In college, I always wanted to listen carefully to presentations. I knew how stressful and nerve-wracking it was to present yourself in a room with colleagues and people in authority.
I would nod feverishly to let the moderators know that I was invested in their presentation. And they knew it too. They often focused on me as I became their focus point and silent motivator. The fixation felt uncomfortable at times, but that felt like one of my little contributions to society. That and an endless supply of cat videos.
At that time the stakes were relatively small. However, when your task is to put together a presentation to a board of directors, the pressure is on.
However, with a few tricks in your arsenal, you don't need a personable audience to judge how good you are.
Let's go over some tips to prepare for your presentation and review a few things to avoid.
How to give a presentation to the board
- Know your audience.
- Plan ahead.
- Structure your presentation.
- Keep it short.
- Set up early.
- Integrate visuals into your presentation.
- Focus on results.
- Send materials in advance.
- Build confidence in your power outfit.
- Practice your script.
- Don't fall into the PowerPoint trap.
- Read the room.
- Take the time to ask questions.
1. Know your audience.
Knowing your audience is just as important as the content of your presentation. Once you understand their priorities, you can put together a presentation that speaks to them directly.
If you don't know the board well, do some research and get answers to the following questions:
What does the board care?
This helps you see which lens you are viewing things from. For example, a board interested in the impact on the community may not be drawn into a presentation about return on investment (ROI).
There are a few ways you can find out. You can start by examining the professional background of each board member. For example, if most of the members have a financial background, make sure you cover any financial data related to your presentation. This can be costs, expected ROI or operating margins.
You can also get some insight into what the board is interested in by looking back on your interactions with its members. Think about the conversations you have had: what happens most often? Is it corporate culture, profit, philanthropy, innovation or something else?
What are your main concerns?
A board of directors is responsible for making decisions that ensure the growth and sustainability of a company. Of course, they will be on the lookout for anything that might hinder this process.
Common board concerns include:
- Costs: How much time and money will it take?
- Timeline: How long will this project last and is this schedule feasible?
- Risks: How risky is your proposal and what is the risk / reward ratio?
Each board member may have a different focus. Hence, your presentation should be well-rounded to address these issues.
Once you know that answer, you can subtly handle any concern during your presentation. When you get these answers, you can create a presentation that not only interests your audience but also aligns with their goals. This in turn brings you much closer to implementing the plans outlined in your presentation.
2. Plan ahead.
The next step in making a great presentation is creating a plan. This means that you need to figure out what is important in your presentation, what to cover and what to leave out.
A presentation should follow the structure of a good movie, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Here's an example of a presentation where the head of the marketing team suggests course offerings as a new lead generation channel.
In the beginning, you should set expectations for what you will cover. This is also an opportunity to set the baseline and explain the current state of affairs. This can look like KPIs are being discussed or goals and results are being reviewed.
The center is the meat and potatoes of your presentation. You will likely spend time providing data, contextualizing it, and explaining your approach.
Your ending should bring your key points together and leave actionable steps to your audience. After all, what good is it to provide the information if you don't have plans of what to do in the future?
3. Structure your presentation based on the board's process.
Not every board member works the same. Of course, there are standard guidelines for every meeting. However, the approach can vary for presentations.
Some may function more like a town hall, taking regular breaks to discuss the points as they arise. If so, after each section of your presentation, leave space to discuss what was covered.
Others may follow the standard approach: presentation followed by discussion. Studies show that people remember best the beginning and the end of what they read, hear and see. What is in the middle is lost. With that in mind, consider sharing your most important information at the beginning and end of your presentation.
4. Keep it short.
One thing that board members are not known for is open availability. That said, you want to make the most of your time with them. How you do that? Stick to the scope of the presentation.
While it's great to include storytelling, avoid getting distracted and wasting time. Be clear and keep it simple.
When viewing data, share only one highlight per data chart. There are mutliple reasons for this:
- Data itself doesn't tell a story. You as the moderator do this. As such, you need to explain what it means and why it is important. Let's assume that lead generation in your company hit a plateau across all channels in the past year. That's all the dates. However, during your research, you discover that the way your audience is consuming information has changed. Your job is to present the data and explain the "why" behind the plateau along with a solution.
- You want to prevent information overload. Share the data that best supports your points and has the greatest impact. For example, if a new lead generation channel is the focus of your presentation, it might not be worth diving into the ins and outs of another channel.
If you let your audience understand the data, they may come to a conclusion that doesn't align with your message.
5. Set up early.
There is nothing more uncomfortable than silence during a technical difficulty.
Everyone looks at you as you figure out why technology left you. The longer it takes to fix the problem, the more you panic. We've all been through this.
To avoid this, you should set up early and run a run-through before the scheduled presentation time. You will have time to familiarize yourself with the space and technology that you will need to perform during your presentation.
6. Integrate visuals into your presentation.
When choosing between words and media, choose the latter.
