A Tough Crowd: When Management Gives You A Hard Time

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Giving a business continuity presentation to management is challenging at the best of times. If any of the people listening to you start acting out, it can become downright hairy.

Today’s post looks at some of the more common human-factor problems encountered in pitching your proposals to management and suggests solutions for dealing with them.

As a business continuity consultant, I’ve made hundreds of presentations over the years to upper management at organizations of all sizes and in a wide range of industries. Often these meetings are highly charged, especially when I’m advising management of critical exposures at their organization.

I know what it’s like to be a BCM manager presenting to management in order to obtain critical funding or approvals.

This is a challenging proposition at the best of times, but it’s rarely the best of times. More often, there are some human-factor issues that make your tough assignment even tougher.

Below is a list of the human-factor problems you are likely to encounter, along with my suggested solution for dealing with each one.

 

Problem: Nobody cares.

This is the number-one problem you are likely to face. Everyone will gather around the conference table, you’ll start to present, and then you will discover that no one seems to be paying you the slightest attention. Their focus is on their phones and laptops.

Solution: Be engaging and concise.

The best solution might be confiscating everyone’s devices, but that’s not likely to be an option. So earn their attention by being energetic, focused, and purposeful. Make eye contact. Ask if they have questions. Use people’s names. Make references to things that you know are important to them. Talk about the individual departments or the bottom line. Also, it never hurts to remind people that disasters strike businesses all the time. Point out how important what you’re talking about is to the resiliency of the company. If they still seem to not be paying attention, don’t get flustered. Maintain your focus and carry on.

 

Problem: Hostile takeover.

This happens a lot. People will take over your presentation. Often they elbow in and start putting out wrong information. They believe they have the solution. “No, this is how we should do it,” they’ll say. Then they start telling you how they did it at another company. All too often, what they say is irrelevant or makes no sense.

Solution: Summarize and redirect.

You can’t simply cut them off. Most likely, they outrank you, and the future of your program rests in their hands, at least partially. The best approach involves diplomacy. Listen carefully. Extract anything productive they might have to say. When they’re finished, summarize then pivot back to your important content.

 

Problem: Overly aggressive pushback.

Sometimes people will argue with you about the accuracy of your data. “That’s not important,” they’ll say, dismissing your conclusions. “Here’s what is really critical.” They might challenge you on the soundness of your recommendations, or grill you regarding who attended the meeting where you got your information. This is usually a preface to them saying the people you talked to were uninformed.

Solution: Know your stuff.

Double- and triple-check your information. Make sure your data makes sense and is relevant. Listen to what the person has to say. If they make a good point, acknowledge it and incorporate it moving forward. Be sufficiently prepared so you can tell the difference between sense and nonsense.

 

Problem: Gotcha questions.

Most of the questions you receive will be sincere and well-meaning, but some people seem to go out of their way to try to catch presenters out. With them, the focus seems to be not improving the BCM program and protecting the company but rather showing how smart they are, or embarrassing you.

Solution: Again, know your stuff.

If you give the impression you are in command of the subject matter, they’re more likely to draw in their horns. If someone asks you a question you don’t know the answer to, don’t get flustered or make something up. Say you don’t know and will get back to them, then follow through.

 

Problem: Tough customers.

There’s another word for describing these individuals, but let’s just call them tough customers. These are the people who seem to go out of their way to wreck your presentation, make you look unprepared, and show everyone how cynical they are.

Solution: Forewarned is forearmed.

Look over the list of attendees ahead of time. Is there anyone likely to toss you a grenade? Before the meeting, mentally rehearse keeping your cool and pivoting back towards your content in the face of any stunt they might pull.

 

Problem: The blind leading the blind.

Sometimes the executives who know the least about business continuity are the most confident in talking about it, and often others around the table might start saying, “That’s right. We agree with that.” You’ll hear people use terminology incorrectly or say things that make no sense, and their friends and colleagues around the table will endorse their uninformed views over your well-informed ones. A common misconception among people with this tendency is that business continuity is a one-and-done proposition, rather than an ongoing process. If that belief takes hold, you’ll really have your hands full. The executives’ collective lack of knowledge can pull your whole presentation off-track, and the next thing you know you’re out of time.

Solution: Think like a teacher.

Be patient and try to educate them. This process should start before the presentation. Send out information ahead of time saying what the meeting is about, what you’re trying to accomplish, and why it matters for the company. Keep it simple.

 

SUMMING UP

Have you heard it said that sometimes an athlete’s worst enemy is his coach? Unfortunately, it’s that way in business too, at times.

When you’re presenting to upper management about your BCM program, be prepared, be engaging, keep it short, and keep your cool. And keep circling back to the main points you want to make and the action you’re looking for, especially at the end.

 

FURTHER READING

For more on this and other hot topics in business continuity management, check out these recent posts from BCMMETRICS and MHA Consulting:

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