08 Oct Why is preparing for speaking at the board meeting such an agony?
Why is the stress of putting together the board presentation so intense?
“What makes board presentations so challenging to prepare
for is not the deluge of data that gets assembled for discussion,” says Anett D. Grant, president of Executive Speaking, Inc., a global speaking coaching company founded in 1979 and headquartered in Minneapolis, MN.
“Executives at this level are masters of data analysis and synthesis. The real challenge,” says Grant, “is addressing all the agendas that are woven into each board meeting.”
One agenda is the board members’ need to demonstrate their own added value. Because of the emergence of board member performance reviews, board members feel more compelled to question and add opinions – even in areas where they lack expertise.
Preparing for these questions is often challenging because they range from new, interesting angles to totally off-the-wall inquiries.
Another agenda that is woven into the board presentation is the CEO’s desire to control visibility. While in this post-Sarbanes-Oxley environment there are more and more requirements for transparency in business reporting, there are no defined rules for exposing functional leaders to the board.
On occasion, CEOs may limit the exposure of leaders within their company to secure their own power. “One dramatic example I encountered recently,” says Grant, “was with a company whose CEO kept his people out of the boardroom and then suddenly quit. When the Chairman met the COO, he voiced concern about appointing the COO to interim CEO. The board didn’t know him. ‘Where had he been for the past seven years?’ the Chairman asked.”
Another agenda that is woven into the board presentation is the CEO’s goal to demonstrate alignment. The senior team has to be aligned with the CEO’s vision and strategies, so presentations are given formats. PowerPoints are reviewed again and again. The anxiety emerges when executives have outlying issues that poke holes in this solid front.
Executives are faced with the dilemma, particularly in grey areas, about how to speak up at just the right level to be aligned but also to be differentiated. For example, can the Chief Technology Officer talk about the progress the CEO has highlighted on the new product launch without raising concerns about significant product delays that have emerged?
How much does the board really need to know? “The challenge of defining an internal operational issue and a critical corporate risk issue is often a major struggle for executives facing their boards given today’s emphasis on open disclosure,” says Grant.
Another agenda that is woven into the board presentation is the executive’s need to capitalize on board meetings to show leadership for upward career mobility. Executives are under pressure to showcase their talent for strategic thinking, innovation and people development.
The challenge of this requirement is that all of these leadership traits must become visible in presentations that are compressed in time and overloaded in analysis. Finding those moments to demonstrate leadership presence that is memorable and remarkable is not easy in a fifteen-minute review of a business that employs thousands, generates millions, and spans the globe.
“Preparing for board presentations is much more complex than putting data into PowerPoints,” says Grant. “The real challenge is addressing all of these agendas with just the right level of exposure, just the right level of disclosure and just the right tone.”