How to Present Your Project to a Board — and Win Approval
You have worked long and hard on a project. Now, you must get it approved. You know you will face some tough questions and maybe even some opposition. You dread the very thought of having to present to an angry crowd. Your imagination provides various scenarios–none of them good — about what might happen. It’s enough to make you wish you had another job, one that never involved anyone ever disagreeing with you.
The bad news is that other than maybe the guy who delivers the oversized checks for the lottery, everyone who has a job faces opposition at some time. Whether it is a City Council Chamber or the conference room down the hall, you will eventually have to present your proposal or ideas to people who may disagree with you.
Fortunately, I interviewed Dr. Frank Benest for a new CommunicationsCzar Podcast episode, and he was a font of great advice for dealing with angry crowds. As the former City Manager for several cities, including most recently the City of Palo Alto, a lecturer at Stanford University, and columnist for the International City/County Management Association, Dr. Benest is well-versed in what it takes to get your message across in meetings. Here are some of the many tips that Dr. Frank Benest shared to help you confidently deliver information that will be unpopular or met with a considerable amount of resistance.
Follow Dr. Benest’s three-part formula:
1. Draw your audience in with a brief personal story related to the project or idea that you are proposing. Include a relevant personal experience from you or someone else that ties to the information you are presenting. Author, Brene Brown, defines a story as “data with a soul.” Personal stories help bring the data alive, build rapport with your audience, and capture your audience’s attention and imagination.
2. Elaborate on one or two key bullet points related to your proposal. Keep it simple. If it is a public hearing and has the potential to become part of a legal process, you may want to submit detailed written comments for the record that would be considered in legal proceedings. This approach also works when there is detailed information that may not be of interest to your audience. You can submit your formal report in writing and deliver a more informal presentation highlighting key points and items.
3. End with a clearly defined call to action — tell the Council or decision-makers exactly what you want them to do in response to your presentation.
Find out how much time you will be given and prepare to deliver all your information in less than the allotted amount of time. You are going to have to time yourself delivering your information out loud. The worst thing that could happen is to run out of time before articulating your call to action. To ensure that does not happen to you, practice.
Never read from a script. The reading voice and the speaking voice are two vastly different things. As soon as you start using your reading voice, your audience starts to drift off — just like kids do when you read to them at night. Instead, prepare a simple outline or key bullet points that you can refer to while maintaining a conversational tone.
Don’t panic if you blank out or freeze up. Fear not, my friend; this is not the defining moment of your life. Take a deep breath, maybe a sip of water, glance down at your notes, and, if necessary, start over. Although it’s not enjoyable for you, blanking out humanizes you in the eyes of your audience. The crowd is rooting for you more than you realize, and now that you’ve shown some vulnerability, the crowd will be more inclined to connect with you. “Vulnerability creates connection,” according to Dr. Benest, “They are going to be more open to hearing what you have to say. You don’t have to be super polished.”
Bottom line, you do not have to be perfect; be yourself — but the best version of yourself. And the way to do this is to prepare, to be personable, and to practice. “It’s all about the practice. The more practice you do, the better you get at it,” advises Dr. Benest.
Roseann Galvan is a workplace communications specialist and podcast host. Hear the complete interview with Dr. Frank Benest on The CommunicationsCzar Podcast, available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Stitcher.