Respect, PowerPoint and the C-Suite

When a client, prospect or potential employer asks you for something, or to do something, you have their respect. They wouldn’t ask if they didn’t respect your ability to fulfill their request. In that moment, you have their attention and respect, and their request provides you with the opportunity to ask for something in return.

You may think that asking is risky. You may think that asking could cause you to lose the opportunity. You may think that asking will disrupt the positive atmosphere within the discussion. However, you’re wrong.

Asking for what you need at that moment—at that very instant—demands their respect, as long as what you ask for is clearly in their best interest. By inquiring in a direct, clear and completely neutral manner, you end up gaining that respect.

One of my client’s young designers, Polly, was assembling PowerPoint presentations for a group of C-suite executives on site at a F50 client. The day of the big show was rapidly approaching and tension was running high. The work was all consuming. A typical day started early and often ended after midnight.

This demanding schedule had gone on for a week. Polly was exhausted and almost at her wits’ end when she finished the last changes for Robert and Beth’s (the CTO and his assistant, respectively) presentation early Sunday morning. Beth was new, just six weeks into the position, and was clearly afraid of what would happen if she let Robert down. Indeed, he had gone through several assistants and had a reputation for being demanding.

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At 1 AM, Beth emailed the completed show to Robert and said, “thank god, that’s it for now. You can get some sleep. Polly, thanks for sticking with me on this.”

This was Polly’s second year working on this show and she’d had similar experiences with C-suite executives in the past. So she asked Beth, “When is Robert’s rehearsal scheduled? Is it Tuesday when the others are?” “Yes, he’s set for 10:00 a.m., Tuesday.”

“That means we’ll only have Monday to make any changes,” Polly noted, “and I’ll be jammed most of Monday revising the rest of the C-team’s decks.”

“Well,” Beth responded, “Robert will be traveling with the tech team Monday. I don’t think he’ll have much time to work on this.”

“Then, you need to call him tomorrow morning and ask him to closely review the deck. We need to get his comments as early as possible on Monday in order for him to look good for the rest of the team at Tuesday morning’s rehearsal,” Polly replied.

“I can’t call him tomorrow. It’s Sunday. A Sunday morning. He’ll go nuts. He’s expecting me to handle this.”

Then, Polly, in a calm voice said, “Beth, he’ll respect you more if you just carefully explain what’s at stake here. He wants to look good. He wants to perform well on Tuesday like the others. I know that you’ve done your best in assembling this deck. In fact, it looks and sounds just right to me. But, I know that he will want some changes. It’s impossible for you to know exactly what he’s thinking, what he wants to say. So, your call is in his best interest. It’s a thoughtful heads up that will help him prepare for a demanding week.”

Beth began to feel better about calling Robert and responded, “It is a once-in-a-year event and he needs to be at his best. I’ll call him at 10 a.m. Thanks for pressing me on this, Polly, it’s definitely the right thing to do.”

“Call me after you’ve talked, Beth, I’d like to know how it went.” Polly felt like she’d made a friend and a significant contribution to the effort. Most importantly, Polly felt respected for the contribution (beyond the application of her design skills) that she had made. She’d become trusted as Beth’s equal by asking for what she needed, in a manner that was clearly in Beth’s best interest.

What can we learn from Polly’s experience?

>She drew on her exhaustion to overcome her anxiety.

>She asked for what she needed and waited for Beth’s response.

>She calmly explained why her request was in everyone’s self-interest.

>She helped Beth overcome her own anxieties.

>She gained Beth’s respect in the process.

>She felt much more in control of the situation as a result.

>She will be much more confident in future difficult situations.

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