Take The Boring Out of Board Meetings
By Barbara Wirtz

Reprinted with permission of the Cooperative Business Journal

It’s a board meeting day. You’re expected to participate in discussions or give an update about a new initiative or some committee work.
What kind of thoughts run through your mind? “Wow. This is going to be a great day!” “I can’t wait to tell them all about the task force results.” “Board meetings make my day.”
Or is your thinking more like this: “Oh no, another board meeting.” “I hope we can get a decision.” “I wonder if we’ll get anything done this time.”
What kind of thoughts run through your board members’ minds? “I can hardly wait to get to that board meeting.” “Our meetings are always so interesting and dynamic.”
Or do the board members think: “These board meetings are so dull — I wish we didn’t have so many of them.” “I hope we don’t just rehash the same old stuff again.” “I wonder who’s going to drone on this time.”
Board meetings should be enjoyable, thought-provoking, and productive. But they often end up dull, boring, and tedious. If your experience is that board meetings are slow moving and not engaging, it’s time to do something about it.
Board meetings are your opportunity to influence thinking, convey insights, prompt change, and create results. But you can’t do any of these things if your ideas are poorly focused, your delivery is monotone, and your listeners tune out.
When you speak at a board meeting, whether as the presenter or as a participant, follow three guidelines: simplify, exemplify, and energize.

Simplify

A common problem is board meetings is that people express ideas in a complex, round-about way that makes their train of thought hard to follow. Simplify your ideas and express them in a clear, straightforward way if you want others to listen to what you have to say. Complex explanations, long-winded justifications, or beat-around-the-bush
dissertations do nothing to engage others in your thinking. If you tell people everything, they remember nothing; if you give too much detail, they miss the main point.
All board meetings have limited time and lots to discuss. Cut to the chase. Reduce the complex and lengthy to the simple and concise. In most cases, less is better. People can always ask questions. Or you can make additional points through dialogue.
You can’t stimulate thinking unless others hear what you’re saying and see you as credible. By following five guidelines, you’ll be able to express yourself well and encourage others to listen: Be clear and direct, use conversational language, use pronouns, speak in short sentences, and itemize your points.

Exemplify

Exemplify means doing more than just spouting facts and opinions. It means making your ideas come to life by selling — not telling. The more you illustrate your ideas, the more others will understand your point of view and enjoy hearing it. There are five ways to bring complex or dry ideas to live: vivid words, stories, personal experience, analogies, and similes.
Vivid words bring pictures to mind. How many people know what a gravitationally completely collapsed object is? Not many. How many know what a Black Hole is? Just about everyone. They mean the same thing, but no one paid much attention until the gravitationally completely collapsed object became a Black Hole.
The facts didn’t change; people’s attitude and interest in them did. Pay attention to the words you use. Instead of “the interest in that program declined significantly last year,’ try “our members’ interest in that program took a nose dive last year.”
Stories make concepts, ideas, and evidence come alive. They give faces and action to facts and figures. Personal experiences are part of you. You have emotions and memories around them, they are meaningful to you, and the details are easier to remember. Not only can they demonstrate your experience and expertise in an indirect way, they can reveal your personality, values, and skills.
Analogies compare something commonly understood with something more complex and difficult to understand. Instead of “maintaining quality is essential to the long term stability of this organization,” try “maintaining quality is similar to maintaining a home. Check major systems regularly and fix small problems before they become big ones.”
Similes are similar to analogies. They create word pictures and conjure up images. We are a visual society. Whatever you can do to create images in listeners’ minds will help them get your point. Similes usually use the word “like” or “as.” Instead of “it is the responsibility of the executive director to identify strategic actions that will direct the organization through these difficult times,” try “the executive director in a crisis is like the captain of a ship navigating through a storm.”

Energize

The best content can lose its effectiveness because of a poor
delivery. Put energy behind your words and show enthusiasm so others will see that you believe in what you’re saying. Six communication tools are at your disposal: voice, word choice, facial expression, eye contact, humor, and attitude. Leverage these.
Make your voice an advantage by adding inflection and speaking loudly in the proper tone. Choose short, conversational words. Maintain eye contact and pay attention to facial expression. Use humor in a lighthearted, appropriate way. Display an attitude of openness, helpfulness, and professionalism.
Everyone has these tools at their disposal; use them wisely. It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. People often surmise your level of commitment from your energy, enthusiasm, and excitement when expressing your point of view. Even when others disagree with your message, expressing it well can get you respect through effective delivery.

Conclusion

Stating things as simply as possible, using language to paint mind pictures, and expressing yourself with energy will make your board meetings more interesting and productive. Do your part to take the boring out of board meetings.

Barbara Wirtz is a conference speaker, retreat facilitator, and corporate trainer. This article was adapted from her seminar “Taking the Boring Out of Board Meetings.” She can be reached at (541) 344-8213 or bwirtz@wirtzconsulting.com.

Volume 1 Issue 6