Review: Presenting to Boards, a Second Opinion

Ralph Ward publishes a great little newsletter with quick bites of information for corporate directors. His Boardroom Insider is one of the few publications I always read cover to cover. (It helps that it is usually about 4-6 pages.) In the latest issue, among other articles, he reviews Julie Garland McLellan’s Presenting to Boards. I also reviewed McLellan’s book here but thought it worthy of a second opinion from Ward, especially since he has writtenfour books for directors.  I skip his brief introduction.

Here’s a taste, looking at a particularly tricky board situation — how do you present to the board when it’s “acting up?” Since the board is at the peak of the company, and its outside members tend to have pretty impressive egos, getting everyone to focus, work as a team, and stick to the rules can be like herding cats. McLellan pinpoints the top “unproductive behaviours” that can make boardroom presentations a misery:

  • Confidentiality. Is there a member of the board who tends to prove leaky to outside sources? If you’re presenting highly-sensitive info, it may be wise to ask the chair to give a quick comment to the full board on their fiduciary duty to maintain the privacy of board info. If you’re a non-employee presenting info to this board from the outside, you have every right to stress the importance of confidentiality of what you’re sharing.
  • One conversation. “Sidebar”whispering or even discussions among directors during the presentation, if done at all, should be very brief and quiet. If a chat continues, McLellan advises the presenter “look to the chairman to see if he or she will say something.” Should this fail, just stop talking until the chatters get the point (don’t try to out-shout them). Boardrooms may be intense at times, but should never be rude.
  • Personal animosity. This director and that director just don’t play well together, and your presentation gives them a chance to squabble. Perhaps you’re trying to make your case to differing factions on the board, who agree on nothing. Maybe a director makes clear he just doesn’t like you. “This is definitely the chairman’s job to sort out,” writes McLellan.
  • Harping on. You may have a tightly planned presentation, but a member of the board can easily derail it with repetitive, off-topic, or ill-timed questions. Or, perhaps, one point in your spiel leads the board off into a 10- minute digression on why the company’s delivery trucks are painted blue rather than white. In any case, appeal to the chair to put discussion and questions off until the end. Since the board chair is the director most acutely aware of covering a full agenda with limited time, expect results.


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