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How to feel confident when talking to powerful people

Here’s how to skillfully handle a meeting with a powerful person—whether you’re talking with your boss’s boss, a hiring manager, or your company’s CEO.

How to feel confident when talking to powerful people
[Source photo: CocoSan/Getty Images]

All of us have to speak to powerful people, such as our boss, a C-level executive, or a hiring manager. These meetings can be very important to our careers. But when you have such meetings, you need to project confidence if you want to be taken seriously. And you must do so without sounding arrogant.

Here are six ways to convey that level of confidence—and demonstrate an approach that will work wonders for your career:


To begin with, enter any planned meeting well-prepared. Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase, says when he interviews job candidates, he’s most impressed with those who’ve done their homework, as opposed to those who ask questions about things they should have known. The ones who do their homework, he says, “are actually enhancing your life, as opposed to the other way around.”

If you want to impress powerful people, master the material you will be discussing. Study everything you can get your hands on: annual reports, press coverage, speeches, industry documents, internal reports, and job descriptions. Come prepared to talk about the company and its leadership with the executive who sits across the table.


If you want to be taken seriously by a powerful person, you’ll want to show respect. Not only will they appreciate this, but they will admire you for not focusing all the attention on yourself.

There’s an art to showing respect. You don’t want to sound like a sycophant who plays up to the boss with empty flattery. That would make you look weak. Find genuine reasons to show admiration, and that will make you look and sound more powerful.

Earlier in my career I was a speech writer for a series of CEOs, and I often went into meetings complimenting them on their last speech and telling them what I specifically loved about their remarks.

One great place to show respect is at the start of the meeting. Say, “I value your opinion and that’s why I’ve requested this meeting.” Or to a hiring manager you might say, “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you and hearing more about this exciting role on your team.” Or when sitting down with an executive, you might state simply: “I’ve long admired you so it’s a pleasure to meet you in person.”


In any conversation with a powerful person, you’ll want to show early on that you have a message that’s clear and pointed.

Too often speakers, particularly those who feel powerless, wander around the topic without making a point. By doing so they reduce their power and encourage the other person to take charge.

If you want to impress, cut to the chase, and take charge. My first boss, who was a great mentor, said to me: “You’re five levels below our CEO. It doesn’t matter. Walk into his office and tell him what he’s going to say in his speech.” He taught me to get to the point and make my message clear. He didn’t say, “Ask our CEO what he wants to say.” That would mean giving away my power.


Powerful people expect you to hold up your side of the discussion. And the best way to do that is to develop your message.

Once you’ve put your message forward, support it with proof points. Give the reasons why you believe in your argument, or suggest the ways it can be acted upon.


The words you use tell all. Present your case with strong verbs like “I know,” “I believe,” I see,” and “I will.”

Avoid words that make you sound unsure, for example, “I think,” “I feel,” “I suspect,” “I guess,” “I suppose,” “I wonder,” and “I imagine.” These will make you sound like you don’t really know what you are talking about.

Try to avoid using filler words, like “um,” “ah,” “like” and “you know.” Instead of plugging your pauses with filler words, allow your ideas to breathe by pausing in silence.

Avoid apologies and caveats such as “I’m not sure, but . . .” or, “I could be wrong,” or, “It’s just a thought.” Being apologetic or overly modest doesn’t usually go over well.


Look directly at the powerful person. Don’t look down or around; you’ll appear less confident. Eye contact will make your message feel personal and direct.

Research indicates that high-status people engage others with more eye contact than those who have less power. Hold your eye contact. Look that executive directly in the eye while you are speaking and after you have finished each important idea. Wait for their response to what you’ve said.

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Judith Humphrey is founder of The Humphrey Group, a premier leadership communications firm headquartered in Toronto. She is a regular columnist for Fast Company and is the author of three books: Impromptu: Leading in the Moment (2018), Speaking as a Leader: How to Lead Every Time You Speak (2012), and Taking the Stage: How Women Can Speak Up, Stand Out, and Succeed (2014). More

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