Episode 179: November 22, 2012
by Lisa. B. Marshall
Board meeting presentations are golden opportunities for executives to demonstrate their credentials as business leaders. Last week, I discussed the first 3 tips for nailing your presentation to the board of directors. Today, I’ll cover three more tips, focusing on how to make board presentations less intimidating for you, the presenter, and more meaningful to the board members.
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In last week’s episode, which I urge you to check out before this one, I covered the 3 tips for nailing your board presentation. Very briefly, I first explained that you need to understand the significance of the challenge you are facing, that you need to understand what and why you are presenting, and finally, I suggested that you use a presentation template to plan your core message and supporting key points.
We’ll pick up from last week with 3 more tips on how to make your presentation to the board of directors less intimidating and more effective:
Tip #4: Be Clear
For board presentations, it’s critical that your key points clearly communicate the link between your work and business outcomes. Don’t get caught up with technical details, instead know the company’s objectives and explicitly state how your work will help reach those specific financial and strategic objectives. If possible, quantify how your work brings in additional revenues or is a cost savings and compare to company or industry standards.
Keep in mind that board members usually have diverse backgrounds, so you’ll need to choose language that everyone in the room can understand. Avoid technical jargon, unnecessarily complicated language, or excessive detail. To be clear, I’m not suggesting you leave out technical terms or “dumb down” your presentation. No, what I am saying is that you need to communicate your ideas as plainly and clearly as possible. You don't want to be perceived as a techie who talks about the latest cool stuff or the academic who is knee-deep in theory. Instead, you want to be perceived as a leader, a decision-maker who understands the business and sees the bigger picture.
Finally, don’t just present the raw numbers in text form. Put your data on display and bring your work to life by adding visual elements. Not only is it more interesting, it also makes the data easier to understand. Incorporate graphs, charts, images, and text to show off your hard work and deliver the information in the form of a story.
Tip #5: Be Concise
One of the most difficult aspects of a board presentation is be able to communicate complex ideas clearly and concisely. Keep in mind that at times, the board will want to understand how you arrived at your conclusions or decisions. Not only do you need to be prepared to present a high level summary, you also need to be prepared to dive deeply into the messy details, again communicating those details concisely.
Don't underestimate their ability to understand the details. Expect many interruptions. In fact, interruptions are usually what catch most people off-guard and can easily derail a presentation. Finally, keep in mind that as the speaker, it’s your job to remain in control of presentation. Don’t let questions get you off-track.
In order to prepare for those interruptions, it's important that you seek out in advance the questions that may be asked of you. Talk to the president, talk to your colleagues, and really think for yourself what would be the most difficult questions that you might receive. Trust your gut—if you feel a slight twinge of anxiety when practicing certain topics in your presentation, it’s likely you need to prepare even more for that section.
Tip #6: Be Prepared
And speaking of preparation, it is also very important to prepare how you will bring the topic of conversation back on track if it becomes derailed. One way to do that is to use a technique called "the bridge," which is a phrase that helps you segue to a subject you want to talk about.
One of my favorites is "What's crucial to remember is..." So, let’s say you get asked your opinion on a sticky issue, you can respond by briefly giving your opinion, but then direct the discussion away from the sticky situation using the bridge and go on to discuss what you want to talk about.
I can't over emphasize the importance of collecting and researching the types of questions that you might get ahead of time. I suggest preparing slides that address the most difficult questions (even if you never use them). The process will force you to think through your responses more carefully and prepare you for a better “off-the-cuff” response, should the question come up.
When it comes to the length of your formal presentation, never, ever believe the amount of time that you'll be given. Assume that even if you're told you have 40 minutes to present, that a majority of your 40 minutes will be spent answering questions. Recognize that your formal board presentation will likely be extremely short, so plan and prepare for that. Ahead of time, plot the information you’re delivering into “must know,” “should know,” and “nice to know” categories, so that you can prioritize in case your time gets cut short.
Also, find out what will be communicated to the board on this particular topic on the day of your presentation by other presenters, as well as what has been presented in the recent past and also in the years gone by. If possible, you’ll also want to know the reactions of the board to those past presentations. You don’t want to repeat information that has already been presented earlier in the day on the same agenda, but more importantly, by understanding a previous reaction you can better prepare for how to approach the topic.
Ultimately, an excellent board meeting presentation comes down to preparing as much as possible so that you can appear to be spontaneously clear, concise, and compelling.
This is Lisa B. Marshall, The Public Speaker. Passionate about communication; your success is my business.
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