In this episode, you’ll learn:
- How to understand your new audience
- How convey your story using a slide deck
- How to avoid getting caught in the numbers
- How to successfully answer difficult questions
What to listen for:
- [00:00] Knowing your audience
- [01:51] How to present the numbers
- [02:48] How to turn the presentation into a conversation
- [03:44] How to approach content
- [05:04] How to build the slide deck
- [06:17] Creating two content buckets
- [07:58] How to avoid a rabbit hole
- [10:06] Presentation pitfalls
- [11:27] How to answer questions
- [15:38] Building social capital with the board
Amit is a cross-functional business builder and marketer with a passion for transforming work through technology. He's worked at Fortune 500 and VC-backed scaled-up startups. He's a lifelong volunteer, a graphic novel lover and a believer in a humanist approach to technology.
Amit: Just be more succinct. Because board members just by their very nature may already know what you're talking about.
Trinity: In this episode, I'm jumping right in with Amit Pande, the CMO and Head of Strategy for Aviso AI, a predictive AI platform for sales teams. Many of us in the SaaS world looking to grow in our careers will definitely have one common experience. Presenting to the board and this could be quite unnerving.
You won't always know what kind of questions are going to be thrown at you, especially if it's your first time. Good thing this a man has done this a few times already with his vast experience as both a marketing leader and a passport member for Stanford MBA, alumni board. So what are some of the best practices amidst learned for presenting to the board? Take a listen.
Amit: The board presentations and board meetings. What I've found is that it's really helpful to apply a lot of the same principles that we apply in our regular marketing and product life, and almost treat the board at a special case of that. So what I mean by that is that, you know, I definitely, when you're in marketing or product, you're thinking about an audience and that's really the first step here.
Then you're thinking about either the content or the product. That's the second step. And then you think about the presentation of the delivery and that's the third step and then sort of a bonus fourth step, which is how do you effectively do the followups and put a nice little bow around it until the next time a board meeting.
So it's worth mentioning that if you have direct interaction with your board members in the past, that's helpful. If you haven't, then you, you almost want to talk to the folks who work directly with the board members. But also, ideally at least try to figure out what's on their other portfolio companies are so that you have a good sense of the kind of sophistication that they might be used to.
So that's really just the audience, right? I think you often team jump into presentations and they start thinking about slides. And I think that's really important and we'll get to that, but it's really important that if you start with the audience, you're much more prepared when you get to step two, which is the content.
Trinity: So since you've presented a few times already and met different board members already, can you generalize, like what do they typically care about at the top three?
Amit: When I started my journey with these board presentations, you know, I had, uh, an interesting assumption, which is that, you know, these board members are relatively more used than the rest of us to sampling lots of data, lots of stories. There worked with hundreds of portfolio companies. And so they'll appreciate the richness of detail, but one of my biggest lessons was that you can get to the richness or detail in the stories. If you get the numbers out of the way, first start with the numbers.
And what I've found in my experience is that let's say if you're the head of marketing for a startup, or you're a presenting that function. If you're able to confidently represent revenue, pipeline, net, new opportunity creation, rate expansion, revenue versus net, new revenue and dollar retention, all of these things that you're either directly influencing or indirectly influencing and marketing, then you've got the elephant.
In the room at rest first, I'll give you an interesting example here. One of the board members was an early member of an early investor in companies like Marketo and mobilize and had had a chance to like, learn about some of his work. And that seemed some of the companies that had built. So one thing I knew going into the board meetings was that this person's probably seen it taught cause you know, they've seen companies go into IPO stage.
And so the one thing I made sure of was that. Uh, if there were moments when I was presenting the numbers and I wanted to get a pulse check from them, that I made an assumption that, Hey, this is a sophisticated operator who has seen enough patterns on this already. And so I indexed some of my presentations.
In fact, almost like leading the slides towards the point where I could ask them a question. And what I found was that the conversational approach with a board member where you ask them for their feedback, About things you're not entirely sure about once you presented the numbers really opens them up. And that turns the board meeting from a rearview mirror conversation to a forward-looking on with a patient.
