Five tips on presenting to the Board

Five tips on presenting to the Board

Board interactions are golden opportunities for CIOs to demonstrate their credentials as business leaders.

One of my favourite anecdotes concerns a long-time Gartner Executive Program member who was delighted to be invited to join the Board of a well-known not-for-profit organisation. Our member noted with some glee that his first Board meeting included a presentation by the CIO on a proposal to acquire a new ERP system. Eager to make a meaningful contribution, and quite convinced this was an obvious opportunity to prove his worth and showcase his talents, our hero was bemused to find that most of the CIO’s presentation was totally cryptic to him and he actually understood only a limited amount of the information provided. Our member uncomfortably reflected that he had probably been just as cryptic and unintelligible in many of the presentation he had provided to various Boards over his long career. There is no reason for a Board member, even a brand new one, to be flummoxed by a presentation about IT. CIOs need to remember that every interaction with the Board is an opportunity for CIOs to demonstrate that they are business leaders – or reveal that they are not. As Board interest in IT increases, CIOs must hone their ability to interact with this important body. Few directors have significant IT experience, so the CIO must make IT relevant to them. Interestingly, a growing number of CIOs are expressing curiosity and concern about their engagement with Board members.

I recently attended the Gartner CIO Leadership Forum in London which gave me the opportunity attend analyst presentations, interactive workshops and interact with more than 400 CIOs from the UK and Europe. This year, quite unexpectedly, the second highest attended workshop was “Working With The Board of Directors”.

Ninety CIOs met to exchange ideas on how to interact effectively with the Board of Directors.

As Boards become increasingly interested in IT (due to significant financial investments, possible risks, and potential business enablement), Gartner research shows that more than 80 percent of CIOs are invited to participate in Board meetings at least once annually. In our workshop, 95 percent of the participants had presented to the Board, while more than 10 percent attended every Board meeting. The CIOs agreed board presentations are critical to their success, yet little training is available to aid in preparation. To become more effective in engaging the Board, the CIOs were asked to share their ideas on

How to structure a presentation to the Board, and

Key lessons learned from previous interactions

For the first workshop exercise, participants proposed a variety of approaches for presenting to the Board. I have summarised the best approaches as follows.

Set the context

Explain the reason and nature of the proposal, the key benefits and outcomes, and include current limitations (resources, financial, etc) related to the proposal. This should ideally be presented as a ‘double act’ with the business executive sponsor.

Define the vision and costs

Tie the investment to business strategies and initiatives.

Describe the value proposition and business benefits

Explain the value to the stakeholders, including qualitative and quantitative benefits in terms of business outcomes. Detail the risks associated with the proposal and the risks of not accepting the proposal. Include risk mitigation and return on investment.

Outline the roadmap to reach the future state

Include timeline, people and technology required. Define success and a benefits realisation process.

Request approval

Ask for explicit executive commitment to their roles in the initiative to ensure success of the initiative and next steps to keep the Board informed of progress.

In our second workshop exercise, participants provided the following advice when preparing for an interaction with the Board.

Understand the Board expectations of the presentation. Discuss beforehand with CEO and CFO.

Start the outcomes and benefits at the start of the proposal

Become familiar with the culture and priorities of the board.

Gather all facts, including benchmarking, detailed costs and industry reviews.

Research similar initiatives in other companies, including Wall Street analyst views of the topic.

Anticipate questions and prepare answers.

Rehearse the presentation. Again use the CFO or CEO as a sounding board if possible.

Use concise, business language. Clearly communicate the link between the proposal and business outcomes.

Prepare by meeting with a few directors to understand their perspective (and modify as necessary).

Keep the presentation short.

Coordinate with the other executives who are either affected or might sponsor the initiative, especially the CEO so the meeting is just a formality.

Lobby in advance with the tier below the executive.

The workshop discussions were full of energy, humour and collaborative sharing. All our CIOs agreed that they must develop the skills to better communicate with Boards in order to gain their appreciation and approval for key initiatives. Board interactions are golden opportunities for CIOs to demonstrate their credentials as business leaders. Furthermore, effective Board presentations can accelerate IT exploitation by helping the Board make rapid, informed decisions on business-enabling IT investments which in turn can drive improved market share, revenue growth, profitability, and future opportunities. Best wishes for success with your next Board interaction.

Linda Price is group vice-president, executive programmes, Gartner. Email comments to

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