How To...

March 23, 2020

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In this file photo taken on May 08, 2010 People walk in front of the Harrods department store in London. Where the Blitz failed, coronavirus has succeeded. The luxury London store Harrods, which stayed open throughout the bombing of the capital during World War II, announced last week it was closing its doors.—AFP
In this file photo taken on May 08, 2010 People walk in front of the Harrods department store in London. Where the Blitz failed, coronavirus has succeeded. The luxury London store Harrods, which stayed open throughout the bombing of the capital during World War II, announced last week it was closing its doors.—AFP

Four ways to improve your board’s performance

The most successful boards do far more than reviewing financials, audits and compliance. If you’re a director and you want to up your board’s game, here are four things you can do. First, focus forward, not back. Activities like strategic or succession planning, or improving risk oversight, help a company create its future. Second, foster high-quality debate among your fellow members. Actively seek out different points of view, and ensure that everyone contributes their expertise, so that you make thoughtful decisions. Third, make sure everyone gets clear performance reviews via an annual assessment of each member’s contribution. The board chair should be responsible for giving clear, actionable feedback and coaching to each director. Finally, make sure that everyone is present and focused at each meeting. This isn’t just about putting their phones down. Directors need to actively listen, speak up and encourage others to do the same.

(This tip is adapted from “Top Boards Do These 4 Things Differently,” by Rusty O’Kelley III.)

You can’t over-prepare for a presentation

Writing a speech or presentation is challenging, and memorising it takes even more time and effort. But whether you’re speaking at a conference, setting a direction for your team or persuading upper management to green light an idea, it’s important to know your presentation cold. Transitions can be especially tricky, so break your talk into sections and rehearse the shifts between the sections. Note any troublesome segues and practice them repeatedly. Then, spend time each day memorising your speech. You might consider recording and listening to it whenever you’re driving, exercising or running errands. Or you can rehearse a portion of your script right before bedtime or multitask as you brush your teeth. Finally, have a plan for any slip-ups. Prepare two or three go-to phrases, such as, “Let me refer to my notes,” or “I’m struggling to remember my next point. Let me take a moment and step back.” The lapse will be less awkward for everyone when you don’t panic and do what you need to move on.

(This tip is adapted from “Don’t Just Memorize Your Next Presentation — Know It Cold,” by Sabina Nawaz.)

Don’t change yourself to impress a client or hiring manager

When we’re trying to land a job or a new deal or client, we often try to make a good first impression by catering to the interests and expectations of others. But this approach can backfire. Hiding who you are or downplaying your ideas is cognitively and emotionally draining — and that, in turn, can undermine your performance. You also can’t really know another person’s preferences or expectations with certainty, no matter how much research you’ve done. Trying to anticipate them will just heighten your anxiety and could make you come across as phony. Instead, be your genuine, authentic self. Focus on conveying what you can offer — skills that the team or organisation needs — rather than trying to deliver what you think the person wants. Research shows that simply being yourself makes a better impression. And not only does it feel better, it also improves the likelihood that you will achieve your goal.

(This tip is adapted from “Research: It Pays to Be Yourself,” by Francesca Gino.)

Present your data effectively

While a good presentation often includes data, data alone doesn’t guarantee a good presentation. To avoid confusing your audience, keep it simple. Ask yourself, “What’s the single most important learning I want my audience to extract from this data?” Next, make sure your charts are readable. What’s discernible on your laptop may be far less so when projected on a screen. Rehearse your presentation with colleagues sitting as far away — where the actual audience will sit. If they can’t see your charts clearly, redesign them to be easier on the eyes. Also, clarity is crucial. Use precise language to identify X and Y axes, pie pieces, bars, and other chart elements. Try to avoid abbreviations that aren’t obvious, and don’t assume people will remember the labels on previous slides. Last, avoid generic titles. For example, instead of “millennial preferences,” try a more specific title like “millennials prefer mobile.” This is the first element the audience will notice and process, so it pays to get it right.

(This tip is adapted from “Present Your Data Like a Pro,” by Joel Schwartzberg.)

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, March 23rd, 2020