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What I Learned This Week: Avoid Asshole Ammunition

11/04/2014 12:14 EST | Updated 01/04/2015 05:59 EST

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Last week, I had the pleasure of mentoring two sharp young men. By day, they have marketing jobs, but by night and over weekends, they are prepping an entrepreneurial endeavour, and asked me to offer up some advice on the concept.

Not that I am the world's most astute investor or business brain, but the fact that I co-founded and sold a tech business a few years ago (Airborne Mobile), and that I'm currently helping to fund and launch a new one, led them to reach out for a casual evaluation.

Now for reasons of confidentiality, I can't divulge their names or the nature of their business, but for purposes of this post, they're kinda irrelevant anyway. This week's learning was inspired by the opening statement of their presentation, where they said:

"Show of hands... how many of you actually click on Internet banner ads?"

I looked around the room. All hands were on deck. None were even twitching to be raised.

Except for mine.

"Look guys," I said sincerely, "I can't say I do it regularly, but frankly, from time-to-time, I actually do click on a banner ad or two. And I promise you I am not alone"

I continued.

"Look, I know all the stats; how ineffective they are, how everyone hates them, etc. But I also know if they didn't work AT ALL, they wouldn't be there.

"Click-thru rates may be miniscule, and I don't want to disparage well-intended marketing folk, but like spammers who send out multiple-millions of bait emails, sometimes all a banner ad needs is a teeny fraction of a percent reaction to make money."

But that wasn't the point. This was:

By starting a presentation with a question that could be contradicted, the young entrepreneurs were jeopardizing the credibility of every further point they wanted to make. (It reminded me of an occasion years ago when I found an error my accountant made in the first few lines of my tax return; I doubted every other figure from that point on.)

Worse yet (and pardon the mild profanity), it provided something that I call "Asshole Ammunition."

It's one thing to be honest and straightforward, which is what was expected from me.

It's quite another to gleefully torpedo a presentation for sport, which is the dastardly domain of the Asshole.

Unfortunately, I've been privy to that situation a number of times; be they when I was standing in front of a boardroom of people as a presenter, or seated amongst them as a presentee. Everyone else may be rolling their eyes, but those of the Asshole are laser-focused on destruction.

For an Asshole, making the point isn't enough; driving it home uncomfortably and seizing the moment to scuttle subsequent next steps in a presentation is. And this sadistic behavior (often in the guise of "ah, this'll toughen them up!") isn't limited to presentations; it rears its ugly, festering head in simple, everyday meetings on a frequent basis as well.

Now try as we may, there's no proper way to prevent the Asshole from attending a presentation or meeting.

But by knowing and understanding his or her modus operandi, we can at least be prepared for it... and minimize it, if we indeed have to deal with it at all.

To start, know your facts.

And to know enough to deflectingly say "I'll get back to you on that" if for some reason you don't know them.

Next point is to think like an Asshole.

Find your weak points, the lob balls that will be jumped on with a truncheon, and eliminate them. If you can't get rid of them, pad them... then question whether you're even on the right path. If you're gonna go down, better you control the descent than be kicked down a long mineshaft by someone else.

The key point is to maintain control of every one of your presentations.

Giving up the reigns puts someone else in the driver's seat, which is a guaranteed recipe for calamity. Trust me, every pitch you'll make will be challenged... but the longer your maintain control, the more powerful a base (and shield) you build. What's more, you may inadvertently address, even eliminate, someone's genuine concern as your presentation rolls on to its finish.

But it will never even get close to finishing your pitch if you let an Asshole take over. You'll have enough problems if he or she arrives unarmed; by providing Asshole Ammunition, you might as well not even start.

The exercise would be as futile as, uh... clicking a banner ad.

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