You’ve worked incredibly hard to get to where you are. You’ve demonstrated you can drive results, develop people, lead teams, and champion innovations. Your future has never been brighter.
Then one day, you get the call: “We’d like you to speak to the board.”
You hang up the phone feeling half-excited, yet half-terrified. On the one hand, this incredible opportunity can propel your career to new heights. If you weren’t doing a great job, then they wouldn’t want to hear from you.
On the other hand, you feel intense fear. What if you forget what you were going to say? What if they think you’re not such a great leader after all?
Relax. Here are five strategies that can help you prepare for this exciting, but terrifying, experience.
When speaking to the board for the first time, you must keep reminding yourself of what the board wants more than anything else–to have confidence in your ability to lead. You’re not there to dump a bucket of data all over the table. Tell your story instead.
You may think throwing out a barrage of data points will impress the board and show them you’ve really done your research. Sorry to break it to you, but they don’t care. What they do care about is that you are able to tell a convincing story about your strategic priorities.
Another key priority when speaking to the board is prepare to be flexible. You may think you have a certain amount of time to give your presentation, but you need to be ready for last-minute changes. You may think you have 20 minutes to give your presentation, but as the meeting progresses, you’re told you only have 10 minutes. By the time it’s your turn, you’re down to five. Being flexible requires you to structure your presentation in a nonlinear format so you are able to leave out certain parts, making an impact no matter how much time you are given.
Think of your main point as the sun and your supporting points as the planets. The planets are important, but they always revolve around the sun. Explain your main point first, and then discuss your supporting points. This way, if your time is cut short, you can just eliminate some of the peripheral planets, and still leave the board with a strong impression.
Another key priority is to set the right tone. Think of speaking to the board as speaking to a team of trusted advisers rather than a jury. You’re not on trial; there is no need to justify past actions.
The board wants to see whether you have a strong vision for the future, not a strong ability to rationalize the past. Help them to see how you plan to lead your team forward. Show them you’re thinking about the big picture.
When preparing for a high-stakes presentation, your natural impulse may be to buy a brand new suit. The problem is that when you wear clothes for the first time, you’re just not used to how they fit–how the fabric moves or how your body feels. As a result, your body is more tense–and tense is not the feeling you want to communicate when you walk in the door.
Instead, wear your favorite old clothes that you’re used to wearing–it’s one less issue to stress about. You should be focused on what you are saying, not what you are wearing.
You can alleviate some of the pressure you face by simply spending time in the room before your presentation. Walk around the room. Sit in a chair. If possible, practice your presentation in the room. The more you practice, the more you’ll project confidence as you walk in the room, as you stand, and as you sit.
Speaking to the board is a pivotal opportunity for your career. Before you get too anxious, remember this: They invited you because you are good. They invited you because they want you to succeed. They invited you because they believe in your abilities. By being positive and being prepared, you can capitalize on your big moment, make a huge impact on your board, and open a new door to career success.