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Four Tips for Dealing with an Intimidating Audience

July 2, 2013

IMG_1207A friend of mine, Mark, was telling me of his harrowing experience in dealing with his Board of Directors. His 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 was proving to be somewhat challenging, as he was a – what’s a nice way to put it? – um, a little full of himself.

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.

Four Tips For Dealing with Intimidation

 1. Do your homework beforehand.

I’m sure you already know this, and you’re thinking, “Well, duh. 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, folks, and it delivered big-time results for Mark. At the next meeting, when the arrogant board member sharpened 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 I am, 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

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Sam Hahn permalink
    September 6, 2013 12:19 pm

    Hm. I wasn’t too impacted by your four insights until I saw your verse contextualization. I now appreciate the gravity of your insights: humility (Nah, I’m not one who looks for a bible verse before I accept a proffered solution, but in this case the language didn’t hit me until I read the complementary scripture.)

    In my world, I’m more seasoned (older, geez!) than my cohorts. I changed directions later in life and now work with fresh college graduate-twenty something’s. Often they have dumb things to suggest, making obvious their “green.” It actually only took about one month in to my career change that I began to realize that I/the team reaped more satisfying fruits from my submitting to “lesser idea’s.” This led to accepting “inferior colleague’s,” which quickly opened my heart to soliciting opinions of said colleague’s. Now that my heart was open (generally speaking of course!), I saw equals, not ineptitude.

    You’re right about the compliment toward the jerk (and the first three suggestions are bang on, too). It’s actually only fair to acknowledge the capabilities of an accomplished resource, and to be appreciative of their insight.

  2. October 7, 2013 7:29 pm

    Important things to know, definitely! No matter how hard I practice or feel at ease before approaching an audience, I always choke at the last moment. Also, I know that I hate when people act entitled so it makes me want to question just how much they deserve that attitude! That’s not very fair, though, so I guess I learned from the view of a spectator as well!

  3. May 17, 2014 4:47 pm

    number three… the one for me to work on.

  4. May 17, 2014 4:49 pm

    ha! changed my info.

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