There are a number of golden rules to follow when preparing for difficult meetings.
If you are going to say something which will make you really unpopular, make sure you are prepared, know all your facts and can reel them off with confidence.
If your case is not watertight, anticipate where you are vulnerable and rehearse your evasion tactics so that you cover up the fact that you are being evasive.
If your ground is really shaky, your only chance is to make doubly sure that you can deliver your line in bullshit with confidence and aplomb.
In the last case, rehearsing your responses with critical friends is essential. Ask yourself, “What are the questions I really hope they don’t ask?” Then get your colleagues to ask you those questions as spitefully and aggressively as they can. Practice your responses so that you get used to delivering them while managing your own fear and anger.
Unfortunately, many people don’t do this. The more senior they are, the more likely they are to surround themselves with people who agree with them and reinforce their views. They are therefore able to kid themselves that they influence people by force of personality and argument rather than by their position power. The result is that when they go into adversarial situations they are too arrogant to prepare for the conflict and end up being unable to deal with the hostility. I’ve seen it happen many times. Under an unexpectedly effective assault, they bluster, sweat, laugh nervously, make inappropriate jokes and comments to hide their anxiety and, eventually, lose it and insult someone.
Which is pretty much what happened to BNP leader Nick Griffin last night. The PR professionals’ verdict is that his performance was disastrous.
A word of advice from the corporate world, Nick. If you are going to spout such ludicrous rubbish, make sure you are really well prepared and rehearsed before you go on.