After four recent conversations on preparing for a Board of Directors presentation, it must be a sign to share my best advice. You could also replace “the Board” with “the Executive Committee,” as most tips will still apply.
- Know Your Board. While Boards have a common purpose, there are differences in style, format, and Board member interests. Ask others about the Board’s typical style and their frequent focus areas, both as a group and individually. Determine if any Board members will require unique preparation. This preparation ensures you will fit your materials and presentation format to this unique audience.
- Are you there to Inform, Review, or Request Approval? Your purpose will affect your presentation and how you use your time. An ‘inform’ topic is probably shorter and simpler, with fewer questions than a request for approval. Approvals often require more extensive pre-reads or additional material. Tell the Board your purpose & desired outcome upfront.
- Plan time for questions and discussion. If you have 30 minutes, plan content for 15 minutes. Assume you will be asked questions and allow time for discussion. If you have 15 minutes, don’t plan to cover 20 slides. Managing your time will be the key to reaching your outcome.
- Plan materials for this audience and their likely questions. A Board has a different focus than a leadership team, as they have fiduciary oversight responsibilities and a commitment to limit risk. Also, a Board doesn’t have operational responsibility for execution. As a result, your content may need a complete redo for this unique audience. Rely on facts and data. Board members often ask, ‘How do you know?’ and ‘How did you draw that conclusion?’. Ensure your recommendations and conclusions have sound facts & reasoning ready to back you up.
- Be ready for Board questions. Given their charter, a Board will be more focused on the “Why” and “What” than the “How.” A Board will typically have questions on business impact and investment expectations. Common questions include:
- What is the business impact if we move forward?
- What investment is required to act on your recommendations? In terms of budget, resources, or leadership time?
- Why now? (relative to other priorities)
- What is the ROI of this program?
- What overall metrics or measures will you use to evaluate success?
- What do you need from the Board? (you should be ready with this answer even if they don’t ask)
- Make sure pre-read materials are stand-alone – no voice-over required. Most Boards receive a pre-read packet before each Board meeting. Your materials must be self-explanatory without you providing a voice-over. It doesn’t mean you must include every point you’ll make in the presentation, but pre-read materials should stand on their own.
- Know your materials cold. Practice your presentation – and with a timer. Anticipate the hard questions. It’s always easier to ‘think on your feet’ and handle tough questions when you know your materials cold. Prep time will increase your confidence – even if it’s content you know well. Don’t use prep time to be rehearsed or inflexible – but be ready for questions and anticipate how to use your time wisely. Preparation breeds confidence.
- Bring your best facilitation game. I see this as the most common pitfall for presenters to a Board or Executive Committee, as it’s the balance between responsiveness and strategically covering what you are there to cover. Questions can derail your short timeframe, so plan your time accordingly. Use a few communication strategies to make smart use of your time. Examples include:
- I have more detail in the Appendix on pg 20. Please let me know if that will be sufficient to answer your question.
- We only have 10 minutes left, and I want to be sure we discuss your greatest areas of interest. Would you like to spend the last few minutes on A or B? I can send you follow-up information on what we don’t have time to cover.
- We only have a few more minutes, and I want to be sure we get to the cost analysis on slide 12. I’ll move forward to that, and then you will have all these materials for your review afterward, and I can answer any follow-up questions.
- Headlines first. Details if needed. Start with the big picture and go down to more detail as needed. When asked a question – start with a simple, clear top-line answer and give more detail only if there is an interest and time for it. Don’t begin with detail and work up to the headline. Headlines come first. Use supplemental materials to provide more detail for those interested.
- If you don’t know, say you don’t know. It’s much better to say you’ll follow up with more information to ensure you provide accurate information. Commit to follow-up rather than give wrong information you may have to follow up on anyway.
Remember, it’s not that scary. The Board is made up of just people – with roles and responsibilities on behalf of the company. And, if you are presenting to the Board, you probably have impressive experience and knowledge to share. Don’t let their role cause you to lose your confidence.
Good luck with your presentation to the Board of Directors. It’s a great opportunity! And a few nerves means you care. You’ve worked through nerves before, and you will this time too.
Patti Johnson is the CEO of PeopleResults.