Trinity: We checked the box on, think of the audience. So next step is you said content
Amit: With context, what I found is that there are two approaches you can take. One approach is the here's everything we did. And the other approaches here's, what's really different from last time. And I think. Your numbers determine a lot of which approach you take, because if numbers are great across the board, then you really want to spend as much time on them and on the positive reinforcement of what things are going well.
And if you need to ask the board for more support, but if you're on the other hand of some numbers are not good, then you don't ever want to dance around that issue. You want to address it with a plan because the board will ask you about that plan. So one of the ways I think about content. Is what are you optimizing for?
What is the number one thing that you want to do with the port? So for example, in my first board meeting, the number one goal was to. Continue to inspire confidence with the board, which has just made that investment in the startup. Right. But then say in the second board meeting, it was more about reinforcing that confidence.
And hopefully, by the third or the fourth board meeting with the new board, you're getting more into what I would call like check-in and forward gazing. But I think it's really important to optimize your content according to them because otherwise, it becomes a series of status updates, which is what a board.
Meaning should never be typically what I've found with content also is that if I get very tactical about this, that whether you're using Apple keynote or Google slides, you know, you want to do what, uh, you know, product marketers do all the time, which is you start with that 1520 slide deck. Make sure you get the headlines straight.
And know that if you can, in fact, if you can take it to the level where you can even prescribe that, Hey, customer success should have three slides. Marketing should have two sales, should have four. And the fourth site should be like a customer example. Someone has to do their job. And what I've found is that it is actually better.
If you discuss with the team that everyone's buy-in, but then if you take one and you create that scaffolding, then everyone can focus on their portions. Now I'm talking slide. I know some companies also take the approach of having written documents shared in advance. So I have the same thing would apply to that too.
But what I've found with slides so that it really helps to have your design work not started. Did you have most of your narrative structure in place? Because. Some of your teams may struggle with getting the right content. And some teams may struggle. They just need some help on, you know, what they should present.
Typically, what I do is I always break up the content into two distinct buckets because that's how boards think right? Boards don't think demand generation versus customer support rate boards. Think you're either talking about product or you're either talking about, go to the market you. If you're done one, go to market, you ideally want to talk about, go to market first.
You want to talk about how the health of the company is, how sales is, how marketing and how customer success. And so that's typically been the cadence. I've followed in my board meetings. And it usually works because it gets the elephant out of the room. First, if the elephant is out of the room with sales, marketing, and customer success, then you can switch to the more fun aspects, which is let's talk about product innovation.
If you happen to be doing data science, great by really show a demo. And they used to some other practical tips I can share on the content side inside. I found that you want to strike the right balance between being visual. And almost being too glossy and too visual. But the reality is that I think for a board, they don't get as impressed by, yeah, it's not a sales pitch deck.
Mr. Baker. It actually really helps if you balance it out. You know? So maybe some of your slides that are our narrative around what's really happening in the industry and what the biggest changes have been in the competitor landscape, those things. I think it's important to be very story-driven. But then when you get down to save a customer and you're talking about a customer case study, you almost want to think about it as tactically as you can.
What was the problem? What will the solution, what is the user base? How much growth have you seen? One of the best ways I think about every single slide is to ask yourself, why am I presenting this? And what could they ask? That really helps because what I found is that typically it's not the presentation that grips people.
It's the follow-throughs and the rabbit holes that you can get into, if you haven't prepared your numbers as well. And in a board meeting, what I find is that if you have to go back to the system of record, which I've never seen happen in my experience, but you want to, what that, what do you want to avoid?
Is someone saying, okay, let's open up Datadog to see the actual usage or let's open up God forbid Salesforce to actually look at the pipeline because then you're just going to get lost. So what I found is that it really helps to have a lot of appendix slides and to almost assume that you are going to take two to three minutes per slide.
And so if you have a two-hour board meeting or a three-hour board meeting, if you're the marketing person, if you can be a little bit more militant about capping the numbers, slides putting a retail appendix, and then the final point I'll make about content is you can fully expect your board members one or two days prior to the board meeting.
