Make a better impression in the boardroom

Ten ways to make a better impression in the boardroom

Under the gun and don't know what to say? Here's how to communicate like a pro under pressure.

You're in a hard-nosed business meeting that has taken a turn for the worse? Your ideas aren't being understood. Your questions are being met with ego-crushing blank stares. Your window of opportunity is closing fast.

How do you turn things around?

We presented Peter Urs Bender, author of four Canadian best sellers, with ten tough scenarios and asked him to explain how to get the upper hand during each awkward business situation. What follows are his answers to each scenario.

Scenario 1. You're a small business owner in a serious negotiation with representatives from an international company. You need to separate a gap between the parties-what can you do?

Peter's advice:
1. Don't be intimidated. You may be playing hardball with the big guys, but there's no need to tremble. Put your best face forward and remember, the big guys make mistakes, too.

2. Be yourself. Don't puff yourself up into someone you're not. Genuine modesty is recognized and respected.

3. Be prepared before you meet for the most difficult questions they can ask you (Will you be in business tomorrow? Have you ever dealt with a client like us? Do you think you can satisfy our increasing business demands?)

4. Underpromise and overdeliver. For instance, if they ask for more information say you'll supply it within a couple of days. Then deliver tomorrow. Speed of response commands universal respect.

Scenario 2: You are a shy person who finds communication embarrassing. What can you do, and what icebreakers can you use to help them forge meaningful relationships with others?

Peter's advice:
Smile, even if you don't feel like it. Look the person in the eye, even if you feel uncomfortable. Ask a question to which he or she cannot answer "yes" or "no". "How do you feel about XYZ?" is a great opener, or "From your point of view, what do you think about XYZ?"

Scenario 3: You're in a meeting where you need to communicate with an individual who doesn't understand English or who has a very heavy accent and cannot be readily understood. How do you avoid embarrassing the individual? Is it rude to say that you're having difficulty understanding the person and asking them to repeat themselves?

Peter's advice:
Yes, I highly recommend you repeat the question in a warm, questioning manner. Get the person to repeat as often as you need to. One way to get another person to speak more slowly, is to speak deliberately more slowly yourself.

Scenario 4: You've been tossed into an unexpected meeting and haven't time to do background research about the topic you will be discussing or the individuals who you will be meeting with. What can do to avoid being labeled as a "fledgling business owner who is both disorganized and unprepared"?

Peter's advice:
Always be dressed as if you were about to meet the Pope. Always be sure you have a 30-second infommercial on your business to present to anybody, anywhere, at any time.

If you don't know the answer to a question, admit it and get back to your questioner as quickly as possible with the answer.

Unexpected meetings can often present positive opportunities. You get to present your business or your point of view in a non-confrontational setting.

Scenario 5: You're in a stressful situation and want to instill a sense of comfort and relaxation in other people. What verbal and non-verbal communication methods can you use to do this?

Peter's advice:
To make people relaxed, "Act Relaxed." Put on a smile, speak slowly, and with your warmest voice. For more information on "Voicepower," go to However, there are exceptions. If you have to announce a layoff or the death of a spouse, please be aware that a smile doesn't help much. As a matter of fact, it can work against you.

The best way to deal with a difficult situation with employees or your own people is to be as open and honest as you can.

Scenario 6: You're in a business meeting when a potential business partner puts their foot in their mouth and utters something that offends you. What can you say to get around the awkward situation and still sound professional?

Peter's advice:
Put on a gentle smile and say "I feel completely differently about that!" Don't argue with a colleague in public, but when you're out of the meeting, clarify the situation.

Scenario 6: What if you say something that you regret, but cannot make a public apology, and you find your ideas under attack. What can you say to smooth over a situation?

Peter's advice:
As a leader, you can always make a public apology, even if it risks hurting others. If you have said something you regret, apologize for it as quickly and as publicly as possible. Clearly indicate what you meant to say, as opposed to what people thought you said. Often your ideas come under attack because others misinterpret them. Clear up the misinterpretations right away.

Scenario 8: You're in a business meeting and want to be noticed without communicating an over-aggressive and unpopular persona. What can you do?

Peter's advice:
If nobody talks slow in your group, talk slow. If nobody stands up, stand up. In other words, stand out from the group without using aggressive tactics.

Scenario 9: You're in a meeting and someone is intentionally trying to "trip you up". What can you do to control your nervousness so that you are unable to communicate effectively?

Peter's advice:
In Secrets of Face-to-Face Communication, page 82, I talk in detail about how to control one's emotion. In a nutshell, create an anchor, something that will cause you to breathe deeply and relax the tension in your jaw, neck, and shoulder area. A good anchor is squeezing the thumb and forefinger of your right hand together, and imagining a Stop Sign. This image reminds you to breathe deeply and relax these muscles. There is more along this line in the book.

Scenario 10: You want to communicate interest in a business venture, but don't want to sound too eager or naive. What can you do?

Peter's advice:
Both eagerness and naivete are no sins, and are often seen as positives. Both do indicate beginners in business, and experienced business professionals make allowances. The trick is not to appear simple-minded. Listen closely. If you're not sure of yourself, offer comments only where it seems appropriate. Ask questions not only to get information, but to demonstrate your interest.


Peter Urs Bender was one of Canada’s most dynamic and entertaining business speakers. He died in March 2003 after a brave fight with cancer. He is the author of four best-selling business books: Leadership from Within, Secrets of Power Presentations, Secrets of Power Marketing Secrets of Face-to-Face Communication, and Gutfeeling. To read excerpts from his books visit

Executive Speech Coach, Business presentation tips from George Torok, the Speech Coach for Executives.

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