Challenged and Interrupted by Your Boss, by Slide 3?

Your leader asks you to give “an update to the new team” or “share with us what you’ve been working on”.

You are told you have 20 minutes and yet they interrupt you just after 5.

Their question is answered later on in your 20 Min presentation, at slide 17, but clearly they couldn’t wait that long.

You jump to slide 17 and the meeting spirals out of control and now they’ve turned facing and talking to one of your colleagues, fully ignoring you, despite you standing in front of the room with your slides feeling steam rolled and vulnerable.

What just happened?

What can you do to prevent this from happening?

This is what happened:

  • When your boss told you that you have 20 minutes, they meant you have 5 minutes and (if your info is interesting enough) 15 minutes for discussion/questions.
  • They wouldn’t acknowledge it if you asked them because they don’t plan this (they just think: “20 Min”), but inadvertently by minute 5 they either heard everything they needed to hear or…

by minute 5 they’ve had enough because they’re not getting the information they ACTUALLY wanted when they asked for “an update”.

  • Asking someone for “an update” is a vague term, they want to know something specific. They know what they are doing, they’re in that position for a reason, but they’re not aware that you’re not a mind reader nor do they have the time to worry about this, so they often don’t tell you.

What can you do about it?

Before the meeting

Ask and follow up to get the answer to this question: “Why do you need me to give an update? What specifically do you want to know about so I make sure I don’t add information that’s not relevant to you and this meeting?”.

  • Prepare only 5 minutes presentation in response to the purpose they told you.
  • Worst case scenario, you don’t get the answer to these questions before the meeting. Then think:
  1. “What do I want to happen as a result of this presentation?”
  2. “What do they want?” Who are the people who’ll listen to this and what’s their relationship to my work? How can they use the information I am giving them in their work?
  • The answer to those questions is the content of your 5 min presentation.

Structure the 5 min presentation like this:

  1. Sweeping statement about the problem hinting at the solution
  2. Problem in more detail
  3. Challenges (faced by your audience)because of this problem and challenges in finding the right solution
  4. Solution
  5. (Call to action — if you need the audience to do anything).


During the meeting

Let’s say you didn’t believe what I said earlier in this article and you made the mistake of preparing a 20 Min presentation and by slide 3 they interrupted you with a question you’re tacking in your presentation on slide 17.

Your mind goes blank and you don’t know what to say.

What can you do there-and-then to do damage control?

Ask a question such as “what was it about what I said so far that made you ask this?”

Why should you ask a question in response to their question when your mind goes blank or you don’t know what to say? The alternative is to waffle or look like a rabbit in the headlights.

Asking a question helps because:

  1. It helps you understand what they really want to know (especially if they didn’t tell you when you asked before the meeting).
  2. Buys you time so you can come up with a useful answer.

Next time before a meeting when you’re asked to present remember: 5 min not more and do your best to understand why they asked you to present.

What do they ACTUALLY want to know?

Has this happened to you? What was your experience? How did it make you feel? Or leaders — what made you interrupt your staff mid presentation?



Adelina Chalmers a.k.a The Geek Whisperer

Helps Engineers who are Leaders (CEO/ CTO/ VP) get buy-in from their peers/teams/investors by transforming Communication techniques into Algorithms