In addition to working with executive and leadership teams, I have had the honor of facilitating a number of leadership workshops. One of the skills that tends to be more difficult for middle managers and supervisors is handling the unexpected when dealing with senior leaders. I used to be the same way. I would get nervous and unsure of myself in front of senior leaders because I didn’t know what would happen and I wasn’t confident in how to respond. For example, when presenting to senior leaders, I was nervous that they would ask me a question I couldn’t answer or respond in a way that would “trip me up.”
Here are a few tips that I have learned to become confident in any situation and especially when presenting to, or interacting with, senior leaders.
Make a list of your worst fears. Write them down. What might happen during your presentation or interaction with senior leaders? Imagine those fears ahead of time. Now, decide now how you will recover. That way, during your presentation, you are responding instead of simply reacting in the moment. You already have a plan.
Now make a list of all the questions you anticipate could be asked. Write them down. Now, decide how you will answer them.
Pre-thinking situations and questions goes a long way towards being confident in the moment.
Can’t Think of the Right Words?
If you cannot think of the right words to say in the moment, your response is to: Pause. Simple. The problem is that we get very uncomfortable with silence and think we need to have an immediate answer. That just isn’t the case. Just pause, collect yourself, and move on.
If you begin to feel defensive in the middle of your interaction or presentation, ask a question. Most of the time you are not being attacked, it just feels like you are. Usually, the questioner simply wants more information, wants to understand, or wants to see if you’ve thought this through. So stop, then ask a question, such as “could you elaborate on that?” or “could you give me an example?” or “what do you mean by that?” Be curious.
Short on Time?
If your audience is short on time and asks you to get to the end, then go straight to the conclusion. Be ready with a very short summary of your content and your ask. Have this ready ahead of time. In fact, you should keep your presentation short on detail anyway, and have more detail available “in your back pocket” if it is requested.
Don’t Have an Answer?
Say I don’t know but I’ll get back to you by [give them a timeframe]. It’s OK to say I don’t know.
Are They Rejecting Your Approach?
Ask questions to make sure you’ve been understood properly. If you have, then let the disagreement stand. It is what it is. You probably can’t change it by doubling down and pushing harder. It’s OK.
Create Holes in your Presentation
Don’t give the perfect presentation and say that this will be executed perfectly without any possibility of flaws. That is unrealistic. Your audience will know better. Instead, acknowledge a limitation or risk and turn them into a problem solver. They will probably try to figure out how to close that risk or limitation in order to get the benefit.