How to Wow Your Board of Directors

You've got 15 minutes to make a presentation to the board. Here's how.

By Stephanie Overby
Wed, September 15, 2004

CIO — In the 15 minutes a CIO is allotted to address his board of directors, a lot can go right and a lot can go wrong. Very wrong. Wrong enough to kill a valuable project. Wrong enough to cut short a promising career.

It's no surprise then that a board presentation "can send panic into the heart of a CIO," says Norbert Kubilus of Tatum CIO Partners, who's made numerous presentations to boards in his 30-year career as a CIO. And CIOs have good reason to fear. Suzanne Bates, president and CEO of Bates Communications, once worked with a vice president in line to take over as CEO. After one bad presentation, this vice president found himself cut out of the succession planning. He eventually had to accept a smaller role within the company.

Yes, the stakes are high. But keep in mind that your board "considers you a valuable member of the team," says Bates, author of the upcoming book Speak Like a CEO: How to Command Attention and Get Results, due out in spring 2005. "This is your opportunity to connect your role to the value of the overall organization."

With that in mind, here are some tips for making the most of your 15 minutes.

Hone Your Message
You should first ask yourself, What am I trying to say? Eric Brown, CEO of Communication Associates in Memphis, Tenn., calls it the "today statement": What do you want the board to hear today? The structure of the presentation should flow from that.

"CIOs always start out with way more than the board members would possibly want to hear," Brown says. "Is it a status report? Is it a request for funds? Is it a 'Here's the bad news, but it's going to be OK' statement? Once you figure that out, you can start to narrow down the tons of data."

If you're making a presentation intended to persuade the group to do something, the most important tool you have is evidence. "What convinces people of something is a preponderance of facts," Bates says.

Be Strategic
Boards are concerned with strategy, and they expect CIOs to work with them at that level. "CIOs tend to provide way too much technical information that doesn't relate to a business decision," says Bates. "Boards want to know the value of the technology." That means: When making a presentation, CIOs must speak the language of the business, not the vernacular of IT. "If return on equity is the major metric in your company, then when discussing a technology expenditure, you need to relate it to them in terms of ROE," Kubilus says. Too often, CIOs view their presentation as an opportunity to show off what they know about IT. That's a big mistake. "If you're the CIO, the board is going to assume you know technology. Otherwise, why were you hired?" says Naomi Deutscher, an executive and presentation consultant in Cambridge, Mass. David Luce, CIO and assistant vice president of The Rockefeller Group, recently made a presentation to the real estate company's board asking for a multimillion-dollar investment in new computers. "I was talking about the size of that investment and the benefits we would derive from itthat these computers would allow us to process transactions three times fasteras opposed to talking about it the way we normally would in IT, in terms of memory or disk capacity," says Luce, who is the incoming president of the Society for Information Management. The board approved the investment.

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