The board meeting is coming up, and if you're like most marketing leaders, you're dreading it. Despite the fact that you've got some great marketing results to talk about, you can't seem to stop playing an endless loop of worst-case scenarios in your head.

Don't worry. Being nervous is natural. No matter how competent you are in your day-to-day responsibilities, having to stand in front of the board and explain what you do (and why) can be a stressful experience.

But it doesn't need to be. Not if you go into your next board meeting with four key strategies.

1) You're a marketer--tell a story

How you approach a board meeting should not be all that different from how you approach your day-to-day marketing responsibilities. Your primary goal is the same: to tell a clear and memorable story that educates and influences your audience. It's just that, in this case, your audience happens to be your board members.

Start off by putting yourself in their shoes--which elements of your story will be most interesting to them? Build your narrative around those focal points. Be direct and concise. Instead of focusing on complicated charts and long streams of comparative data, think in terms of actual narratives that help illustrate in a clear, memorable way exactly what's happening with your brand, the marketplace, the competition, and more.

Above all, keep it simple. Do what you do best. Don't change your approach just because it's a board meeting. Use your natural strengths to craft a story that pulls your board members in and keeps them engaged. Know your message and make sure everything you say and do helps support that message, just like it would in a marketing campaign.

2) Have the data ready

Data is undoubtedly an important part of any board presentation. People want to see the stats. They want quantifiable facts that support your story. But "support" is the key word. Don't lead with your data. Keep the graphs and charts in your back pocket so you've got them in case anyone asks you to substantiate your story or dive into deeper detail on a particular element of your narrative.

Never, ever read through your data in the meeting. Data should be included in the deck primarily for pre- and post-meeting reference, or so you can call out a particular stat in support of a particular statement. Providing a high-level overview of the data you've included and why you've included it is a good idea, but don't make the mistake of leaning too heavily on the numbers to tell the story. That's your job.

3) Frame everything in the context of business initiatives

Marketers are often criticized for getting overly tactical with presentations that are too "in the weeds." When preparing your deck, keep your audience's viewpoint in mind. Your board members are concerned with the big picture. They appreciate what you do, but they don't want or need to know every little detail. They just want to know how what you're doing affects the overall health and future of the organization. They want to understand the cause and effect related to marketing. They need the information that will help them identify strategic opportunities for growth and market leadership.

Frame each element of your story in the context of company-wide goals. Connect the dots for the board. Help them understand how what you're saying matters to the bigger picture. Provide your opinion. Tie everything you do and say back to the business objectives that matter most to your board.

4) Remember, a good board member wants to help

Perhaps most importantly, remember that your board members are there to help. They are involved because they respect you and want to see you succeed. They aren't there to shoot you down. They don't expect you to know everything (if you did, you wouldn't need a board), or to have a perfect track record (they understand that some things will work, some won't).

Be honest. Talk about your successes, your failures, and what you've learned. You need to educate your board just like any other audience. They may have broader, deeper experience, but you are the one in the trenches on a daily basis. Each of you brings a unique perspective to the table, and both are valuable.

The next time you're faced with preparing a presentation for the board, don't panic. Remember that a board meeting is a chance to tell your story to an audience that is already aligned with and invested in your success. These are people, just like you, who want to help you succeed. Each of you plays a different role, but you're all ultimately on the same team.

Published on: Dec 17, 2014