Better Board Presentations – 10 Ways To Present to the Board
February 27, 2023
Presenting to the board can feel daunting. But at the same time it’s a great opportunity to stand out and impress: you can showcase yourself with your board presentation.
One of your biggest challenges when presenting to a board is knowing at what level to present. Do you need to outline the background? Should you cover all the detail? Do you need to address every objection? For this reason, people often struggle to make their board presentation work.
The most important thing to understand is that board members want answers, not problems. They do not want to mark your homework; they want to make decisions based on your expert advice.
This means you will present successfully to a board if you follow a few simple rules. This is important because presenting to the board is a core business skill.
To help you master the skills of a board presentation, our coaches have shared their top ten lessons for creating and delivering killer board presentations. Their advice is based on over 15 years of successfully coaching senior managers globally.
Top ten tips for presenting to the board
- Your board wants answers, not problems
- Keep your board presentation short
- Get to the point quickly
- Tell the board how important their decision is
- Your board presentation is often won before the board meeting
- You are the expert
- Minimise use of visual aids in your board presentation
- Use stories and examples
- Make your presentation easy for the board, and fun
- Prepare your boardroom presentation rigorously
1. Your board wants answers, not problems
Imagine being a board director. You have huge responsibilities. Your brief is wide and you regularly need to make decisions based on limited knowledge. When someone presents to you at a board meeting you want to know that you are listening to an expert. You want them to give you advice. What you don’t want is someone who sits on the fence and says ‘on the one hand – on the other hand…’ without reaching a conclusion.
As a presenter you need to do the hard work for the board so that your presentation lays out clearly what the issues are, why they are important and what should be done. If you are very good you will also look at alternative approaches and argue why those will not work. You may also assess risks. By taking this approach you show that you understand the issues and that the board can rely on your good judgement.
2. Keep your board presentation short
Most board directors are very busy and have a huge amount on their plate. When presenting to them your job is to make it easy for the board to make decisions. You’ll find that you will be most successful if you say less, and say it better. What do I mean by that? Don’t waste time stating the obvious. You do not need to tell them that climate change is a big issue or that the war in Ukraine has increased energy prices.
You will look more impressive when you present if you build on the board’s existing knowledge rather them telling them stuff they know already.
3. Your board presentation should get to the point quickly
What do you say in the opening words of your board presentations? How do you grab attention and show that what you are saying will be valuable to the board? If you want to impress you want to quickly lay out why you are there and what you are looking for from the board members. The quicker you get to the meat of the topic the better. Do not start with extensive background and never leave the punchline to your closing words.
If you lay out your ‘ask’ at the very start of your board presentation then each board member will listen more attentively to what you are saying and better understand how everything you say points to your conclusion.
Only bad presentations leave the ‘ask’ to the very end.
Another way to make your board feel comfortable is to start by talking about things in which they believe. For example, if you start your presentation by stating that the world is flat, you will alienate most people. Instead, you want to get your board members nodding along with you towards the start of your board presentation – so long as you are not stating the obvious.
4. Tell the board their decision is important
As we said above, your board members are busy people. To get the result you want, you should put their decision in context. For instance, what would be the result of delaying a decision? What is the impact on the bottom line of the right decision? How big a risk is making the wrong decision? These are the sort of questions you want to address relatively early in your board presentation. If you tell your board the danger of failure is important, high risk and expensive, you’ll grab their attention.
For example, one client recently was presenting to the board to get final budget approval for a major office move. She was worried that the board would simply end up discussing who would get the corner offices and what colour the chairs would be. So, to show them how important their decision was, she started: “This £50m decision is one of the biggest decisions this board has made. And it impacts the lives of our 2,000 colleagues.” After that, nobody would dare get lost in trivial detail.
5. Your board presentation is often won before the board meeting
Surprises at board meetings are high risk. In reality, the biggest board decisions are generally agreed well before the board meeting. You should use the board presentation for final sign-off and approval only.
