5 Do’s and Don’ts When Presenting to a Board of Directors

Surefire ways to dazzle during your next presentation.

Some executives we talk to find presenting to the board a nerve-racking experience, while others seem to take it in stride. No matter if you like your time on center stage or prefer it be over with as fast as possible, here are some simple steps you can take to make it as effective as possible.

These 10 steps will help you to present data in a way that does more than just satisfy board members’ fiduciary responsibility about risk mitigation. They will allow you to illustrate how compliance can be a vital part of a vibrant, forward-looking growth strategy.

5 Do’s

1. DO organize your data

You may have mountains of data — but that’s part of your job. Pare down the information into clear and concise summaries, such as how many hotline calls you’ve had, how many have been resolved, or where and why you’ve launched new policies.

Let the board know you’re on top of the data, and using it to drive forward-looking policies that help the company become better at what it does.

2. DO have a message

While it is important to deliver a consistent, key set of metrics in each report, it’s also important to paint a picture for the board with your data. This demonstrates you understand how to steer compliance, not just manage it.

Questions to ask yourself: What is it you’re trying to say? Do you need to report on bad news, and what’s being done about it? Are you reporting on little news, which should be a cause for demonstrating your effectiveness?

No matter what you’re reporting, find the story that’s in the data. Perhaps you’re making a point for more compliance investment – where does that data support that it would have a good ROI?

3. DO use clear and simple visuals

You may love spreadsheets and PowerPoints, but they can be boring ways to present information if not carefully considered. If you present too much data, the board will tune out and merely passively receive your information. You want them to be actively consuming it, so that they are inspired by what you’re saying.

If you have an administrative assistant prepare your materials, be sure to give the presentation an executive touch – streamline and cut anything that’s not necessary for the board. You can explain what they’re seeing, so that you don’t have to put everything into your visuals.

4. DO be brief

Compliance is your field, not theirs. While you can prepare a longer talk, save the details for the Q&A, when you can dive down into the topics you’re brought up to demonstrate your depth of knowledge.

5. DO report the warts

Don’t omit or downplay problem areas. To exercise effective oversight, the board should be aware of all significant risks, incidents, and missteps. These happen in every company, no matter how effective compliance is.

After sharing the bad news, provide a solution that has a corrective action plan and engage the board in dialog about their thoughts . Since some board members reside on multiple boards, they may have already seen something similar and have good suggestions or feedback for your corrective initiative.

5 Don’ts

1. DON’T Live In a Vacuum

Provide a frame of reference for the board by leveraging benchmarking data, including industry averages, current best practices, and your own company’s past successes. Benchmarking is one of the easiest and clearest ways to show that you’re on top of your job.

If you don’t currently benchmark, it’s a good time to make the case for why you should: Make it clear that regulators and enforcement agencies will compare your company to others in the industry if you do come under investigation, so benchmarking should be a standard practice and fodder for discussion on program results, progress, and resourcing.

2. DON’T Pretend to Know it All

It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.”

Admitting that you’re not sure of an answer to a question is preferable to taking a wild guess or meandering around your mind for a vague answer. If someone asks you a good question you don’t know the answer to, let them know it’s an excellent question, that you’ll find the answer to it, and that you’ll report back to them about it. Then do exactly that.

You can’t and shouldn’t know the answers to all the questions you might be asked. Being prepared for what you don’t know is part of being well prepared.

3. DON’T Wing It

Speech trainers always have their clients practice speaking. If you prepare mentally but haven’t actually talked through your presentation, you could be setting yourself up for disaster.

Plan your talk, and then give the talk to your empty office. Or your spouse. Or dog. Time it. You can even record it if you’d like, to see how you come off. This can be almost as nerve-wracking as an actual presentation, but the preparation and the self-knowledge will go a long way to helping you appear as the capable professional your are.

4. DON’T confuse professional with boring

It should go without saying that a presentation to the board – even one you know well – should be done professionally. Appropriate dress, careful language, friendly and engaging conversations that avoid getting too personal are all expected.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t bring a sense of humor or a little personal flair into your presentation. The board doesn’t want a stiff, too polished report. Be prepared enough to present your data and conclusions in a conversational way that is friendly and accessible, not stiff and corporate.

You’re not presenting to a judge but to colleagues, so finding that sweet spot between professional and conversational can put a little charm inside of the data you’re presenting, and make the whole thing more interesting and alive.

5. DON’T cut time from Q&A

Your board will—and should—have questions, so leave them time to ask them. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate your acumen and effectiveness while engaging in a more interactive forum.

Think about what you would ask (or check out our list of 35 Questions You Should Expect from the Board). Prepare responses to those questions, and be able to drill down into any irregularities, trends, or key incidents to communicate what’s happening.

Make sure you’re up to speed on current events – up to the day. Consider if any of them might impact your company and, if so, what you’re considering to stay out ahead of the issue, and out of the headlines.


November is going to be Board Reporting Month at Convercent, with detailed information and free webinars on how you can take your board reporting to the next level. Join our mailing list if you’d like to stay informed, or check back with us for great information.