CIO Theater: Presenting to the board in three acts

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In my mind, presenting to the board is like a theatrical performance. What you do during that 30-minute presentation matters, but it's everything you do before then – the planning and rehearsing – that will make or break your performance. After all, it's the most important stage you can take within your company. So my recommendation to CIOs is to prepare for it like it's the performance of a lifetime.

Act 1 – Know your audience

Before you can even think of walking onto the stage, it's critical to understand your audience. I have relationships with just about everyone on our board, and I spend a lot of time developing those relationships. As questions or concerns come up during board meetings, I don't sit back and wait until the next board meeting to address it, I do a lot of proactive outreach. I set up one-on-one meetings to get their individual insights or dive deeper on a topic that is mutually interesting. That level of engagement not only helps build relationships, but it also helps build trust, giving them a reason to listen to you when you are up there presenting. When you know your audience because you've taken the time to engage with them, you know their insights, you know their background, and as a result, you can deliver your content in a way that is going to be well received.

Act 2 – What's your motivation?

A little backstory goes a long way in helping an actor tap into the motivation of a character. For a CIO, the motivation to make a good impression with the board can be a number of things, but for me, it's bringing value to my CEO. Ultimately the board is the CEO's boss, measuring their progress and performance. I’m hired by my CEO, so if I make a good impression with the board, it demonstrates my CEO's decision-making capabilities. By building those relationships, having engaging conversations, and building trust with the board, I'm validating that the CEO brought in the right person to deliver on the body of work and the course that they’re setting for the organization.

The added incentive is that while you are supporting the CEO, you are also advancing your own career in the process. Board members have a lot of far-reaching tentacles out there in the marketplace. Of course, they don't have the benefit of knowing the full scope of your day-to-day activities or expertise, but your board presentation is an opportunity to give them a snapshot of who you are. If you are crisp, poised, and you demonstrate your knowledge while supporting your CEO, you are going to leave a good impression – and that's something that could have legs to it.

Act 3 – Get the standing ovation

Authenticity is key to any great performance, and presenting to the board is no exception. These are individuals that have a lifetime of learning. It's not your job to sell them or present ambiguous information. If you truly want to gain support of a new course that you’re trying to set for an organization, then you must deliver crisp, fact-based information. And if you don’t know, never try to spin it. Just say you don’t know, but you can get back with the information. Finally, be passionate. If you believe in something, show it.

When you’re presenting to the board, you have the opportunity to help set the direction of the company at the highest level. Every time you have a chance to walk out on that stage, you should give your all. Now go break a leg!

Terry Bradwell, AARP’s chief enterprise strategy & innovation officer, helps shape AARP’s future through the development of a clear enterprise strategy and a strong innovation pipeline.