How to give the board a presentation they want

Apr 10, 2019

Presenting to anyone can be difficult, but doing so in front of the board can feel impossible. Eric Fitzpatrick explains how best to present in the boardroom.

Presenting to a board can be challenging. It can be difficult to know if you are showing the correct information or the right amount. Keeping this particular audience's attention can be a big job when presenting numbers. Here is what you need to know before going in to present to the board.

Give them what they need and nothing more

Sometimes presenters throw the proverbial kitchen sink at their audience when giving a presentation. They believe that they have to provide them with every piece of information available. When it comes to presenting to a board, you don’t. Often, the board wants a presentation that is clear and concise. It should give them the information they need and nothing more. Time is precious at senior management level and the shorter the presentation, the more they will pay attention to the message.  

A couple of years ago, I was asked to work with a client who was creating one presentation but would be delivering it to three different audiences within the same organisation. Senior management received a ten-minute version while the tech team received the full 45-minute presentation. Knowing your audience and giving them only what they need is essential at board level.

Tell the story of the numbers

It’s not enough to provide the board with just the numbers. You have to tell the story of those numbers and paint a picture of what numbers are saying. They have the potential to highlight the challenges that a company has faced or paint a picture of the possibilities for the company going forward. While the numbers present a factual account of how a company has or will perform, the story the presenter delivers might be what persuades the board to take the steps that move their company forward.

Choose a presentation structure

Most presenters don’t choose a presentation structure. Yes, their presentation has an opening, middle and close but without a fixed structure, the body of their presentation is weak, can be hard to follow and can give an audience an excuse to switch off and stop listening. Choosing a deliberate presentation structure has three main benefits for a presenter and their audience. First, it helps the presenter to avoid rambling and going off-script. Second, it makes the presentation easy to follow for the board members; and third, if a board member becomes distracted, the structure gives them a natural point at which they can reengage with the presentation.

A numerical structure is used commonly in a boardroom presentation. As the name suggests, the presenter works their way through several key points and signposts to transition from one point to the next by announcing the numbered point they are about to take their audience through. Choosing a deliberate presentation structure strengthens the impact and ease of understanding of a presentation.  

Prepare for questions

Presenters put a lot of time into preparing their presentation but often, by comparison, very little time into preparing answers to the questions they may receive after they have delivered the presentation. Questions should be viewed as part of the presentation and prepared for as diligently. Preparing for questions is crucial. Not doing so can negatively affect your competence and credibility, and can undermine their entire presentation.

Eric Fitzpatrick is owner of ARK Speaking and Training, the author of Persuade on Purpose: Create presentations that influence and engage, and will be presenting the course Presenting to the Board on 17 April.