A board of directors, like any working group, needs time and information to absorb and consider a new idea. Whether you are a department head, a volunteer, a consultant or a member of the board, some basic guidelines apply when presenting a new idea. Giving a concise presentation, anticipating possible questions, providing enough information to permit decision-making and responding promptly to concerns can make the difference between acceptance and rejection of your proposal.
Organize information as concisely as possible. This means providing an overview or summary sheet at the top of your materials, which lets board members grasp the new idea and thrust of your presentation in a single brief reading. The Outline Business Plan shown on Planware.org offers sample main topic headings that can constitute your summary sheet (see Resources). Customize them to illustrate your proposed idea and plan of attack.
Customize the full outline to fit the details of your approach. With a one-page summary and a two-page outline, you have provided board members with a complete overview of the problem, your research and your suggested solutions. Materials that follow can expand on topics in the order of your summary. This lets readers grasp the full idea in a brief reading and will also help organize your presentation to fit the time allocated by the board. If given a few minutes, review the summary; with a longer time, review the outline. With lots of time, you are prepared to deal with specific issues in detail. This shows both your ability to work cooperatively and your respect for other business the board needs to conduct.
Present ideas in a variety of forms. Public speaking coach Patricia Fripp observes that some people remember what they hear, but most people remember what they see. If your idea involves resource reallocation, additional staff or improvement of market-share, consider presenting this information succinctly with graphs, charts and diagrams. Software such as Microsoft PowerPoint or the variety of graphic programs listed at Pure-Mac let you present graphic information in polished form (see Resources). Provide print support for graphics, so that board members can review graphs and charts later.
Anticipate and answer logical questions in your presentation materials. Provide cost estimates, sample training schedules or other data to support the projected success of your idea. In this area, anticipating questions is very different from defending your idea from attack. Avoid defensive strategies such as commenting that many people think the idea won't work or classifying logical questions as objections.
Respond to unanticipated questions promptly. Thanking the questioner for his insight and admitting that you do not have all the data or details in that area can be accompanied by a promise to have answers within a week or other logical time frame. Follow through and meet the deadline. Inform all board members of the answers, not just the questioner. This shows your responsiveness to concerns and your desire to communicate efficiently.
Prepare to respond flexibly to suggestions. Identify areas where your idea can be easily modified and areas where that will be difficult. This puts you a step ahead in responding to objections or concerns.
Provide enough supporting information to permit decision-making. Especially with new ideas, members of the board will want to review information at their own pace before making a commitment. This review process may yield additional questions or concerns. Materials need to offer a complete expression of your idea without being so overwhelming that they impede the decision-making process. For example, readers need the three cost estimates you obtained, along with the company names of possible survey conductors; but, at this point, they are not prepared to wade through a full spectrum of questions the surveys might contain or your detailed correspondence with each conductor. A brief paragraph about their success and time frame is adequate; a detailed history of each company gets in the way of a basic decision about whether or not to conduct a survey.
Finish your presentation by thanking the board for taking time to consider your idea, regardless of its initial response. With luck, you'll be back with more ideas and will be glad for a cordial welcome.
The best way to respect your allocated presentation time is to practice your presentation. No one wants to waste time hearing that you've never done this before, and you don't want parts of your presentation canceled because you're running too long. Practice, polish, and practice again.
Successful businesses, nonprofits and volunteer groups tend to credit their success to how they've always done things. Even if the board has asked you for a new idea and declared that the old one absolutely doesn't work anymore, be sensitive to the difficulties of changing course. Identifying parts of an old strategy or plan that can still function successfully in combination with the new idea often helps a board work toward change in a smoother and more effective fashion.