Or the morning of the board meeting, sending you a note, asking for the deck in advance. One of the other things I haven't mentioned, which changes the tenor of board meeting content completely is if your startup has a cadence of, um, sending monthly reports to the board and the first week of the month, but the law are detail bullets about every function.
Then actually by the time you went to the board meeting, you can choose to present less and focus on more exploration and discovery topics. Especially there's going to be an ask from the board for. New funding and, you know, things of that sort,
Trinity: You mentioned the third bucket is the delivery. And we touched a little bit on that. What you said it could be sometimes side, some companies might do in a, like a doc. Maybe can you share a little bit more on the best practices and kind of like the pitfalls that people tend to make on the delivery side and what they can do to improve?
Amit: One of the biggest pitfalls I think is when you present. You forget that you're presenting to a board member and you think that you're maybe presenting to like a customer or maybe like to an internal team member, board members come in for a board meeting once a quarter. So they do have limited context in some ways.
And so one of the big pitfalls really is to still balance that level of detail. For example, if you're presenting about a customer. You know, they may not know that you've had the customer for two years and had all these points in the journey. I think it's helpful, especially for the other team members that you have.
To give them the context on why presenting something to the board would be helpful. And also if they're presenting it, then what should they emphasize? So I'll give you an example. Let's say if you're presenting that you've generated a lot of new intellectual property through create marks and patents, and you want to include that in your board update, then it's helpful to have a conversation in advance with your, let's say a data science team.
That's going to be presenting that. And give them a sense on what level of detail to anchor. Because for example, with patents, it's helpful to know what areas the patents are focused on, but really the way to describe every patent is probably even if, for someone who's really technical in the board, they're going to lose it with the presentation.
Now, just talking about just three best practices. I think one is to make sure that if you're. Ask the question, you answer the exact question. And if you don't have details about some part of the question that you, you know, give them a timeline on when you can get that answer. Often. I think presenters, when they're presenting to a board, um, especially for the CEOs in the room and other people in the room, they feel this pressure to like, answer the question, like with a lot more context, but really if the board's asking you, Hey, what's your average customer acquisition cost right now?
And, you know, uh, in general, how are you thinking about LTV? If you don't know your cap, that's a problem because it means that you don't know your numbers and you need to know your numbers. Uh, so ideally you have a backup slide around that. So you should, you know, tell them what the CAC is. And if you, if you've not really done your LTV calculation, say we've actually not done that recently.
The last time we did it, the sort of ratio was, but I can send you a summary and make sure we send it in the next. I'm three days. So under the question that's asked directly with boards, your board members appreciate that. If you don't know it, you don't know. The second thing that's really helpful in the presentation is to follow the classic principle of having the headline, be the summary of the slide, and then get into some level of detail in the slide itself, but almost like make sure that you give them an opportunity to ask you if they have any questions you don't watch yourself presenting because when you present.
You can lose track of time. Just be more succinct because board members just by their very nature may already know what you're talking about. So you want to get to the parts that are different from some of their other businesses. The third thing I think that is very specific and I think this goes back to COVID and pre COVID and post COVID is that pre-COVID.
I found that with board meetings, there was a lot easier to use props in the room. Right? You could, for example, if you had a new report that you published, you could bring a copy of the report and have it in the room. And as you. From an experience as well, that it's one of the best ways to engage an audience.
You have something physical in the room, or you have a demo. And now the live demo is going to be shown on a gigantic screen on one side of the boardroom and everyone's like engaged, right? So you have a natural break and flow within physical world board meetings. If you can ideally try to do a test run a day prior.
I actually earlier in my career, I used to think people would find this kind of stuff prescriptive. Now I find that they find it helpful because if it helps them shine in front of the board if you're going to help your team members shine in front of the board, I'm sure that that's actually something that they do.
Trinity: So the last buckets you mentioned is the follow-up part. And you said a lot of this stuff for the presentation. One of the more important part is. Could be the follow-ups answering some of the questions you couldn't answer live. So maybe you can share some tips there as well.
Amit: Absolutely. So, you know, the other three tips I'll share and unshare them actually less from the perspective of my startup board meeting experiences.
