Speech Coach Helps Executives Excel Under Boardroom Pressure
The recent parade of corporate crises – culminating with the BP disaster – has exponentially increased the pressure in boardrooms worldwide, and intensified the dynamics between executive leadership and their boards of directors.
Now, more than ever, it’s critical that executives exude the utmost confidence when interacting with them.
“It will make or break their careers,” insists Anett Grant, President of Executive Speaking, Inc., a global speaking
coaching company headquartered in Minneapolis, Minn. “But consistently speaking with confidence before boards of
directors has never been more challenging. There’s little control. The days of formal PowerPoint presentations at a
podium have been replaced with an intense, informal discussion model that requires executives to think fast, while responding with polish and impact.”
To do so, Grant says executives should:
Be confident. Stop nervous tics. Eliminate “ums,” “ers” and “uhs.” “If you want the board to rapidly lose interest and
confidence, stumble over your words and show apprehension and hesitation,” says Grant. “Boards cannot afford to have a leader who is not articulate and sure of himself.”
Tell a story. Don’t merely rattle off data and expect board members to connect the dots. Present complex information
very deliberately without condescending.
“I liken it to a sandwich: Begin with the bread – the basis of the conclusion. Add the filling – the reasoning behind the conclusion. Finally, top it off sparingly with the condiments – which are the details,” explains Grant. “If you add too many details, key points will be lost in minutiae that boards find irritating.”
Grant suggested a Chief Risk Officer take this approach when he was asked to present to his board merely two weeks after his promotion. He was panicked: How could he organize his new department and prepare for every possible question the board might throw at him?
“He couldn’t,” admits Grant. “I advised him to keep the conversation high-level by explaining the key players, then
the infrastructure, then the reporting system. By avoiding too much detail, he instilled in their minds that he had
everything well under control.”
Answer questions directly without opining. “Openings like, ‘This is how I think about it,’ are invitations for instant
interruption,” says Grant. “For instance, if the board asks why you got a letter from the FDA, don’t commence explaining the changes in the FDA, only address why you received that letter. Stick to the facts.”
Clarify, don’t confuse. That means not falling into the trap of providing too much information. “Probes can be red
herrings,” says Grant. “Resist the temptation to show how you reached your conclusions; instead, understand the issue
underlying the probe and precisely respond to it. Your answers must have the utmost relevancy, even if some of the
questions appear not to.”
Demonstrate creativity and show personality. “One of my most successful clients gave the board 95 percent of what they expected and five percent of what would make him memorable.
Boards meet for hours. If you’re boring, directors are going to interrupt or drift off. If you’re dynamic, if you show a
certain spirit, they’ll stay engaged.
“The upside is that while board meetings can feel outright hostile at times, they’re an unparalleled opportunity for
executives to show their ability to synthesize information, align with issues the board cares about most, and,
essentially, demonstrate that they are powerful, innovative and persuasive leaders who are worthy of advancement,” says Grant.