Boardroom

Congratulations, you wrote a great board paper. You have been invited to present to the board in person at the next meeting, and now have a valuable opportunity to present your personal credentials as well as effectively support your paper. A lot can go right … and wrong. The stakes are high.

Whoever invited you believes in your abilities to make a brilliant presentation. You should too. Below is a selection of essential tips that will help with both the preparation and delivery of your presentation to the board.

1. CONTENT

Context and colour

Assume Board members have read your paper thoroughly. Know why you are presenting, what outcome you want, know your audience and consider what extra context and colour they now need to know. Don’t repeat what’s in the paper.

Recall the ‘PACKO’ principle from the first part in this series on ‘Effective board reporting’. Apply the same structure to your presentation.

Connect to the strategy

Boards are concerned with strategy and risk, and they expect you to work with them on that level. Speak the language of the business, and avoid using technical or operational detail. If return on equity is the major metric in your company, discuss expenditure in terms of ‘ROE’. Talk about how your proposal will help the company deliver on its strategy, how it will mitigate risk and can positively impact your organisation’s success metrics.

Clear, concise, compelling

Your message should be succinct, both in spoken word and in any supporting visuals. Check if you can use slides. Both content and visuals should always be clear, concise and compelling. Think simple, but not simplistic. The objective is to give the board additional insight into the paper. It is not a case of “if I put everything up there, I’m covered”. Use visuals and facts that support the board’s ability to see the whole picture, not drown in the detail.

Don’t rely on others to prepare your visual presentations for you. You need to know your “storyboard” inside and out and back to front. Others can support with details and formatting, but you need to design the overall message.

2. PREPARATION

Pithy

Remember, if you can’t make it succinct, you don’t know it well enough.

Know your allocated time and keep presentation time to a minimum. Plan to speak for two-thirds of the allocated time. Leave time for questions. Even if there aren't many questions, meeting-weary board members will appreciate your brevity.

Plan B elevator pitch

Have a Plan B. Prepare what you will say if there is only 5 minutes and no time for slides – think ‘elevator pitch’.

Practice, practice, and then practice some more

Going over your presentation many times won’t make it stale. It will make you more confident. Practice out loud, better still with an audience, and invite critique. Use your phone or computer to record yourself - judge yourself as the board will. You are your own best critic.

3. ON THE DAY

Dedicated, engaging and professional, not boring

Be professional but not too formal; polished, but not so polished that you seem fake and slick. The goal is to be conversational. This is not a TED talk. Slow down, avoid 'ums' and hesitation.

Be engaging. However, even if the atmosphere is casual, remember you are an invitee and not there as a friend, even if you know them.

Dress appropriately – ask what is expected.

It's a dialogue, not a speech

Unlike one-way conference presentations, presenting to the board is more like a dialogue. The board’s role is to ask challenging questions and for you to respond. Presenting to the board is an opportunity for developing a shared understanding of opportunities and risks, and to discover something new together. Welcome a board that wants to know more because it means they are engaged and seeking to add value. Don’t take the questioning personally.

On your own or with others, brainstorm various possible scenarios, even the worst. What questions do you hope they won't ask? What do you think you should know more about? What would make you nervous? Know your presentation well enough so you know exactly where slides are located. Board members might want to refer back to one and you need to know where to find those that will help you answer their questions.

Direct and Honest

If you don’t know the right response, acknowledge you don't have the answer. Say you'll get back to them. Trust and credibility are key.

You have been invited to speak because you are the expert on the topic and it is an opportunity for the board to meet key talent in the organisation. You don’t need to show off all you know. Big, technical words don’t necessarily equal intelligence. Be yourself. Demonstrate the company values. End with grace, say thank you and don’t linger.

Looking for more tips on board reporting from Dr Judith MacCormick FAICD? Read Effective Board Reporting: Writing for tips on writing a paper that will meet your board’s expectations.