When you speak to your board, do you see them as a jury — judging your presence, your message, your potential?
If you want to assure that you can get a vote of confidence for your future, focus on these four principles.
1. Begin by establishing relevance
Start strong by establishing the context in your first 30 seconds. As the chief executive officer of a Fortune 200 company explained to me, boards have “bathtub brains.” Their brains get filled with information every meeting, but by the next meeting, much of what they heard is a distant memory.
So begin by telling them the context of what you’re about to say — a recap of the previous meeting or a reminder of what you were asked to discuss. A quick reminder of the relevance of your message is highly important for establishing your leadership presence.
2. You’re always selling
When you speak to your board, your job is not to educate them; your job is to influence them so that you get support for a sale. Either you want to win immediate support for a short-term sale or you want to lay the groundwork for a sale in the future. Even when they’re just asking for an update, you need to distill your analysis to go somewhere. Why do they need to know? You want to guide them, not hope they figure it out.
3. Focus on the intent of questions
Boards need to understand and believe. So, sometimes they ask probing questions — do you have depth of understanding? Sometimes they ask challenging questions — do you have conviction? And sometimes they ask questions that are out of left field — can you think in the moment? By thinking about the questions from the point of view of intent — not just content — you can have more impact responses.
4. The board wants you to succeed
Finally, keep in mind that the board wants to have confidence in your ability to lead. They want to see you succeed. When you watch a figure skater, you don’t want to see her fall (or worse, get injured). Similarly, unless you’re dealing with an activist board member, your board is rooting for you. You may not see that positive spirit beyond the blank, serious expressions, but your board is your home team.
Every time you speak to the board is a new opportunity to show that you’re the leader your company needs, now and in the years to come. By preparing with these four principles in mind, you’ll be able to capitalize on these critical moments of your career.