Board presentations in many ways are no different to presentations to other audiences and groups. In board presentations you still need to:
- have completed a thorough stakeholders exercise and know as much as you can about the members of the board and their attitudes;
- know your subject;
- know what you want the board to say ‘Yes!’ to;
- find some key ‘values’ or ‘emotions’ on which to hang your presentation;
- structure your content to make it easily digestible;
- deliver your content confidently;
- wear the right uniform and talk the talk of your stakeholders.
There are however, a number of other considerations you can address and tactics you can choose to employ to ensure your message is heard and embraced, the first of which is to decide if a presentation is the right way to go.Would a written report be a better way of gaining board support? Written reports are useful when there is a great deal of technical data, a complicated process that needs careful scrutiny, or where a number of lead-up steps need to be taken before a case needs to be stated or advocated.
Some executives use the tactic of providing written reports that deliver high levels of data and proposing that the board ‘accept’ the reports. Then, they round off with a presentation on ‘Best Case’.
Having decided if a presentation is the best course of action, review the following tips and ideas to determine which ones suit your personal circumstances.
In studies conducted by Professor Jay Conger of the University of Southern California, it was found that effective corporate persuaders would select influential and savvy colleagues and superiors to get an emotional reading from them prior to engaging in processes of persuasion. They would question how various ideas and proposals might impact emotionally and logically on staff, superiors or board members. This enabled them to acknowledge and mirror in their proposals the emotional state and expectations of those they were seeking to persuade.
In board presentations, it makes supreme sense to discuss your proposals during the development phase and avoid the situation of ‘springing’ a completely new proposal on your board. Where possible, consider the following:
- Try out your raw ideas on various board members before you finalise them. If you can’t access board members, test your proposals on your colleagues, CEO, or other senior execs in the know, during the development phase of your ideas. Elicit from them/him/her as much detail of board attitudes as possible. Make amendments to satisfy any concerns or ideas expressed.
- Notice or discover the ‘value’ words board members use, such as ‘shareholders interests’, ‘profitability’, ‘responsibility’ ‘market share’ ‘credibility’ and other key words that relate to fundamental concepts and principles embraced by your board. Find ways of linking your key ideas to the value words you have elicited. Value words also provide benchmarks that you can employ when delivering board reports, as opposed to submissions.
- Get to know your subject from ‘both sides’. An audience of board members is generally a demanding audience where assumptions, judgements and proposals may well be challenged.
- To avoid being unprepared for challenges, become a Devil’s Advocate of your own position. Research the downside of your proposal and build up a comprehensive idea of the other side of your argument, proposal or idea. Get colleagues to pull your proposal apart if they can.
- Complete an opportunity-cost exercise so you can be the one who says something along the lines of “I would be remiss if I didn’t detail the potential costs and pitfalls of this proposal….” complete with well thought out ideas on how to neutralise or minimise those costs and pitfalls.
- Having a very clear picture of opposing arguments and the pitfalls and negatives inherent in your proposal will allow you to pre-test the validity of your position. It also prepares you for demanding or difficult questions during, and at the end of, your presentation.
- Understand clearly the format required. Often, executives turn up to a board meeting with their content well prepared but with little idea on the format of the presentation. Boards like exercising their power (Who hasn’t sat outside a board meeting stewing while waiting to be summoned?) and your board will probably demand you deliver your presentation according to its rules and not yours.
- Ensure you know how the board likes information, reports and proposals to be presented. Schmooze a board secretary, ask your CEO or a sympathetic board member to discover how the board likes presentations to be delivered and follow the rules rigidly. By delivering your presentation in a familiar format you increase the persuasive power of your presentation.
- Know who the tyrants are and what their hobbyhorses are. Board members are no different to any other group. Often board members will make statements or ask questions simply to show off their knowledge. It is wise to determine if any of your content will touch upon pet subjects of individual board members. In such cases you need to design tactics that either appeal to, or circumvent, particular positions of individual board members.
- Know where the power resides. What power blocs operate within the board? As a managing director you may well know who the ‘Alpha’ personalities are on your board. If you are not a CEO, find out as much as you possibly can about the power politics of your board. You are then in a position to tailor your content to the values and beliefs of the alphas or to the dominant power bloc on the board.
In Part Two of this article you will cover the esentials of delivery to a board.(c) Desmond Guilfoyle 2006