Making your case to a board of directors

Going before your company’s board of directors for the first time can be a fear-provoking moment. More is at stake than the current matter under discussion; your performance can have repercussions for your entire career. Outlined below are some tips for a successful status report.

1. Know your audience. You need to know what they expect from you and how long you have. You need to know how much they know about your topic and how they feel about it. Because board members often go on the attack when someone appears to be shirking responsibility, it’s better to take too much responsibility for a failed or late project. They could end up defending you instead of laying into you.

2. Know your material. You are the expert; make sure your facts are correct. Speaking to your board is no time to shoot from the hip. You don’t want to provide erroneous information that ends up in the board’s minutes. Some boards like to see an exact expense number, and others like to hear about market share, but most want both.

3. Don’t use jargon. Your purpose is to convey information. You aren’t going to impress people by peppering them with technical acronyms. Avoid them, unless they’re in such wide use that they’re known to your parents and grandparents.

4. Know who’s going to introduce you and what’s going to be said. Be prepared with your own introduction should the person introducing you stumble.

5. Use the rule of three. Assuming that you have the standard three to five minutes for your presentation, summarize your message on one slide with three main bullets, each with three sub-bullets. Arrange your sub-bullets so you end on a positive note.

Under the first bullet, ensure that everyone in the room understands your project and its importance by briefly recapping what the project is, what value it brings to the company and how much it has cost. Whatever your boss has told the board is its truth. Make sure you present this information the same way your boss has. If your boss has misspoken, then gently clarify.

Under the second bullet, state clearly whether your project is on track. Take responsibility for good news and bad. Give the top three reasons why you are where you are. Make these reasons specific and concise. If a lead engineer quits or your team is learning from its mistakes, say so.

Under the third bullet, describe what actions you’re taking as a result of your project’s status. If you’re on time, explain what you’ve learned. If you are behind, talk about what you and the team are doing about it.

6. Ask whether anyone has questions. And be prepared to answer them.

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