I am increasingly having to present to our board and it’s not always the best experience. Do you have any advice on how best to approach a company board that is not technical at all?

105.7k views217 Upvotes117 Comments

Chief Cloud Officer in Software, Self-employed
My board experience has primarily been with board members that are not technical. The approach I take is to "translate" technical bits into business impact information. It seems many non-technical board members care most about how to improve the business, not what is driving the improvement.As an example, if I am requesting approval for a workload migration to public cloud (AWS/Azure) I keep all the technicalities out of the presentation and focus on business impact. Ie. Increases in revenue opportunity, cost savings, safety/security, positive impact to existing and future clients, and positive impact to internal departments such as Sales, and Finance.I always include a business level discussion about compliance, risk management, and security as this seems to be top of mind.In summary, skip all the technical details, translate into business benefits. After all, if there were not any business benefits, should you be doing it? This takes a significant amount of thought and planning and if done, you as an IT leader will reap the benefits of a better board relationship, more "approvals" to proceed with projects, and the opportunity to grow your professional skills. It does work!
55 3 Replies
Chief Information Officer in Software, 11 - 50 employees

That pretty much sums up how you should generally approach it. Very good summation.

I, like you, have found that most business people and board members do not care about the technical details; -- they want to know how what you are proposing will positively or negatively affect overall business and operations, as well as limit and address  P&L and mitigate potential pitfalls and risks.

As an aside, I have found that an effective way to handle  technical questions or subjects that may arise, is by using illustrations, anecdotes  and practical everyday examples in order to make the complex simple and digestible. By utilizing these communication vehicles, you can help provide a common level of understanding through common use, experience, and exposure.

For instance, most people have no idea about binary constructs, but they can envision using a light switch being turned on and off in rapid successions to send a short message. Most have no idea how a network functions, but they can imagine how a junction box with fuses, connected wiring and outlets work in a home. 

However, a word of caution. Be careful not to overuse illustrations and anecdotes. Using them correctly, can open the windows of the mind.  However, overuse can wind up monopolizing the majority of the conversation or give the impression you are attempting to be evasive, condescending, or non-committal. Think of them like baking a cake; -- too much sugar or too much salt makes for a bad cake. However, using the right amount of ingredients makes the taste buds appreciate the effort.

VP Sales Development, Self-employed

Completely agree on every day examples, anecdotes, stories.

VP of IT & CISPO in Finance (non-banking), 201 - 500 employees

Great summary.  

I approach the board as if we are all on a collaborative team and give them the options, recommendations and skip the technical jargon.  I am unafraid to speak as the technology expert in the room though as, I am.  That means that it is ok to make bold recommendations and adjust with the team acknowledging pivots if needed. 

EVP Operations & Technology in Services (non-Government), 201 - 500 employees
The approach you've taken makes sense. I have found you only bring up technical aspects along with risk management items in an Audit committee session if asked, otherwise it has to be short and precise and focused on business benefit.
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EVP Operations & Technology in Services (non-Government), 201 - 500 employees

I meant Brian Hiatt's approach makes sense and something I follow..

Chief Cloud Officer in Software, Self-employed

Farid, Short and Concise is required to keep the attention. Good call out.

CIO in Transportation, 5,001 - 10,000 employees
I read a recommended book a long time ago called the Pyramid Principle. Not only did it help me remove the technology speak it focus quickly on the outcomes working backwards through the details only if required.Good luck
6 2 Replies
CHRO, Self-employed

Pyramid principle, aka The Minto Method,  is great for simplifying presentations to boards/groups.  Barbara Minto has a class and several materials to help as it is a philosophical difference from how we typically deliver presentations.  https://www.barbaraminto.com/

Global Chief Cybersecurity Strategist & CISO in Healthcare and Biotech, Self-employed

I hadn't heard of that book before - thanks. It's now on my reading list.

CTO in Travel and Hospitality, 11 - 50 employees
I am CTO & co-founder of Bookingjini, rest of my co-founders are from sales background, so my approaches is same as @Brian Hiatt. I always try to convince them through the revenue & business benefits. So you should try this approach to get approval.
CIO and SVP of IT at NRECA in Healthcare and Biotech, 501 - 1,000 employees
First and foremost, the board is responsible for driving shareholder value. Consequently, the intricacies and complexity of technology, in most cases, eludes them. For the most part they are users of packaged technology (i.e. email, on-line banking, smart phone apps, etc). Consequently, I try to relate complex technology to their everyday experiences. For example, I was attempting to describe a synchronous architecture to a asynchronous architecture. The example I used was an orchestra. Listening to a synchronous orchestra was like listening to each instrument play their part one at a time; one finishes the next begins until the piece is played. An asynchronous orchestra is like listening to all the instruments at the same time; the instruments are blended together until the piece is done; which is alot faster and less boring. The board instantly understood the complexity of what we were doing and why were doing it. The same applies to information security. Boards are keenly interested in following security because of the reputational harm it can have to a company when "bad stuff" happens. When talking about how data is protected,I talked about concentric circles of technology that detect or stop intrusions from occurring. At the center I always put the company's logo. The point that I drive home is one of defense in depth. So the long and short of it is that you have to know your audience and explain technology to them in a way that they use technology in their everyday life.
Chief Technical Officer in Software, 11 - 50 employees
When I present technical aspects to our board I always do it within the context of our Goals and the Metrics we're using to reach those goals. Any product feature I talk about within this context is described from the user-experience perspective and I talk about it as an "experiment" that we building to attempt to drive the metric in the right direction toward the goal.I will only discuss architecture, technology choices, etc only when asked by a board member.
CIO in Education, 201 - 500 employees
Most boards are non-technical but I’ve found they want to understand. Take a step back and, as you are planning your report out, keep the discussions high-level (but be ready to dive deep if asked questions) and tie the changes or direction in with business objectives. Also, detail ‘the why’ with each bullet-point. Example, moving email from on-prem to O365. It’s a move of efficiency, less to physically manage and replace in a lifecycle, freeing up people and fund resources moving forward, more manageable security, easier transitions in the future. At the end of each report, be sure to ask questions – does that makes sense? may I clarify the value? Each topic needs to be in layman’s terms with a direct connection to the business bottom-line. At the end of each presentation be sure to ask for feedback – either right then or provide a contact for future feedback – “It’s important to me that what I speak with you about holds value. If you have advice on how I might do this better, please don’t hesitate to let me know how I can deliver this in a more useful way.”
CTO in Services (non-Government), 11 - 50 employees
I need more info on what your board experience is like. Are you at liberty to share? If they are non technical then do you even need to present at the board meeting? Boards are supposed to advise , so how can they advise the CTO if they are not technical? I am happy to advise you with more detail of your experience. 
CIO/CFO Consultant, Self-employed
Provide explanations without any techie talk. Concentrate on what will happen as a consequence if you do not proceed as you are recommending. Explain external forces that require you to do whatever you are recommending. Provide stories that show how your project helps support the business. Provide metrics that show how you can provide a return on the investment you are asking for. Show how a known competitor either benefited or suffered by taking the same path. Remember they only care how your project benefits the company or the share price. Happy to discuss more details in person. 
Chief Technology Officer in Software, 2 - 10 employees
A non-technical board understand things in this particular format:What are you proposing? Does it reduce the overall cost? Does it improve the efficiency? Does it bring anything positive to the public face of the company? How much time required for full implementation of any solution/advice that you are giving?If you know answers to all these questions then approach the board with proposals circling around these questions and keep the technicalities only to bare minimum, because somebody who hasn't gone through the technical language in his/her whole life, is not going to do so now either.

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