Public speaking is never easy. High school taught us that much, at the least. Giving a presentation takes a lot of prep time and a lot of practice, and if it goes wrong it can feel like a waste - and if it goes catastrophically it can be an embarrassment. Here’s a few quick tips you can use to avoid that dreaded scenario.
1. Be Prepared and Professional.
Do some research beforehand on exactly what the board is asking of your presentation. How much time will you be given to speak? What documents will you need to provide, and what format do the board members prefer? Who is on the board, and what prior knowledge do they have of your topic? You also need to know your topic inside out: you’re going to be asked a lot of questions. If you don’t have an answer on the spot it’s ok, but note the question and follow up asap.
Don’t forget that you’re giving the presentation strictly to provide new information that can assist the committee in making a decision. Jokes, jargon, political commentary, lobbying for unrelated benefits, or providing obliquely-related (or completely unrelated) pictures, videos, or handouts will likely make you come across as nervous at best, and offensive at worst. Keep the concept of professionalism in mind at all times, keep calm, and be graceful.
2. Be Clear and Concise.
While you’re writing your presentation, think of it as a memo, and not a novel. Decision-makers thrive on clear facts. If you ramble, answer a question with a question, or get flustered or confused, your audience will lose confidence in you and their attention will drift. If you’re asking the committee to make a decision - whether by the end of your presentation, or sometime in the near future - be sure to make their options obvious. One way to be sure you’re being clear might be to state those options upfront, then explain each in more detail, then present the options again.
There’s a difference between making something obvious and dumbing it down. Don’t use condescending language, respect the board member’s knowledge of the topic, and don’t be rude at any time, but especially when asked a question you think is “dumb” or obvious - simple questions lead to the most important information becoming clear.
3. Keep Your Eyes on the Prize.
You’re here for a reason. Don’t forget it. If you’re feeling nervous, if you’re worried you won’t get the answer you’re looking for or you’ll make a bad impression, just focus on your goal. When preparing your slideshow - or whatever visual tool you’re using - constantly ask yourself “Does this communicate my goal?” Again: be obvious, clear, and concise. Guide the board towards the decision you think is right for them.
Another useful tool to combat nerves is to foster discussion amongst the board members. If they’re talking amongst themselves, you can use your knowledge to act as a quick consultant and answer any questions, sure, but the majority of the communication will be done by others. Don’t forget points one and two, though.
When you’re called on to present to a board it’s because they want to hear your research and opinions on a problem - so give it to them. Even if you don’t leave the room with the answer you were looking for, you’ll have left a positive impression on the committee and you’ll feel good about what you achieved - better than any high school speech, that’s for sure.