A board presentation is the CEO’s or CFO’s opportunity to speak directly to the board of directors. It’s your chance to get them to understand your vision, to secure buy-in on financial needs and projects, and to explain the company’s performance.
But you can only do all of that if board members are actually engaged in the presentation you’re giving. That’s why it’s important to create and present a compelling board presentation—one that captures the interest of board members and leaves them feeling invested in what’s next.
Giving a presentation like that requires more than just charisma. Your presentation—from the topics you include to the slides to your speaking skills—needs to be built with the goal of telling a cohesive story. Here’s how to nail all three aspects of a compelling presentation.
Topics to cover in your board presentation
The first step in giving a brilliant board presentation is to cover the topics that board members actually care about. When you’re presenting on an entire quarter or even a year, you can cover an endless number of topics. But you shouldn’t present every tiny detail of what the company did or share every single metric you measured.
Instead, your presentation should focus on these five categories:
- Most recent performance data and any recent accomplishments you want to highlight: Within this, it’s important to highlight the metrics that board members understand and care about. Those metrics can vary from one company to the next, but KPIs like monthly recurring revenue (MRR), churn, and new signups or customer growth are always a safe bet. These are the meat and potatoes of your company’s performance.
- Explanations of that data: Once you’ve shared the numbers, it’s important to frame and explain them within the context of time (month-over-month changes, for example), company goals, your competitors, and more. Framing the data discussion this way makes it easier for board members to make sense of the numbers and what they mean in terms of the bigger-picture performance.
- Explanations of any missed goals or KPIs: If you frame the data around the goals your company has set (like hitting a million customers) and you met or exceeded all of them, that’s great. But if you missed any pre-set goals, it’s important to explain why it happened and outline your plans for improvement.
- Upcoming projects and what you need from the board to make them a success: Board presentations aren’t all about explaining past numbers—they’re also your opportunity to set the stage for future projects that require the board’s buy-in or financial support.
- Areas where you need the board’s expertise and advice: At the end of the day, the board is there to provide expertise and help you make the company a success. If there are specific areas or projects where you need to lean more heavily on their input, highlight them in your presentation.
How to create compelling and useful slides
Once your presentation is built around the right topics, the next step is to ensure your slides are engaging and helpful (in terms of driving the presentation forward and keeping board members interested). There are a few ways to do that.
Your board presentation slides should make ample use of visuals. The key here is to choose the right visuals so that they add to the presentation instead of muddying the waters and distracting from the information you present. Great visuals to add include:
- Visual representations of data: These can help contextualize data around time periods, company goals, and competitors’ performance.
- Sample assets that serve to exemplify a particular strategy: This could be a screenshot of your newly redesigned website, for example, or of a particular social media ad that shows your social media strategy in action.
Adding visuals like this also helps you keep text to a minimum. As a guideline, we recommend following the 5/5/5 rule:
- Each line of text should be 5 or fewer words
- Each slide should have 5 or fewer lines of text
- The deck should have no more than 5 text-heavy slides in a row
Remember: The slide deck is there to serve as notes for your presentation—not to encapsulate every single detail.
With that in mind, the next step is ensuring your slides are organized in a logical way and that they adhere to the agenda you set (and, hopefully, shared with the board ahead of time). The key here is to let the presentation dictate the slides, instead of the other way around.
While it may save you a few minutes to use the same template for each board presentation, it’s more effective to treat each slide deck as its own beast. That means being ruthless about the slides you include and deleting any slides that don’t advance or support the presentation. Treat your board presentation as a three-act play—meaning it should have a clear beginning, middle, and end. When it comes to a board presentation, this is the most logical way to organize:
- Share past performance and efforts
- Detail your strategy and goals going forward
- Dig into the practical side of executing on that strategy and hitting those goals
Speaking tips for your board presentation
Now that you’ve squared away the assets for your board presentation, let’s talk about how you actually present. Poor speaking and presentation skills can kill a solid deck in a hurry—so how you present is just as important as what you present.
Keep it brief
The number one way to keep your board presentation on track is to keep it concise. As we mentioned above, board presentations should be an overview of the company’s performance and plans. That means your actual presentation should start out with concise, high-level information. Then you can be prepared for more in-depth questions that may arise.
So, how brief is brief? Tech reporter John Brandon argues in Inc. that no presentation requires more than seven minutes. That may be a little extreme, particularly when you’re recapping an entire quarter or year, but in our experience, 30 minutes is a good time frame for a presentation.
Know your audience
A good presentation isn’t just a set of blanket best practices that translate across every presentation or every board. Instead, a great board presentation comes from knowing and understanding your audience and the details they’re interested in. That means knowing each board member’s background.
Do they come from the finance world? Are they a career marketer? Which acronyms and industry-speak are likely to trip them up? Their background can help inform the kinds of information they’re likely to engage with and help you identify which areas of your presentation require more explanation than others. Knowing this can also help you to frame the presentation in their language.
This aspect of presenting to the board is often a continuous process. While you can find out a lot about board members via their bios or LinkedIn pages, you’ll also continue to learn more about them as you interact more with each person.
Rehearse and be human
When there’s a lot at stake with a board presentation, it’s easy to stress out and end up spending the whole time reading exactly what’s written on your slides. This doesn’t exactly make for a compelling or engaging presentation.
Instead, it’s best to spend more time rehearsing (so you can rely less on your slides) and focus on having a human conversation versus giving a one-way presentation. According to the Harvard Business Review, it’s about finding the right balance of preparation so that you feel confident without becoming overly stiff.
Beyond that, it’s important that you see the board as a group of peers—not the people holding the purse strings or a group of super-human success stories. By engaging with your audience and creating a conversation, you’ll be able to encourage more collaboration and give a presentation that flows.
Make your board presentation brilliant
Board presentations are one of the most important ways you communicate with your company’s board. As such, a well-put-together and engaging presentation is one of the best tools available to you in terms of cultivating a mutually beneficial and open dialogue. That dialogue makes it easier to solicit input on key challenges, win buy-in on new projects, and secure any financial needs.
By following the tips above, you’ll be well on your way to giving a brilliant board presentation that showcases your performance and strengthens the relationship between the C-suite and the board.