You would hope that most people who sit on Boards of Directors know their stuff. They are experienced, proven, successful business leaders (sure, that might not always be the case… but as a rule 😉 ). So, you need to have your act together whenever you go in front of them. You probably don’t need us to tell you that. You might well be feeling some trepidation at the thought – that’s probably why you’re reading this article. Well, don’t worry, we can help.
Whether you present to the Board regularly or have one big opportunity to get in front of them and show your stuff, you’ll want to do the best job you possibly can and make the right impression. So, read through our top tips for presenting to the Board and you’ll know exactly how best to approach your presentation. Knowing what you need to do will bring confidence… and that’s half the battle!
We’ll take you through what you need to do to in terms of preparation, what you should consider when it comes to the content of your presentation, and some top tips for delivery.
Be well prepared
Know your audience
Ask to see the full agenda
Don’t use jargon
Know the exact points you want them to remember
Use data and benchmarks
Make your slides look decent
Get your materials right
Do not read from notes
Smile, don’t be afraid of humour
DO NOT go over time
Be ready to answer questions
So, let’s take a look at each of these points in more detail….
Remember, if you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail. Don’t wing it. Presenting to the Board is important – even if you’re the CEO and do it regularly, you will almost always be presenting to the Board with a very specific and important goal in mind. Maybe you need to get approval, buy-in or sign-off for an initiative, or you’re hoping to secure investment for a project. Whatever the purpose of your presentation, if you’re in front of the Board, it’s important and worth doing properly.
So, make sure you prioritise this presentation and make the time to properly prepare. Try not to leave this until the last minute. Ideally, you’ll do your preparation far enough in advance to allow time for you to put it down for a few days and then revisit it with fresh eyes. That’s a great way to double check your key messages are clearly coming through.
And here is exactly what you should do to prepare…
Do your homework on all the Board Members – know their experience and their expertise. And, if you’ve never met them before, make sure to find a photo of them so you can put faces to names and bios.
Knowing their backgrounds and experience will help you craft a presentation that doesn’t patronise or assume knowledge where it isn’t. You can also subtly direct particular parts of your presentation to the most relevant Board Members to help engage them and ensure you have their attention.
It’s a good idea to know the context you are presenting in so you can get a sense for how the Board Members might be feeling. What are you following? Will they been exhausted from looking at spreadsheets or will they be relatively relaxed after a coffee break? Know your context and present accordingly.
Unless you are 100% confident that everyone in the room will understand it, avoid jargon. Board Members will be from a variety of backgrounds and experiences (that’s what makes a good Board) so you cannot assume everyone has the same level of knowledge of your area. Don’t take the risk of losing their attention or obscuring your meaning by using language they may not understand.
When planning your content, summarise your presentation and decide what the crucial points you want to get across are. If the Board Members only remember 2 or 3 points about your presentation, what would you want them to be?
When you’ve boiled down what you’re saying to those most important points, look back over your presentation and double check they are coming across loud and clear. Consider making a summary slide and ending the presentation on a reinforcement of those key points.
As it’s often said, it’s hard to argue with facts… so infuse your presentation with as many as possible, especially if you’re trying to win buy-in for something. Back up what you’re saying with data. If you make a point about performance improvement, show the data that demonstrates that. If you’re offering a growth projection, show the data that supports that hypothesis.
Then make sure you present that data in an interesting way. Data visualisation is an important skill to have and can help you transform presentations and bring numbers to life. Consider using graphs and diagrams instead of flat figures. This can really help the more visual people in your audience absorb the point you’re trying to make.
Remember, if you’re presenting data, don’t just show the stats without offering some analysis or a conclusion. What does this data tell us? What have you learnt from it? Does it drive any decisions or actions?
Also remember to give them context for each data point. Is that a good or bad performance? It’s no good showing a conversion rate, for example, without giving any sort of indication as to how that compares to expectations or industry averages. Try to include benchmarks for reference.
You’d be surprised how many people don’t give this the focus it deserves. This is particularly important if you’re going to be one of a series of presentations during the Board session. If you’ve spent the time to make your slides look engaging, then it’ll help you stand out.
If you have slides with a list of bullets, think about how they can be presented in a more visually engaging way. A list of bullets could become a grouping of different icons or images, each illustrating your different points with some supporting words underneath.