For example, how many board members or key people can you speak to before your board presentation? The more people you consult and listen to before the board meeting, the better you will succeed. If everyone on the board feels they have been involved and agrees with what you are presenting, you will be more likely to carry the board with you.
If people have raised objections in your discussions before the board meeting, then address those objections in your presentation. People want to be heard and appreciated.
6. You are the expert when presenting to the board
While many of the board may be strong, daunting figures, they are unlikely to be experts in your specialist area. You are presenting because you have expertise. If you don’t know more than them, then you are not the right person to be presenting, or you are looking at the wrong thing. You should be educating the board members – they should learn from you.
7. Minimise use of visual aids in board presentations
You can waste a huge amount of time preparing PowerPoint. But PowerPoint slides usually reduce your impact in board presentations. Instead, put your efforts into a high-quality board note and a short, punchy summary talk.
Some things you should work on instead:
– Use language that makes your board comfortable. For example, what’s most important to them? Is it sales, profits, margins, safety, cash flow? Talk about what matters to them.
– What metaphors do they use in the board? Do they talk about driving the business? Do they talk about nurturing and growing the company? Or do they talk about battling the competition and fighting market conditions? When you use the board’s own favourite metaphors, you will be speaking their language.
8. Use stories and examples when presenting to the board
One of my favourite sayings for pitches and presentations is: “Facts get forgotten, but stories get repeated”. A good story is usually more compelling than the most convincing numbers. Yet too many board presentations fail to apply the power of a compelling story.
A good story in your presentation to the board can be a multi-tool. It can do many jobs at once. A powerful story can help bring to life a complex idea. A story can make it easy for a board member to understand what drives your recommendation and a strong story will give the board member something they will remember and repeat.
We’ve written a few good articles on how to use business storytelling and this is one of my favourites.
9. Make your boardroom presentation easy for the board, and fun
One common mistake when presenting to the board is to make your presentation too long and too complicated. Just because you are smart and your board members are smart does not mean that your board presentation needs to show how much work you have done. Complexity is off-putting. The human brain loves simplicity. A board presentation should be made simple for your audience.
Having worked on hundreds of successful board presentations, we are often surprised how simple the best presentations are. But making complex presentations simple is hard. Anybody can fill a presentation with detail. It takes real skill to convince your board with just a handful of smart ideas and cast-iron logic.
10. Prepare your boardroom presentation rigorously
Test your board presentation on other people. Show it to your boss. Ask people to pick holes in your arguments. Be tough on yourself. Keep working at it and fixing it until you are completely happy. And practise it out loud. Not to memorise it, but to check if it is good enough. You should be fixing and changing your presentation up until the last minute.
For you to be successful in your board presentations, you want to be well prepared. So many people bring in a coach to help them prepare. That way you can stress-test your ideas, rehearse and improve your presentation, then go into the board feeling confident that you are ready.
How do you do this? Call us. We spend our lives polishing board presentations.
With advice and coaching we add value by making board presentations compelling and valuable. For instance, we’ve been transforming board presentations for 15 years and we do it for some of the most successful businesses in the world.
If you want help preparing your next board presentation, then get in touch. Call Louise Angus, our client services director, for a no-obligation chat about how we can add value to your board-level presentations.
Learn how to create a stand out board presentation
About Benjamin Ball Associates
At Benjamin Ball Associates, we help clients to communicate better. You get presentation coaching for executives.
Over 15+ years the award-winning BBA team has coached thousands of senior executives globally to present powerfully. You get access to a transformational toolbox of techniques to help you become a clear, confident communicator.
We’ll help you create a powerful first impression that hooks and engages your audience immediately, and we’ll transform you to deliver clearly, confidently and with impact.
Speak to Louise on +44 20 7018 0922 or email email@example.com to find out more and discuss your upcoming speech or presentation.
Contact us for a chat about how we can help you with your presenting.
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