember you for it.

  9. December 3, 2009 6:14 am

    Ms. Career Girl – glad you stopped by, and that this little story helped. (Thanks for the RT!) Please come by again! And tell your friends!

    LL – yeah, #4 is pretty much the main thing. Guy Kawasaki and Michael Hyatt said to make a list, so it’s in a list. I am trying to be a good Blogger.

    Marcus – You are such a suck-up. It’s working.

    Michael – Yes, I do believe God is as practical as we need to be. I will be posting more often on these little “tips for spirituality in business.”

    Maureen – what a good story. Generals and CEOs, not too much difference between them sometimes.

    Leon – keepin’ it real, man! (Not that I would ever become full of myself! Come on!)

    And, Deb? What exactly are you referring to with this Christmas plan situation, young lady?

  10. janetober permalink
    December 3, 2009 7:43 am

    Love this post!
    For some time, I’ve been working on learning how to not get defensive in certain situations and this is good food for thought. I’ve used the ‘charming’ technique a time or two and have been pleasantly surprised how good it works. Egos love to be fed!

    Thanks for your encouraging comment on my blog yesterday (guess my ego likes to be fed also 🙂 now off to work on that memoir.

  11. December 3, 2009 12:08 pm

    This is an oustanding post. I can testify from personal experience that the Lord can use an otherwise smelly situation to actually enhance a person’s standing. The Spirit imparts wisdom and grace to silence even the most “full of himself” challenger.

  12. December 3, 2009 2:05 pm

    God can indeed give us wisdom in dealing with a tough boss. Unfortunately not every situation can be defused though. I once had a boss that was so difficult, in the end God moved me out of that place to a new job altogether to resolve it for me.

  13. December 3, 2009 10:09 pm

    We faced down a conference at my son’s school today with the counselor, two principals, and 5 teachers. These are all great tips, and I had to use most of them today to diffuse the situation.

    BTW, your site has dandruff. 😉

  14. December 4, 2009 11:10 am

    I often intimidate others in my corporation with my knowledge of corporate policies… I’ve been there 12 years, I should know most of them… complimenting the boss is effective, and so complimenting the staff…

    It isn’t just a ‘let’s win’ strategy… empowering others is a way of life. A path to to authentic success. these are great tips, and I like that you add in to your comments to keep it real.

    I look forward to more tips.

  15. December 5, 2009 2:18 pm

    Cindy – “Empowering others is a way of life” – Great motto for all of us!

    Brad – I hope your son came out unscathed with all of those folks in the room. I would have freaked out, I think! Hope it all turned out OK.

    Chris – (Welcome to the site, dude!) you are right that there are just some BAD bosses, plain and simple. In these cases, there is only so much we can do, and possible moving on is one of those options.

    And Anne, as always, getting back to the Spirit who is available to help us in all of these crazy situations. Don’t forget to ask for the God’s help in the moment!

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