While some people view an invitation to present to the Board of Directors as a prison sentence (or worse), this truly can be a career enhancing opportunity. However, like any challenging situation, preparation and attitude are keys to success.
I’ve worked with dozens of professionals faced with this opportunity for the first time, and every encounter reminds me of my own early emotions as I prepared for and dreaded my first board presentation.
It’s not worth the churn, dread and sleeplessness folks, especially if you prepare properly and thoroughly.
7 Ideas to Help You Prepare for and Nail Your Board Presentation:
1. Start early and prepare your mind. Unless you are presiding over a disaster of monumental proportions and have been summoned to explain yourself in front of the firing squad, this is a positive invitation. It’s an honor to be invited. Time is at a premium for most Board meetings, and someone convinced the group you were worth some of that precious time.
2. Know who invited you and why. Since someone had to champion getting your name placed on the agenda, it’s important for you to tune into why you were invited and precisely what you are expected to deliver. Your sponsor in this case has a stake in your success and typically will do whatever it takes to help you prepare for success.
(Of course, if you are leading a monumental disaster, all bets are off on this friendly invitation advice. Start looking for your Teflon-coated Kevlar suit and don’t expect much support.)
3. Know your audience. This one can be difficult for individuals who have had very little or no prior contact with board members. Your inviting sponsor or your boss may have some insights, and of course, it’s reasonable to err on the side of assuming that the Board is comprised of some successful, smart people interested in facts, well-developed ideas, clear plans and how all of this will help the firm achieve its strategic and financial goals.
Warning: they are not interested in bullshit, excessive detail, petty politics, unfounded opinions or anything that sounds like you and your colleagues haven’t baked it long enough.
4. Plan your message. Whatever your topic is, you’re in front of the Board of Directors for just a few brief moments. You need to use this time with the skill of an entrepreneur who has just a few moments to make a positive impression when asking for funding. Your message must be crisp, your key points defensible and your defense supportable.
If you are looking for a helpful tool to organize your thoughts into a crisp and supportable message, try using a Message Mapping approach. (See my post: The Career Enhancing Benefits of Message Mapping.)
5. Bring your confidence. Board Members smell “lack of confidence” a mile away. Show fear or doubt and you’ll invite a line of questioning that a 15th century Inquisitor would envy. Planning and practicing your message is critical to building confidence in your content. Practice, practice, practice.
One more commercial for the Message Mapping technique. Used properly, it forces you to think through your support of your key points and core message. Almost all questions you will receive should be answerable using the points in the map. Link your answers to your key supporting points and ultimately your core message.
6. Focus on the message and keep the materials clean and simple. If you suck at building clear, crisp, bullet free and text limited materials or handouts, get some help. Call in a favor from a colleague or go into favor debt, but ask for help.
7. Admit it if you don’t know it. Or said another way, never, ever make stuff up. While this piece of advice might seem preposterous, the pressure of the event has overwhelmed many an accomplished professional’s common-sense, especially in the face of tough questioning. You are much better off admitting you don’t know something than attempting to bluff or b.s. your way through the answer. The cost to your credibility of anything other than indicating, “That’s a great question and I will get back to you,” is more than you should be willing to pay.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
Last and not least, remember that the prevailing attitude of the Board before you open your mouth is one of interest and hope. You wouldn’t have made the agenda if they weren’t interested in hearing and learning from you, and you can bet that good Board members are always hoping to uncover new talent. Make a great impression and you will be back. Perhaps in a new and improved capacity!