Presenting to a board of directors
Boardrooms and board members don’t always get the best rap. At their worst, boards can be disconnected figures stifling the progress of passionate and talented organisational cultures. Yet as our world gets increasingly complex, organisations are required to navigate ever-changing social attitudes, economic conditions, demographic shifts, technological disruptions, environmental realities and political currents. These external forces would rarely get a mention in the day-to-day task lists of staff who are understandably focused on their specific roles and responsibilities, and yet it is precisely this set of forces that can render even the best ideas and methods irrelevant or ineffective.
The role of a board is ultimately to provide good governance of an organisation. Good governance applies a strategic mind to the key internal and external operating environment of the organisation, including those external factors outlined above. Agenda items on board meetings will regularly include updates from the CEO and CFO on the key operations of the business, setting and review of financial goals and budgets, discussion of key risks, organisational strategy, and compliance with relevant regulatory standards.
Given the breadth of topics involved in providing good governance, and the fact that board director roles are usually not a full-time occupation, board members require information presented in a particular manner to perform their role effectively. This applies to information presented verbally and in written form. Here are four quick tips for presenting to a board of directors.
It’s tempting to think that technical language will impress an audience, particularly if one is feeling intimidated or nervous. However, the real skill is in communicating clearly and simply. Any decision-maker requires clear and accurate information to make an informed decision. This is true for boards as much as anyone else. A presentation with a clear narrative, key points, and issue for decision (if a decision is required) will ensure important information is communicated and the issues understood.
Boards typically comprise a diverse group of individuals and will usually include some (or many) people from outside the specific operating industry of the organisation. This provides a breadth of perspective to board decisions, but it also means that technical jargon needs to be dropped in favour of clear articulation of the facts and issues. It’s in the interests of all stakeholders that the board receives a clear briefing, as this gives the best chance of a well-informed decision.
Boards generally meet infrequently, such as monthly, bi-monthly, or quarterly. Meetings are usually a few hours long. Given the breadth of the board’s responsibility and the limited meeting time, brevity is important. Individuals presenting to a board – either in a written document or in a verbal presentation – need to get their point across succinctly.
Being concise doesn’t mean being superficial. Succinct communication requires a strong grasp of the subject matter and the ability to boil it down to the core facts and issues. Boards don’t want to get bogged down in operational detail, but they do need to know that advice or recommendations are grounded in truth and not mere opinion.
Board meetings often run to tight schedules so keeping to time is crucial. This also shows respect to the other members in the meeting. Keeping to time also ensures time is available for important discussion following the presentation, which is often where board members may ask important follow-up questions or discuss key questions among themselves.
Use data and stories
In today’s age stakeholders expect evidenced-based decision making. In a world of opinions, fake-news and information overload, data is essential to understand what is happening inside and outside your organisation. Data can give confidence to decisions being made.
As social researchers we love to harness the power of data to drive organisational decisions. But as communicators we also know the importance of bringing data to life. Nobody wants “death by PowerPoint” where the overwhelming quantity of information results in a lack of clarity and a disengaged audience. Statistics and data points can be powerfully brought to life by using stories to humanise the numbers and communicate important concepts. This is essential because ultimately all organisations are about people.
Boards and leadership teams tasked with strategic oversight need to be looking not only to the present but to the future. Keeping an eye on the horizon allows leaders to navigate the current challenges with valuable perspective.
In a world where the pace of change is accelerating, keeping abreast of the emerging trends has never been more important for today’s leaders. Recent times have highlighted the need for organisations to be nimble, able to quickly respond to changing external circumstances. Those presenting to boards ought to remember that a well-functioning board will resist the temptation to get complacent even when things are going well. Boards need to hear not only the current challenges and opportunities, but also the issues that are on the horizon.
Presenting to a board of directors in a manner that is clear, concise, uses both data and stories, and is future-oriented provides the best opportunity for information to be understood and evidenced-based decisions to be made.
As social researchers we provide a clearer picture of the trends informing strategic thinking. If you’d like to enquire about a presentation to your company or board, please contact us.