The first time I went before the board, I thought I was going to pass out.  As the seconds ticked down before my allotted time, I sat in my hotel room staring in the mirror telling myself over and over that I knew my stuff and was ready.  Once in the meeting, the time flew by, and luckily, I escaped unscathed. 

These days I do presentations to boards all the time – usually presenting findings from compliance program reviews or risk assessments that we’ve done at Spark Compliance.  I’ve also spent many hours preparing our clients to make presentations themselves.  Over the years I’ve seen good presentations, great presentations, and disastrous presentations.  How can you ensure you’re going to do a great job? Here are five top tips for rocking your presentation to your board.

No. 1: Plan Not to Have Time, and Work Backwards

A CCO I know is utterly fed up with being placed last on the agenda at every board meeting.  Typically, she’s scheduled for half an hour, and as the day passes and presentation after presentation runs over, she frequently only has five minutes to present – and it’s always the last five minutes before drinks!  To manage this, she’s learned a great technique that I call “countdown.”

When looking at the agenda for what she wants to present to the board, she mentally orders it in importance.  If she has four topics – say (a) presentation of quarterly metrics, (b) discussion of a critical investigation’s outcome, (c) update on the training plan, and (d) presentation of next year’s budget requests – she’ll decide her order is (b), (d), (a), (c).   She’ll then decide if she has:

5 minutes = (b) only

10 minutes = (b) and (d)

20 minutes = (b), (d) and (a)

30 minutes = (b), (d), (a) and (c)

This allows her to use her time most effectively, even if she has to shorten her presentation.  To compensate for this…

No. 2: Rely on the Pre-Read

Do some board members skip the pre-reads or ignore the materials presented to them entirely?  Sure.  But not do most.  While pre-read materials are seldom read closely or in detail, most board members will at least have skimmed them when they arrive.  If you can’t get to all of the topics you intended to cover, make sure they are all covered in the pre-reading material or the appendices to your presentation.  To make it more likely that they’ve read the materials or are easily able to digest the material…

No. 3: Use Graphs, Graphics, and Charts whenever Possible

Boards have become accustomed to everything coming in graphs and charts.  Make your message easy to understand by using graphics, charts, and graphs whenever possible. This will help you to quickly convey the most important information. 

No. 4: Use Words as a Crutch, not a Script

The sooner you accept this truth, the better: full sentences written in less than 16-point font are death to your presentation.  Words on slides were never meant to replace your presentation.  Instead, words should be used as a crutch to jog your memory about what to say next.  If you’ve written out every point on your slide, there’s no reason to listen to you.  Your slides should tell the story through you – not tell the story without you.  What’s the best way to ensure your slides give you enough information to convey your points effectively?

No. 5: Practice, Practice, Practice

There’s nothing worse than getting flustered in the room because your time has been condensed and you’re trying to answer tough questions.  How do you avoid in-room meltdowns?  Practice, practice, practice.  Practice your presentation – out loud.  Ask someone on your team or in your office to go through the presentation and to interrupt you with questions.  If you’ve got hostile people on your board, ask the person watching your practice to be difficult.

If you’re presenting by Zoom/Teams, it’s critical to practice while sharing your screen and running through the logistics.  We’ve al seen people lose valuable minutes and become flustered because the technology isn’t working properly.  By practicing out loud, you give yourself the best opportunity for success.

Board presentation is an art you can master.  By successfully presenting, you are likely to gain trust and be given more presentation time because you are adding value.  And adding value is always the most important key to rocking your presentation.