How to Prep for a Boardroom Presentations
Maybe you’ve heard the old saying that horses sweat, men perspire and women glow. But in the boardroom, everyone who presents sweats. If you’re in management or want to be, you will need to deliver boardroom presentations. First, it’s helpful to understand why this is the toughest hot seat in the house. Then try out the following techniques to become more successful next time you find yourself at the front of the boardroom.
Beware of landmines
Culture: Most often, the boardroom is a place of punishment. Management and executives gather there to thrash last quarter’s bad results or call an employee to task. As a result, just entering the boardroom can stir up a defensive attitude in meeting attendees. They must be ready to defend their own performance and may feel like they have to attack someone else just to escape criticism.
Setup: The physical arrangement of the boardroom may be intended to foster discussion, but can often feel adversarial. Meeting attendees face each other across the table, instead of facing the speaker. To see the speaker, they must turn their heads and wind up with a possible crick in the neck.
Hierarchy: There is always a power position at the boardroom table. The presenter will usually stand opposite the power position, thus feeling the pressure of performing for the head of the court.
History: If you are relatively new to the board, others with more history might decide to play their seniority card. They can bring up past issues, insider jokes or unwritten rules of which you’re not aware.
Before the meeting
Find out who else will be attending, and speak with all of them—or at least the key decision makers—prior to the meeting to gauge their positions and try to get them on your side. Never introduce new ideas in the boardroom: It’s a place where ideas are defended, not born.
Most importantly, sit down with the meeting chair in advance. Explain your ideas, demonstrate how they support his visions and goals, and ask for his critical support to make it work. Let him know what you want to accomplish, and ask for his advice on how to get everyone else to back you up.
The more people you have taken into your confidence and who know about your presentation in advance, the more will support you when it comes to a vote. If you don’t surprise them, they won’t surprise you. When you meet with them, ask outright for their backing.
Showtime in the boardroom
Arrive at the boardroom before the meeting to become situated and comfortable—make it your room. Test your presentation equipment. Sit in a few of the chairs to see the perspective of other attendees. They will be evaluating you the whole time—not just while you present, but also before and after. It’s essential to appear calm and confident from the moment the meeting convenes.
When it’s your turn to speak, calmly make your way to the front of the room. Pause for a brief moment to gain everyone’s attention. Then begin your presentation
Speak to everyone in the room. Make a point of looking at every person there by moving your eyes across the table in slightly ragged X patterns. Don’t be lulled into talking only to the most powerful person or the one who engages you—and don’t be distracted by the broad expanse of the boardroom table.
State your position clearly and strongly. Never apologize. Look to your allies for their support. Make it clear what you want them to do.
State your purpose early, and be prepared for interruptions, as well as the possibility of your presentation being cut short.
Seek to gain one key point that moves the board in the direction you want. Don’t try to sell and close all the details in presentation. Boardroom meetings are generally intended either to confirm earlier discussions or suggest new directions. They seldom have room for all the nitty-gritty aspects of execution.
Postgame steps Accept the directional win and the next step. Be willing to work out the details later. Don’t try to nail the whole project in one boardroom presentation—you know you’ll be back.
Survival Tips for the Boardroom
- Don’t get personal.
- Don’t sling mud. State facts.
- Don’t fight with anyone in the boardroom. Do that before you arrive.
- Confirm your alliances before you enter the boardroom.
- When your competition is getting dumped on—shut up.
- Never start a sentence with the word “honestly.”
- Be prepared to address the worst possible question.
- Don’t be glib or sarcastic.
- Relate details to the bigger picture.
- Admit your mistakes quickly and clarify the lesson learned.
- Pause, breathe and smile before answering every question.
- Turn every negative question into a positive answer.
GEORGE TOROK (torok.com), “the speech coach for executives,” is a motivational speaker and marketing expert. He is also co-author of Secrets of Power Marketing.