Ian White offers legal officers nine top tips on making a winning presentation to the board
Boards and executive teams can be tough audiences when you’re making a presentation – and that’s when things are going well. There’s nothing like a four-hour meeting to make even the most placid director take on a tyrannical air.
My own experience of sitting on ExCo as the general counsel ranged from the CEO saying, “Really looking forward to your report Ian” to the more normal end of a meeting “Nearly finished – oh yes, Legal – do your report in under a minute please Ian.”
The problem is you usually get one chance only to make a good impression and influence the board. More importantly, if you make a hash of your presentation, the board tends to remember this, which doesn’t bode well for the next time you’re in front of them.
How to make a successful presentation
- Make sure you know the background of the board well. This won’t be difficult with executives such as the CEO, but it is harder with non-execs. Find out as much about them as you can – their career background and what interests them. If you can show knowledge during the meeting then you will have stroked their ego, which may help.
- Knowing how individual directors behave will benefit you enormously. You will know who to focus on and who is likely to be more challenging. The company secretary can assist here – they can hint at how far to go in pursuing an idea and what type of presentation the board will appreciate.
- Try to win an ally or two on the board to support your proposal. This is likely to be the CEO or CFO, but you may have access to a NED too. If they’re fully aware of what you are proposing – and have been able to challenge and test it beforehand – then their support might well help persuade others who you might find it more difficult to influence alone.
- Control your body language. Words convey only about 10 per cent of the message we communicate – most of it is transmitted through body language. So watch this and, if necessary, get some training. Perhaps let someone film you presenting and try to ease any weaknesses.
- Find out what type of presenting style the board likes. Everyone will have told you not to do “Death by PowerPoint”, but do the board like PowerPoint at all? And whatever you do, if you submit a paper just highlight the main points – the directors should have read your document beforehand. The company secretary can help again here.
- Use plain English and not legalese. If you talk in legal jargon, you will have lost the board, and your case, in the first few seconds.
- Listen! You’re there to persuade – and good persuasion is as much about listening to what the directors think, and responding to their challenges. The board might like your proposal but may suggest modifications that make it a better one. If you listen to their points, you are much more likely to get their buy-in.
- Make sure you action any points quickly, particularly suggestions made by directors.
- Finally, use your slot as an opportunity to build links with directors, particularly NEDs. Their feedback can be invaluable and you may win an independent ally.
Ian White is an associate at OMC Partners and an IoD consultant