4 Presentation Tips When Speaking to Boards

4 Presentation Tips When Speaking to Boards 150 150 Diane Diresta

When senior leaders speak to the board of directors, they know it’s a high stakes presentation. A lot is on the line. They must be able to persuade not only with numbers and ideas, but with their presence and leadership. And if they don’t perform, their jobs may be on the line.

Watch Your Language

Recently, a client called me to prepare for her presentation to the board of directors. As a Senior Vice President reporting to the CEO, she spearheaded a merger between two Fortune 500 companies. Her presentation was an update on the success of the merger. The message was upbeat. Under her leadership, all company milestones were achieved, the merger was profitable and they were ready to go. So why would she want coaching to deliver such a positive presentation? Because she was the only woman and knew that speaking to a board is a high stakes situation. You need to bring your A game.

During the coaching session we discovered she had a tendency to use the word “just”. She’d make statements such as, “I just want to update you…” Wimpy words minimize conviction and undermine the authority of the presenter.  Just, only, think, feel, perhaps, are examples of weak language and not the language of leadership. Lesson Learned: A leader can have a powerful message and still lose the confidence of the board if her language is not definitive and congruent.

Speak at a High Level

A newly promoted CFO became a coaching client because when he talked to the board he would get stuck in the weeds. He was still speaking like a finance person presenting reams of details that were not relevant to a high level audience. He realized he was losing credibility when he saw their eyes roll. This CFO learned to share his vision, tell the story of the numbers at a 30,000 foot view, and embody the role of a senior executive. Lesson learned:  If you talk small, you’ll be perceived at a lower level and not as a leader.

Convey Executive Presence

A respected CHRO was identified as the choice to report to the CEO in a spin-off from a Fortune 500 company. He was an HR expert and well-liked and respected in the company. He delivered effective presentations at Town Hall meetings but now the bar was going to be raised. He would be required to present to the board and this audience was uncharted territory.  His issue was that he had a regional accent. He’d say “duh” for “the”, omitted /ing/ endings on words, and greeted people with “How ya doin’?”  Although likeable and endearing, his causal style lacked the formality to be taken seriously by the board members. To create more presence and power, he upgraded his attire and worked diligently on his speech and posture. He continued to communicate with more gravitas every day with his peers. He understood that he would be judged by his presence as well as his content. Lesson learned: Keep your guard up. Board members are not friends.

Get to the Point

Sometimes, the issue is not solely about details. It’s about coming to as stop.  A senior executive whose tenure with the company rivaled most of the executive team, yet he was undervalued by the board. He had encyclopedic knowledge of the company, the products, the customers and the industry. But during meetings and conversations he would rattle on. As long as eye contact was maintained he would keep talking. He didn’t know when to stop talking, listen, and engage. Because of this, the board doubted his abilities. They’d say, “He’s not the guy”. Their lack of confidence in him was unfounded based on his ideas, knowledge and competence. But his talents got lost in a sea of ongoing verbiage. This executive hadn’t learned to speak in soundbites. Lesson learned: Brevity is the key to executive communication.


Diane DiResta, CSP, is Founder and CEO of DiResta Communications, Inc., a New York City consultancy serving business leaders who deliver high stakes presentations— whether one-to-one, in front of a crowd or from an electronic platform.   DiResta is the author of Knockout Presentations: How to Deliver Your Message with Power, Punch, and Pizzazz, an Amazon.com category best-seller and widely-used text in college business communication courses. www.diresta.com

 Diane is a Certified Speaking Professional, a designation held by less than 12% of speakers nationwide. And her blog, Knockout Presentations, made the Top 50 Pubic Speaking blogs.