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How to Deal With a Dominant Person When You're Presenting

How to Deal With a Dominant Person When You're Presenting

Is a boss or senior exec flustering you in meetings and presentations? Here's how to deal with a dominant person when you're presenting.

For better or worse, you often have to deliver remarks or presentations to senior management. 'Better,' because it gives you the opportunity to be noticed, and perhaps rewarded for a job well done. 'Worse,' because it can make you feel like a puzzle that's just been taken apart.

Somehow, you don't look, feel, or sound like yourself anymore, and you know it. This nightmare becomes much worse when there's a dominant personality (or more than one) in the audience.

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Dr. Gary Genard's Fearless Speaking, one of the 100 best confidence books of all time.

Though it's normal to be knocked off your usual spin because someone pushes you, it's a reaction you need to get over fast. With these golden opportunities to succeed with higher-ups who are responsible for your reviews and promotions . . . well, do I need to go any further?

Here are four ways to get yourself in the right mindset when the Tyrannosaurus in the room is acting up.

Realize that You're the Leader in the Room

As I say in my book, Speak for Leadership, whatever your job title, when you present, you are the leader in the room. That's so for an excellent reason: you're precisely the right person to deliver this presentation. The only person, in fact. You've crunched the numbers, are ready to give a project update, have the floor to pitch your idea, etc.

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Everyone present, in-person or in cyberspace, is dependent upon you. Hierarchies dissolve under conditions like this, because it's your show all the way. So, go ahead and own your talk. If some tough questioning comes your way by Mr. or Ms. Tyro, at least relish the presentation part where the stage was yours alone. Now, as to those questions . . .

Listen Carefully to What That Person Is Saying

That advice may sound obvious, but here's what I mean. Questions, or even challenges, may not always be about what's actually said. Sometimes, it's what underneath the words (what we call 'subtext' in the theater) that actually matters, i.e., the emotions or intent involved.

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For instance, is the question or challenge just venting, with you as the convenient target of the moment? If it is, then acknowledging that emotion (without taking ownership of having caused it!) is necessary before you deal any further with this person. Alternatively, is there a more fundamental issue concerning the organization involved here than what was just asked on the surface? If there is, this is a great time to show you understand that problem. A difficult but necessary suggestion: try not to take the criticism personally if it involves a resolvable issue. 

Remember that Your Presentation Is a Gift

This one is so obvious we never even realize it: we call it "giving a speech" for a reason. What you're offering is a gift to listeners. Presumably, it has involved hard work for you to have put together this material to present to a high-level group.

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A few years ago, the leadership team of a consulting practice hired me to work with them for a day. They explained their problem to me beforehand: they told me they were jackals, who tore apart subordinates when they gave presentations through their criticisms and mean behavior. ("Gee," I thought when they hired me, "this sounds like a fun group to work with!")

At the workshop, I gave it to them straight: they had to get over themselves and create a supportive environment for their managers and analysts, or they soon wouldn't have any managers or analysts. What I was telling them, in essence, was that they had to learn to appreciate the gift of the presentations, and the hard work that had gone into them. Which leads me to my last point:

Sometimes, It's Not Your Performance That's Lacking

This situation with the leadership team I just mentioned is a good example of something else you should keep in mind: sometimes, you simply can't improve your way out of a dominant person's treatment of you. The reason? Because it's not an issue of how well you do. Instead, the problem is on the other side.

I'll give you an example. A client, a woman I was coaching in presentation skills, said: "Whatever I do when I present at meetings, my boss belittles me afterward. He picks apart everything and is verbally abusive. How can I improve my presentations so that this doesn't happen?"

I told her what might seem obvious to you right how: that it wasn't an issue of her communication skills. It was, instead, an issue of her boss's communication style. She could become the world's greatest presenter, and the boss's abusive behavior would almost certainly still be present.

In situations like these, the problem lies more in the realm of personality, or sometimes, the organization's culture. Recognizing that that's the case may lead you to try to help make things better in terms of the person or company. But at the least, stop beating up on yourself, as if it were all your fault.

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Gary Genard is an actor, author, and expert in public speaking and overcoming speaking fear. His company, The Genard Method offers live 1:1 Zoom executive coaching  and corporate group training worldwide. In 2022 for the ninth consecutive year, Gary has been ranked by Global Gurus as One of the World’s Top 30 Communication Professionals. He is the author of the Amazon Best-Seller How to Give a Speech. His second book, Fearless Speakingwas named in 2019 as "One of the 100 Best Confidence Books of All Time." His handbook for presenting in videoconferences, Speaking Virtually offers strategies and tools for developing virtual presence in online meetings. His latest book is Speak for Leadership: An Executive Speech Coach's Secrets for Developing Leadership PresenceContact Gary here.

Dinosaur photo: Lucas George Wendt on Pixabay. 


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