5 Classic Boardroom Mistakes

Last Updated Aug 15, 2009 7:19 PM EDT

You're relatively new to the executive or management ranks and you're presenting to the board of directors or the executive staff. Everyone you know says, "don't screw it up," but what exactly does that mean? Well, this will help.

On second thought, you probably will (screw it up), but you know what? It won't be the end of the world and you will live to pitch another day. Still, it's a good idea to at least try to avoid some of the stuff I've seen (and done) over the years. These five really happened.

5 Classic Boardroom Mistakes

Think it's "no big deal." The CEO walks into your office and nonchalantly says, "You've got 20 minutes to pitch your business unit's plan at tomorrow's board meeting." Your near-panic is visible, so he adds, "Don't sweat it; it's no big deal." Just because he says or acts as if it's no big deal doesn't mean it's no big deal. I'm sure his first time was a big deal. Prepare. Know your material cold and be ready for a healthy amount of Q&A.

Walk in with a half-baked plan. Boards are typically comprised of smart, opinionated people who are also former or current executives. If you pitch a half-baked plan, it may get twisted, debated, and mutated to the point where you end up getting a green light to do something that bears little or no resemblance to your original plan. And if it fails, it's still your plan ... and your fault.

Try to out-maneuver a founder. Don't underestimate the loyalty, power, and sway even a dysfunctional founder may still have with a board that owes its existence - and perhaps riches - to him. Even if you're the CEO, you can do irreparable damage to your standing or even get fired - which I've seen happen. Exercise extreme caution.

Expect the board to actually do something. Never forget that it's the job of company executives to manage, plan, strategize, make decisions, and of course, execute. The board's job is to provide oversight, advice, and sometimes, connections. If you need something from them, be clear and upfront about it, but don't expect much more than feedback.

Pitch a controversial plan without support. I watched a president get shot down by the chairman (who incidentally was right) after pitching a controversial acquisition. It was embarrassing in front of all the officers and directors, but it didn't have to happen. They had a good relationship; the president should have sought one-on-one feedback prior to the meeting. Rally some support before the meeting for hot or controversial ideas.

Also, check out How to Give a Killer Presentation. It's a complete blueprint that can save your career.

Also 5 Classic Dumb Executive Moves.

Got any good boardroom or executive staff stories? Cough them up.