You have approximately thirty seconds to four minutes (depending on which research you rely on) to establish an initial relationship with your board. These first few valuable minutes of the encounter will determine the degrees of attention members will be willing to invest on your presentation and whether they choose to actively process what you have to say. Opening statements in board presentations are crucial:
Design a powerful opening statement. If your opening statement is clumsy and inept, expect board members to label you as such and to process what they hear through that filter. People rarely separate the person from his/her behaviour in such instances. If your statement is confused, woolly, silly or uncertain, don't be surprised when you notice that a fair number of your board have turned their cognitive lights out.
Make your content relevant. Persuasion researchers have found that one of the most important variables in triggering motivation to think about a message is personal relevance. Personal relevance can stem from a variety of factors: linkage to personal beliefs and values, desired outcomes, group expectations, plans for the future, corporate vision, issues of personal relevance to the board as a whole and shared experiences to name a few.
When the relevance quotient of a message is high it's been found that people will be more motivated to scrutinise and think about its content. If your arguments bear scrutiny then you can expect to achieve higher degrees of persuasion.
During your groundwork phase discover ways in which to make the content relevant to your board. If you work in a specialised division avoid at all costs the gobbledygook and in-house language of your division. Translate your content into language that is relevant to board members.
Keep your presentation concise, succinct and to-the-point. Don't present too much detail, such that the impact of your presentation gets buried under the weight of the data you present.
Think about the level of energy you will incorporate into your delivery. Often presenters are in awe of their boards and allow this self-defeating emotion to impact on the degree of energy they invest in their delivery. Think carefully about how you will need to display the 'courage of your convictions'. This is not to say that you should fake energy or go over the top, but your board will be reading at an unconscious level the degree of belief you have in the position you are advocating. If you are flat and monotone, be prepared for your board to 'feel' that your heart isn't in it.
Tell relevant and instructional stories. Passion by itself isn't the only necessary ingredient to getting your message across. One of the major tools you can use when talking to a board is to tell stories that prove your point.
Design support material to be released after the presentation. Board members are usually fairly busy individuals. Design your handouts to include dot point summaries of the key points you have introduced in your presentation. Give your handouts at the end of the presentation. Avoid overwhelming the board with written information unless it is part of your strategy for the board to sink in a sea of paperwork. Avoid passing documents around before your presentation, as some members will direct their attention to what is written instead of focussing on you.
Work the room as much as you can. Boards usually sit around tables and this can make it difficult to work a room:
- Always stand when you are making a board presentation
- Be careful to make sure all members have sight of multi-media presentations or overhead transparencies
- Always face the board when you are talking to points projected on to a screen, only briefly looking at the screen to keep your thoughts in order
- Avoid using a lectern
- Choreograph your movement by visiting the boardroom prior to a presentation. If possible do a complete dress rehearsal in the boardroom so you can comfortably work the space you have
It may pay you to remember that board members are people too, and that boards, like most executives in the top companies, make decisions based on gut feel before logic is applied. The usual laws of vivid evidence, inclusive language, appropriate emotional appeals and communication in 'shared space' apply to board presentations as much as they do to any other presentation. Boards also like the word 'You'
Dare to be different at times. Conduct actual "show and tell" demonstrations. Rather than simply presenting reports or making presentations, take board members on a tour and explain how your new proposal will work and how it may enhance quality, safety, service and costs.
Design a memorable conclusion to your presentation. Your closing statement represents your last word on the subject matter. It's your final opportunity to make a difference. Your last minutes and seconds in front of your board should represent a determining moment for them, a turning point, a point where your message should culminate in a fusion of impressions that leads to the suggestion of action, thus reflecting the ultimate purpose of your message.
Summarize your previous spoken content, then leave the board with a few words that are memorable or make a significant impact. Using a quotation, asking a powerful question or presenting a challenging future scenario can also create the right conditions for approval or a positive impression.
(c) Desmond Guilfoyle 2006
Desmond Guilfoyle in an award winning commentator on influence, persuasion and charisma. He has written three books on those subjects and his book 'The Charisma Effect' has been published in seven languages around the globe. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org For further articles, tips and information visit his blog at charismacom.blogspot.com/