It’s worth getting a proper design brain to help you with this. Even if you just ask them to input on a few slides in your deck, you can then take the design improvements they’ve made to those slides and extend the same principles across the whole deck.
Spending time to make your presentation deck look good will not only help engage your audience and get your point across; it also shows that you have put the work in and are taking this seriously. That level of effort won’t go unappreciated by The Board.
No doubt there will be a Board Pack or Board Report you need to contribute to. Get that ready as far as you can in advance. If you do send materials in advance, do assume they’ve been read by the time it comes to your presentation, and don’t just repeat what was in the papers – that’ll feel like you’re wasting the Board Members’ precious time and that will annoy them.
This might seem obvious, but it’s worth noting here so you remember to factor in enough time for this. Some people like to practice in front of a trusted colleague, family member or friend, others are more comfortable in front of the mirror. Either way is good.
How you practice and how much does really come down to personal preference, but just make sure you get to the point where you’re confident in your delivery and you don’t have to struggle to remember what comes next.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that there is such thing as over practising. You don’t want to don’t kill all energy from your presentation and get to the point that you’re just reciting it like a robot!
We’re all for writing down what you want to say – it’s always better to be prepared and have properly thought through what you need to get across and how - but that doesn’t mean you should read it. The secret is to write what you’re going to say and then to learn it.
You can either write a full script, or some detailed notes. If you’re writing a script, it’s extremely important to write as you speak. Don’t think of this as an article or report – it’s a script to be spoken – so worry less about punctation and more about the flow of your words. Try speaking your ideas first… and then write them down.
If you don’t think you can pull off a natural enough delivery of a script, then don’t write one, write notes instead. But then you must practice and practice delivering the presentation based on the notes you have read – this will eliminate ums and errs and hesitations and ensure you have a smooth delivery where you’re confident of everything you’re saying.
Make your presentation at least mildly entertaining. People always remember presenters that made them smile, or even laugh. But it’s a fine balance – don’t rock up with a full comedy set, or launch into some physical slapstick humour, whatever you do.
If you opt for some humour, make sure you read the room. If little jokes are not landing, then ditch the rest, they might not be in the mood. And if you know your Board of Directors have zero sense of humour, then just stick to smiling and being upbeat – don’t try for laughs that aren’t there!
And, of course, don’t roll out the gags if the subject is particularly grave or if you’re presenting a cost reduction strategy that involves redundancies.
Give some height to your presentation – establish yourself as someone worth looking up to! It’s all too easy to slouch in a chair – standing up will help you keep a straight posture and look confident.
Standing up will also help open out your diaphragm and enable you to project your voice more successfully. Sure, if you’re in a small room you don’t want to be bellowing at them, but you want to have a straight posture and speak clearly.
If you’ve been given a time to keep to, KEEP TO IT. Board meetings will be busy and have pretty packed agendas. Nothing will annoy Board Members more than you coming in and putting their agenda and timetable out of whack.
This, again, comes down to practice. You need to run through it a few times – remembering to keep a natural and considered pace – so you’re confident you can keep it to time.
And if they haven’t given you a set time, then just be aware that brevity is a good thing. Be mindful of people’s attention span and consider what has come before you on their agenda. If they’re likely to be a bit frazzled from an intense couple of hours, you’ll need to keep things as concise as you can or risk losing them.
Make sure you leave time for a Q&A! Read through your presentation imagining you are a Board Member, try to think of any questions you’d ask. Now either work the answer to those questions into the presentation or be prepared with a considered answer for a Q&A session at the end.
Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know the answer to something. It’s best to say quickly and firmly that you do not know the answer, but you will find out and get back to them. That’s much better than launching into a flustered bumble of BS. A savvy Board Member will spot that a mile off.
Also make sure you answer the actual question asked. So, listen carefully and if you’re unsure what they’re asking, repeat back your understanding of the question to check before answering. Don’t launch into an answer unless you’re very clear what they want to know.
So, those are our top 14 tips for nailing your presentation to The Board. In a nutshell it’s all about being prepared, practiced and confident (which comes from the first two).
One final important tip is to try and enjoy it! Board Members are people like you and I, don’t be unduly worried or intimidated. Enjoy the limelight and good luck!
Get the latest strategy insights and tips from Lucidity twice a month. We never spam and you can unsubscribe any time.