If you are not a regular presenter at Board of Directors’ meetings, this article could help you. Whether you are a seasoned or new executive, if you are invited to present or “report” information at a periodic or special board meeting, consider it a golden opportunity to showcase your knowledge, expertise and persona. You could be invited because there’s special interest in the subject you specialized in, you are filling in for an absent manager or you’ve accepted a new role. Whatever the reason or the purpose of this valuable opportunity, seize it and impress members of the board, as you would at a job interview.
Here are some powerful tips:
Know your audience
Knowing your audience is essential to ensuring the PowerPoint or any material you decide to use during your presentation is relevant and resonates with your audience. Tap your network – managers, colleagues, mentors, sponsors and anyone else you have a relationship with who have gone before you, presenting for the same board members. Find out who is the most influential member(s) of the board, and what are their hot buttons. Some members are risk focused, some have a penchant for wanting to know new technology or its implications and others are obsessed with numbers. Whatever the hot button, try and weave in what you know would pique their interest or preempt their concerns. The goal here is for your message to resonate with as many members of the board, but at a minimum, the influential ones, during delivery. When you get quiet nods and generate the right interactions, it will boost your confidence and help establish your credibility with the board. Before crafting your messages and content, be sure to determine the objective of your presentation. Is it to inform, gain buy-in/approval, create awareness or influence a decision? A presentation at the board meeting is never ever a social call. Someone felt the need to have the item on the agenda. Find out why and what they want to achieve so you can be a useful advocate and add value to the meeting.
Create relevant material
When you are asked to present, you may not receive a lot of guidance. You may be given a very subjective or broad topic as an agenda item, and told you will be presenting for the item at a given time slot. The topic could be, “New Product XYS Update”. If you receive a request that is broad, the onus is on you, as the presenter to find out exactly what the board or chairperson of the meeting expects to receive for that update. The best way is to draft an outline of your presentation or report, and solicit feedback well before the meeting to ensure your content meets expectations and addresses the audience's communication needs. Tap your network and/or the chairperson to learn the types of information, level of detail and presentations that were effective in the past, and what to avoid. This way you have a better of chance of creating materials that the board will find relevant and useful to them
Keep it simple, concise and to the point
Want to make an impression? This bullet-point title says it all. Making an impression does not imply imparting everything you know about your subject on the board. Do not write long essays or talk without a purpose. Keep in mind that when you ramble, you will come across as nervous. When you are allowed say, 15 minutes for your time slot, be prepared to speak for only 7-10 minutes. And make sure you have no more than 1-2 slides or pages per minute to cover. Be ruthless about speaking in plain English. Using lots of technical jargon could be lost on board members from a different background and/or industry. You want them to easily understand your message, and grasp the take-away clearly. If they don't understand the jargon or lingo, it's your problem, not theirs. You are the messenger, and you want your message received clearly. Tip: Consider including a one page glossary or definitions of technical terms in the appendix section of your presentation that you can quickly refer the audience to if references to jargon and acronyms cannot be entirely avoided.
What to wear?
Save your favorite fragrant scents for cocktail parties. A clean, professional suit and business attire is what is most important. Don’t forget tidy hair, polished shoes and fresh breath. Do men require ties? Find out your company policy from your network. Those who are regular presenters or the organizer of the meeting can guide you. Can women bring their pocketbooks? Even if the response is "Yes", why would you want to bring stuff that won't help you wow the Board? Leave your Prada or Louis Vuitton handbags at your desk or in your office. Declutter. Bring yourself, a clean copy of your presentation and if you are like me, a marked up copy with your talking points, a nice (doesn't have to be flashy) pen and an executive folder. If you are coming or traveling to the meeting from a different office or out of town location, make arrangements prior to the meeting with the Corporate Secretary team or meeting organizer to find out where you can temporarily store your valuable belongings while you are attending the meeting.
Conquer stage fright
Some people are great workers and brilliant performers. But when asked to present in front of any number of people, they freeze or become paralyzed. Conquering public speaking fears warrant a full-length article of its own. If public speaking is not your forte, the best advice I can offer in this article is to practice your presentation in front of trusted teammates, a manager or mentor, and in private (a lot). While waiting for your turn to present in the sometimes, overly cold waiting room outside the Board conference room, your palms can get sweaty, and your nerves frayed. Be prepared for it, and take measures to address it. If you know you’ll get sweaty, bring Kleenex or wipes with you. If your voice gets coarse when you are nervous, bring a bottle of water, and leave it in the waiting room when your turn is called. If you are prone to nervousness, find out the best ways to calm yourself down before the meeting. Sometimes, quiet meditation helps. Other times, chatting with other presenters (also waiting fo their turn) help. You could also bring a book or magazine to flip through to keep your mind focused on anything but the meeting while waiting. This way your mind isn’t wandering needlessly, causing you more angst while you wait. The most important thing is to take measures to mitigate the things that could derail your presentation because of your fear or dislike for public speaking. You want to be calm, poised and relax, before and during your presentation.
Tip: Here's a link to help with nerves
Arrive early. You have prepared well for this meeting. Now, trust your preparation and expertise, and be yourself. Remember to make eye contact, pause between slides or pages, and keep your answers short and to the point.
About the Author
Lilian Snodgrass is co-founder of Arete Advisors (Areté). She advises leaders at all levels for Fortune 500, small and medium-size companies as well as non-profit organizations. Lilian works with both private and public sector clients. She has more than two decades of management consulting and internal consulting experience. Lilian has helped numerous companies around the world orchestrate transformational change, deliver client engagements and complex projects and has extensive experience communicating with, reporting and presenting to various Boards. She has coached leaders, mid-level and junior professionals in developing and presenting presentations aimed to wow audiences.