Speaking to Powerful People


  • To practice speaking and negotiating with people in positions of power


  • Flipchart paper
  • Markers
  • “Scenarios” handout (4+ copies)
  • “Speaking to Power” handout (4+ copies)

Prepare Before


Warm Up

What is power? What are specific example of people with power in this society? Who are the people who have power with our research topic?


Today we are going to practice how to speak to and negotiate with people who have positions of power.

Imagine you are going to meet with a powerful person, like the principal of your school. Brainstorm some tips you should follow.

If these are not included, add these tips:

  • Act confidently.
  • Sit up straight.
  • Have a firm handshake.
  • Don’t assume they will be hostile.
  • Don’t be defensive or hostile yourself.
  • Treat the person with respect, even if you don’t like them or if they don’t help you.
  • Stay calm, and don’t lose your cool.
  • State your questions and your demands firmly.
  • Set next steps, and get them in writing if needed.
  • Thank them for their time.

We are going to practice these with some potential situations. Get class into 4 groups. Each group will get a scenario and a Speaking to Power sheet. They have 10 minutes to complete the sheet and decide on a strategy. You will play the person in power.

Have each group demonstrate their situation.

Note:    You will be playing the person in power.  Consider roleplaying these different archetypes of people in power:

  1. Person who is not paying attention/too busy (e.g., checking email or answering phone, running late, seems distracted).
  2. Person who is too nice (e.g., seems very interested but doesn’t really agree to or offer anything).
  3. Person on the defense (e.g., your response is always, “Yes, but… here is why that won’t work”).
  4. Person who totally agrees with the participants/organizers but is under pressure and can’t do anything (e.g., “My boss won’t let me”).


After each scenario ask,

  • How was that for you?
  • What was challenging?
  • Did you get what you needed?
  • Did it seem that the person in power wanted to help you/wanted to listen?
  • What would you do differently?


This conversation can be very difficult.  It’s important to practice what you want, what you say and to anticipate what they might say.  When figuring out a negotiation, it’s important to imagine things from their situation and to try to guess what is important to them in your situation.  If you can answer how your issue matters to them, it will help you to craft a strategy for talking to people in power.


Return to your original groups.  As a class brainstorm 1-3 situations for your own research project where you might be speaking to people in power.  Each group should get a situation and repeat this process with a new Speaking to Power form.

As each group roleplays their situation, ask the entire class what worked, what did not work, and what could we do differently.