And actually some of what I learned through my three years on the business school alumni board, because that alumni board has been in place for decades. So they have a very sophisticated system on how they run their board meetings. And I actually learned a lot about how good board meetings can be conducted, especially on the documentation side.
So tip number one is actually that. If you can send some, because we used to do this in our board meetings is the periods and the followups should ideally be documented. And then others followed through when you send the board deck if you have a neat latest demo, Which was something you showed. And if you had, let's say some new pricing sheet or something, say all of that is one email, you know, within the next day, after the board meeting, I think it's a nice way to close it so that we might give number one, is that written documentation before and after both is really helpful.
The second tip is if you can, I've never done this in the startup world, but I've seen this happen in a different context, create an opportunity for the board and the company to connect. Introduce a 15, 20-minute opportunity, especially if it's like a lunch thing where people are grabbing sandwiches, where you bring in some newly hired members of the team and let the board members and track with them.
And it could be either way, right? So it could be that, Hey, it's a board member who is really well-known and maybe they share in 20 minutes of their perspective with people who may never have an opportunity to meet the board members because they're too close to. Their actual work and they are not functional heads, but it could be the other way around too, where the board hears from some of these individuals on like, and what are they working on?
What are they excited about? How do they think about, you know, Slack? Was it Salesforce or whatever? So I think this is my second tip is it's created an opportunity with some serendipitous interaction because it builds good social capital. And then my final point is about measurement. Even at the level of the board sessions, this isn't something I've done as much in the startup world.
The feedback comes pretty directly. But one of the things that I saw in the alumni board was that we would answer a form. We would do a survey. And during the day on every session, you would get a rating on one to five on usefulness. And other things. And I think if you're able to do that one extra step of asking all your board members and even your general counsel and the other people that may just be the folks that aren’t even the board members, but they're just there to support the partners and such.
Then you could do a very simple five-question survey. With them to understand what you can do better in the next board meeting
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So that was Amit, CMO of Aviso AI. Christian, what are your thoughts?
Christian: It's definitely interesting based on my own experience because it's so much applies to me having these conversations and, in a board, typically the other people that are also, there are so much more knowledgeable about the process of the board meeting.
You're doing this presentation once every three months versus they doing it probably once every day. And so I think even more so because of this, it's really important to prepare for it and know what they are expecting and in a sense, know what they know and what they don't know about your company.
He's coming from marketing. Marketing is all about, understand your customer, understand what matters to them and then communicate it to them. And that's why I think his approach to board meetings is very much the same, understand what matters to them, understand what the questions will come, what the content that you should present and the content that you should prepare and then treated like how do I fulfill what my customer wants?
Trinity: My favorite thing about this episode is that. Amid is very structured in his thinking and delivery. So essentially the four main buckets are audience content delivery, and then follow up. Then in each of these, I believe he gave three to four different advice under each of those buckets. So as someone who thinks in bullets like me, I thought that was really helpful.
And the advice is very. Practical. When I interviewed amid, he had just finished giving a board presentation. So I think a lot of this was very fresh on his mind. So that's why he was able to share such in-depth details.
Christian: I found it interesting, like when he said what he did wrong the first time, like when it went over, like why did it go over?
How can you make sure this isn't going to happen next time? I think it's, it's something we don't often think about. Let's immediately after something happens, analyze how we can avoid it. Next time.
Trinity: A lot of our audience can easily refer back to this in the future. And I really liked the end where he said that I'll make sure that you weave in a product demo or some kind of breaks so that there's a natural break and give your audience mental break and then revive the energy a little bit.
Christian: And I think he's right, that I think the numbers are the necessary part of the board presentation and the product, and then which direction it goes in the future is the fun part. So cover the basics, covered the necessities and how the business is doing and how you can improve it. And then you have more time. To talk about the fun.
Trinity: Are you going through a major transition within your organization or your career? So you have a first 100-day journey to share recently on the past. If, yes, I want to hear from you email me at email@example.com. And if you're looking for the ultimate revenue leader, cheat sheets, sign up to receive them at usergems.com/podcast.