4 board presentation techniques that new managers can use to get their plans approved and secure project budget

As a new manager, the task of presenting to the board can be a daunting one, no matter how confident you may feel in your ability to lead a team, successfully deploy change management leadership tactics, to steer your charges towards new company goals or build a good team culture. Even when your team is firing on all cylinders and KPIs are being fulfilled, the thought of appearing before a panel of executives to pitch a new project or secure much needed funds to bring a new vision to life is enough to make even the most confident of new managers feel a little nervous.

If this sounds all too familiar, you aren’t alone. In fact, research by Jobsite indicates that around a third of employees would turn down their dream job if it involved facing their biggest fear. For 67% of people, the most common fear is that of public speaking or addressing a group of people – such as giving a presentation to the board. With 40% of employees also saying that their fear has hindered their professional development, you certainly aren’t alone if you feel a pinch of nerves or worry that you won’t be able to present your project proposal coherently and with conviction. 

So what’s the answer? In a presentation to the Project Management Institute Glen Knight suggests that practise is the key. He explains, “The ability to speak with confidence and conviction adds to the credibility of the presenter and the message. Yet public speaking is one of the biggest fears for many. The fear of public speaking is very common and normal. Even professional speakers occasionally become nervous before a major presentation. However, they have a variety of tools and techniques they use to channel this negative energy into a positive experience. It's all about preparation, practice, and performance.”

Practising board presentation techniques beforehand won’t just help to conquer your nerves and allow your management skills to shine, it can ensure that your proposal is delivered coherently and with conviction. 

Here are four techniques to add to your arsenal to get your project plans approved by the board.

1. Use research to your advantage 

Every member of the board has a part to play in the overall success of the business, so knowing what their individual interests and roles within the company are, and how you can use them in your presentation, will help you to achieve the outcome you want. 

For example, if one member is particularly concerned with future growth, including projections and forecasts which tie your project to overall business development targets can make your project inherently more attractive to that board member. 

If another board member has a firmer grip on the purse strings and has a reputation for not giving away budget easily, sharing data and visuals which illustrate the ROI you’re targeting with your project will set you up for success.

Getting to know the individual focus areas of each board member can help you to deliver a presentation which resonates with key stakeholders.  

2. Show, don’t tell 

In 1996, researchers at MIT's Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences discovered that as much as half of the human brain is directly or indirectly devoted to vision. This makes visual clues incredibly valuable when it comes to processing information. As a result, the human brain is often better at remembering and recognising images and visual clues than written or spoken word – something known as the Picture Superiority Effect. This tactic is often used by marketers to help communicate complex topics to their audience, or encourage recall. You can use this same principle to better communicate your project to the board.

Forbes contributor Tanya Prive suggests that visual aids are a critical component of a compelling presentation, saying “In what can undeniably be called the Digital Age, visual elements are now more essential than ever to presentations of any kind, whether they are a second grade school project, a company-wide meeting, or a crowdfunding campaign.” Prive says a shocking statistic or image at the start immediately captures audience attention and allows you a window of opportunity to put key points across – something which combines the human body’s ability to process both audible and visual information.

Visual aids such as sales projections, slides which succinctly represent research you’ve carried out, images and videos can all add context to a verbal pitch. 

3. Demonstrate risk awareness 

Your presentation should not shy away from a recognition of risk. Board members will weigh up the risk versus reward of your project when debating whether to approve requested resources, so acknowledging that risk and then sharing how you plan to mitigate it can be a powerful tactic. Author Julie Garland McLellan, who penned “Presenting to the Board” notes that this recognition demonstrates a vital strategic awareness. 

She explains, “Boards are more likely to invite back a presenter who has engaged them and provided them with an opportunity to contribute. Being seen by the board as a person who understands the relevant risk factors for the organisation in the overall corporate context, and who can thereby add strategic value will enhance the reputation and maximise the chances of success of even the most technically skilled professional project proponent.”

4. Provide papers in advance and be concise on the day 

Another useful tactic is to provide papers in advance of the board meeting. Some boards will meet sporadically, which means they may see another dozen or so people and have an agenda of more than eight hours or so in duration to get through. Providing information in advance allows you to focus on the high points of your presentation when you’re actually in front of the board and it leaves time for the board to ask questions. 

Lucy Marcus, Professor of Leadership and Governance advises on a succinct proposal – suggesting this is one of the key management and leadership skills for new managers and supervisors. She advises sticking to the facts and prioritising a clear, concise delivery. “Think of your presentation as a memo, not a novel. Board members thrive on facts presented in a clear, concise manner. Even if you leave your presentation without getting the answer ‘yes’ you hoped for, you will at least leave the people at the table with a good impression of you. And that will go a long way if you come back to the board with a revised proposal.”

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