Article by: Kriengsak Niratpattanasai
‘Khun Kriengsak, I’m having trouble handling my board’s questions effectively,” Poj tells me. “Last week, I presented them with a very important investment proposal. It wasn’t going well. I was not enjoying handling questions. They didn’t approve my proposal. What should I do?”
“Khun Poj, the first step is one’s attitude to questions. Most people perceive questions as a threat. In fact, they are an opportunity. If the directors ask questions, it means they are performing their role.
“Board members have a rich store of accumulated professional experience. Hence, it’s obvious they would have different perspectives and opinions. Most of their questions are relevant and can help you to be aware of potential problems.”
“Coach, how do I handle them properly?”
“Khun Poj, as Benjamin Franklin said: ‘By failing to prepare, you are prepared to fail.’ How could you anticipate the questions?”
“I think that if I study previous board meeting minutes, I will be able to see the patterns of questions. In addition, several of board members have high reputations and are frequently quoted in the media. I can learn about their thinking through the media _ Google could help. This would help me anticipate the angles of their potential questions as well.”
“That’s good Khun Poj. Another idea that might help you anticipate their questions is to learn about their reading. The books that people read give an indication of their interests. Consider also their background, experience and occupations. Most board members are looking to the future. You have to learn about trends in politics, technology, the environment, customer behaviour and competitors.”
“Coach, that’s a lot of preparation.”
“Khun Poj, you only meet your board once a month. When it comes to your presentation, the stakes are too high to take any risks. Besides, if you show them a lack of preparation, it will affect your long-term credibility as well.
“Successful presenters usually rehearse several times and anticipate potential questions as much as they can. You have to incorporate several people in your rehearsal and anticipation sessions _ your CFO, COO and CMO.”
“Coach, that’s good for the preparation. What about the interaction?”
“Khun Poj, before starting your presentation, inform your directors about the objective of the presentation. For example, is it a preliminary working proposal that needs their input or the final one for their approval?
“Then, you present the agenda and the time for each agenda item. You have to allocate enough time for Q&A at the end _ this will prevent them from asking during your presentation. Inform them that you are happy to answer any questions during the presentation. However if the question relates to as later topic, ask for their patience. You will note the question and promise to answer it later.”
“Will they comply?”
“Most of them will. You should reduce a number of potential questions that arise before the time. Most board members in Thailand are realistic and not so aggressive in challenging the presenter.”
“Coach, what’s next?”
“Once you present the agenda, follow it. When questions arise, start by thanking the person doing the asking. Then understand the question first by summarising what you heard in your own words. If you see them nod, go on to the next step. Now you have to decide whether you need to respond with facts or with opinions.”
“Because, if the question is seeking facts, you can answer it, or if you don’t know you can say you don’t have the information now but you promise to come back with the facts later. It’s okay to say you don’t know. For example, let’s say someone asks you the population of Thailand. You don’t have the exact number but you say you can provide it later.
“But if the board asks about the trend of the Thai population in the next 10 years, you have to tell them your judgement. You cannot say you don’t have an opinion. You have an opinion but whether it is a good one in the board’s eyes is another story.”
“What’s else, Coach?”
“Khun Poj, usually a board’s questions can be categorised into three groups: they misunderstand, they don’t see the benefit, or they see real drawbacks. How would you handle each category?”
“Coach, misunderstanding is easy. I just clarify and help them to better understand the agenda. If they don’t see a benefit, I will need to re-explain the benefit. But if they see a real drawback, I have to show them the advantage of my proposal.”
“Khun Poj last thing you have to remember, directors are human. Sometimes it’s hard to predict what they think. So, prepare well and try your best. You win some and lose some _ that’s life.”