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Part 2: Easy and Effective Tips to Enhance Your Board Presence

1.24.2018
This week’s post is the second of a two-part series on board presence—that elusive quality that leads to increased credibility and influence for an executive. Last week we talked about what board presence is and why it matters. This week we’re suggesting some specific tips for enhancing your own board presence.

Our guest columnist is Kathy Dockry, Managing Director of Significa Group. Kathy supports boards on CEO succession and selection and also coaches executives on leadership and influence in the C-suite. 

How to Impress Your Board

“Either you’re born with it or you aren’t.”

“You only have it if you’re already a powerful leader.”

“I am who I am. I’m going to let my work speak for itself.”



These are frequent responses from C-suite leaders and other senior execs when the topic of board presence comes up. But the reality is that anyone can grow his or her board presence, and in ways that are easy and a good fit for who you are.

And why wouldn’t you want to invest a little time on doing just that when the returns can be so significant? Enhanced board presence can increase the win rate for your initiatives, expand your influence, and deepen the perception of you as a valued leader.

Last week we demystified what board presence is. We learned that it’s about establishing a feeling of PARITY with board members and broke it down into 3 key traits:
This week we’ll have some fun looking at a few easy tips for each category. These aren’t the only approaches you can take, of course. There are some other even more powerful techniques that are too long to explain in a blog post or may be helpful only in certain contexts. But the following will get you started and when you employ them, notice what happens. It’s not uncommon for executives to get unsolicited favorable feedback from the board within the first or second time they try a few tactics out!

Relaxed Self-Confidence
  • Body language: Don’t do what we all tend to do when we want to impress—lean forward, excessively nod your head, and smile at everything. What do board members sense when they see this? That you’re a nice but probably “junior” eager beaver who is trying a little too hard to impress. Yikes! Instead, adopt a posture that conveys the ease and confidence of a peer—weight of the body centered and grounded (rather than tipped forward); shoulders held broad with the shoulder blades moving down your back; and an expression of occasional relaxed amusement when appropriate, rather than continuous smiling.
  • Emceeing: This is my name for a technique that conveys leadership, but in a very natural and respectful way. It breaks through that uncomfortable artificial formality that sometimes exists between the board and you, and draws the board in. You simply note a board dynamic and invite several board members to engage on that question. Here’s one example: Carol, you raise a good point here. John, I know you have some thoughts on this issue as well. What do you think about what Carol just said?

Clarity of Communication
  • Re-think your use of data: You cannot over estimate how little data your board wants from you in your presentation, EVEN when they ask for it. Instead, your board wants only (1) the most relevant data, (2) a meaningful understanding of the outcomes to the business, and (3) your considered judgment. Eliminate slides from your initial deck. Then eliminate a few more. And then a few more. Create appendices, pre-reads, and post-reads for most background information that you feel the board needs, and reference these in your presentation or discussion with the board. And use infographics and stories to illustrate your points. This makes it easier for the board to digest and retain complex information quickly. What do we often regard as a sign of high intelligence and leadership capability? The ability to make the complex simple and easy-to-understand.
  • Bottom-lining: This is my name for a technique that is so simple, it’s almost embarrassing. But trust me, it’s powerful, and executives are often amazed by the quick, positive impact it has on an audience. All you have to do is to boil your presentation to three take-aways. For example, “If you only remember three things from this presentation, remember this . . .” Or, “If we only tackle three initiatives this year, they should be the following . . .” You get bonus points for relaxed self-confidence if you use this technique immediately before your presentation and appear to be going off-script. As you start to launch into your presentation, momentarily stop. Carry a pad or sheet of papers in your hands, and make a point of visibly putting it down. bottom-line by saying, “If you only remember three things from this presentation, remember this . . .” After that, just go back to your already prepared presentation. 

Strategic vision and behaviors
  • Share your judgment: When executives keep their focus on the data rather than their opinions, they usually feel they are on safe ground. And indeed the board will often pat you on the back and say, “Nice job.” But the reality is that you’ve created the impression that you’re competent—but only in a junior or tactical way. Instead, don’t shy away from sharing your judgment on the meaning or implications of the data that you present. This is what a peer addressing a junior staff member does. Just be sure to articulate your rationale for your judgments. You can even occasionally speculate, just so long as you indicate that it’s a speculation and you provide some grounds for it.
  • Focus on outcomes, not issues: Linguistic studies show that people who spend most of their time in a presentation speaking to the desired outcomes for the topic are perceived as far more persuasive and strategic that people who spend most of their time defining the issue and the tactics to deal with that issue. And yet what do 90% of us do when presenting on a topic?  We first describe the situation in great detail, then explain what should be done about it in even greater detail, and finally briefly say the equivalent of, “And if we do what I’m recommending, everything will be great.” This is a missed opportunity to increase our win rate and be perceived as a peer. Instead, grow your skill in using a different format—describe the issue briefly, jump to the desired outcomes describing them in detail (“What outcomes do we want instead?”), and finally circle back to what needs to be done (“And how do we get to those outcomes?”). You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how your influence increases over time if you consistently use this approach in both formal and informal discussions.

Thanks to the awesome team at The Alexander Group for giving me the chance to share some insights on one of my favorite topics. And here’s to you employing a few of these tips towards your own success!  For additional information on my work—including customized coaching and workshops on enhancing board presence—please see www.significagroup.com.
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