With the help of graphics, we can understand information much faster than words. We are also better able to remember what we see and what we hear by 55% – this is called visual superiority.
It is also beneficial to keep your pictures simple. If you're too busy, your audience will be confused. However, if it is too bare it will take too many pictures to paint the picture. So, subtract your most important data and use data visualization tools to design intuitive graphs.
7. Focus on the results.
A board of directors usually focuses on overall decisions that have a long-term impact on the company.
With that in mind, each part of your presentation should bring you closer to answering these questions:
- "Why is that important?"
- "What's the long-term impact?"
- "How does this bring the company closer to its goals?"
- "Possible roadblocks? How are you going to tackle them?"
By including these answers in your presentation, you can have a smoother question and answer session.
8. Send the materials beforehand.
Depending on what you are going to cover in your presentation, it may be helpful to send the board materials upfront for review. This should only be supplemental information that would be too time consuming or distracting to include in a presentation, such as reports and demos. This way, the focus during the presentation is on the "why" rather than the "how".
The only material you don't want to send is your presentation because you want to be the one to contextualize it. Otherwise, the board could form an opinion based on limited information.
A week before the meeting is a good rule of thumb so that you can respond to initial comments or feedback.
See this process as an advantage. You will get a glimpse of what the board members can bring up during the meeting and more context to prepare. Second, it ensures that everyone is on the same page before the meeting. In this way, you can immerse yourself in important points during your presentation without having to consider the smallest details.
9. Build confidence in your power outfit.
Trust building is one of the less specific tips on the list that needs to be implemented. The good news, however, is that there are research-backed techniques that you can use to achieve this. One of them is right within your reach: clothing.
Many of us can relate to the feeling of trying on clothes in a locker room and feeling like a million dollars. It tends to put us in a better mood and change our perspective.
It turns out there is a reason for this. In 2012, two researchers coined the term "enclothed cognition" to refer to the effects clothing can have on the psyche. They found that the clothes we wear can change our perspective.
With this in mind, put on your best blazer or suit the day of your presentation. This outfit can be exactly the boost you need.
10. Practice your script.
During a presentation to a board of directors, you want to avoid the Michael Scott approach at all costs.
Instead, go the opposite way: practice. Exercise is the cure for presentation variability and the formula for seamless delivery. The more familiar you get with your content, the better the presentation will be.
If it's been a while since your last presentation, start by practicing in the mirror. You'll immediately notice any mannerisms that might distract your audience. Recording yourself works great too.
Then practice in front of an audience. And unfortunately, your dog won't cut it for this one. Practice with family or friends who can provide feedback on how you can improve.
And remember: you are the only one who knows your speech and presentation. So if you screw something up or forget to mention something, you're probably the only one who noticed.
11. Don't fall into the PowerPoint trap.
They will likely use a tool like PowerPoint to guide you during your presentation. However, it is important that you don't become too dependent on it.
For example, packing your slides with heavy text or bullets is a surefire way of losing your audience. In fact, in a 2018 study by Prezi, 40% of respondents said this led to a withdrawal and made information retention difficult.
So stick to an important point on each slide. It is easier for your audience to remember and prevents information overload.
12. Read the room.
Even if you follow each of the tips listed above, you can get to a point in your presentation where there is a disconnect between you and your audience. You may notice confused looks or a change in body language. In this case, this is your keyword.
If your audience seems confused, dig a little deeper into your point. If you sense disagreements, address those concerns directly.
Let's say you propose a new initiative for the company and you feel some setback on the timeline.
You can address it by saying something like, "You may have concerns about the timeline and whether this is feasible given our current projects. While the timeline seems narrow, we've considered X, Y, and Z, and, given ours In previous initiatives, we believe this schedule will take A, B and C into account.
Such a reaction can defuse the situation and still keep you informed.
13. Allow time for questions.
As a foodie, for me dinner is not complete without a good piece of chocolate. Whether KitKat or chocolate cake – chocolate after dinner is the perfect ending. Q&A sessions are something like that. It is the audience's opportunity to ask questions and discuss the presentation.
Be ready for questions about the data and solutions you presented. The length of the Q&A session will depend on the length of your presentation, the size of the board, and other factors.
It also gives you the opportunity to address looming concerns and re-emphasize your key points. Not sure what to do when you don't have an answer to something? Here are some answers:
- "That's a great question. I don't have an answer for you right now, but I'll email you by the end of the day."
- "I don't have a lot of experience with this X (subject / department /). I will, however, get in touch with X within a week and get back to you."
- "We haven't looked into this yet, but what I can tell you is …"
- "This is a great point that we hadn't thought about before. My team and I will meet and develop strategies to best achieve this."
When the stakes are this high, presenting to the board of directors can be daunting. By incorporating these tips into your strategy, you can relieve the stress and focus on your delivery instead.