2 min Read
December 18, 2015

How to be a Jedi Knight in your next board meeting

For many, the words “board meeting” ignite a burning sensation in the gut or the onset of a cold sweat. Too often, these meetings feel endless, dull, and unproductive.

I’ve been put to sleep and moved to tears in board meetings. You’ve been there too, right?

So with the release of a new Star Wars film I started thinking about how some people seem to be Jedi Knights in board meetings, while others present with all the goodwill and utter unintellibability of a Wookie.

Want to be a Jedi Knight? Here are few tips I’ve learned observing some real pros in action:

1. Make the board members the hero of your presentation. Don’t just stand in the front of the room projecting endless slides and talking at them. Remember, Yoda is powerful because he facilitates the inner hero in Luke Skywalker and other Padawan learners he trains.  If you’re presenting to the board it’s because you need them to understand, buy in, or approve something. Help them do that by giving them an exercise or facilitating a meaningful discussion on your content. Spend less time talking at them and more time getting them to do the talking so they truly take ownership of the work.

2. Create lasting memories. Jedis like Obi-Wan Kenobi regularly appear posthumously to remind the hero why they’re fighting the good fight. You can do the same for your board members by tying the content of your presentation back to the mission in memorable ways. Tell stories, share videos, and use metaphors to inspire emotional responses, not just intellectual ones.

One CEO framed a discussion of the organization’s future around a funny mountain climbing theme. He clumsily retouched staff and board member’s faces onto real photos of people climbing—and then summitting—Mount Everest.  He wove the metaphor throughout his presentation using maps and other climbing references. I may not recall every detail of his presentation months later, but the key ideas have stuck with me through his skillful and engaging presentation approach.

3. Observe—and use—the Force. Too often, people who present at board meetings drone on instead of reading the dynamics in the room and adjusting accordingly. Is someone conducting a side conversation? Checking the email? Dozing off? These are signs you’ve lost their attention. Instead of just ignoring them and barrelling ahead, consider preparing a few ways you can comfortably re-focus and re-engage people in advance.

Asking questions that require a show of hands followed by discussion is one simple way to do it. For example, you might ask, “How many of you feel that reducing this budget item next year makes sense? How many disagree? Does anyone want to comment?”

It can also be helpful to shift attention to another voice; show a video that illustrates your point (ideally with humor) or ask the programs officer in the room to stand up and share their perspective. Consider your role to curate or orchestrate the conversation, not dominate it.

Do you have examples of Jedi Knight-worthy board presentations? I’m always interested in hearing what people do that works. Please share your stories in the comments. And may the Force be with you!