Boardroom Presence

Cultivating Presence in the Boardroom: Strategies for Effective Leadership

Cultivating a presence in the boardroom can be intimidating. You will likely be facing directors, chairmen, investors, or individuals of authority. Think about the last time you had to present to a board of directors and could sense their skepticism or when your team’s recent performance fell short, making it challenging to highlight the positives. The silence and stares may have felt piercing.

Why Cultivating Presence Matters in the Boardroom

Cultivating a presence in the boardroom is essential for a leader to build rapport and trust with chairmen or directors. While you could enter the boardroom and ‘wing it,’ hoping your work will speak for itself, this approach is often insufficient. In our imperfect world, how we present ourselves is crucial to convey competence, authority, and confidence. Cultivating a presence from the moment you enter the boardroom is key.

Understanding Boardroom Dynamics

Each boardroom has its unique dynamics influenced by the personalities, attitudes, opinions, and behavior of its members. While there’s no silver bullet for managing these dynamics, changing your mindset can help you prepare effectively and navigate difficult situations. Consider the following:

  • Some members have their own agenda.
  • Some members appreciate your approach.
  • Some members may not understand your organization.
  • Some members are there for the free lunch.
  • Some members disagree with all your ideas.
  • Some members offer solutions.
  • Some members only highlight problems without solutions.
  • Some members remain silent, and you may not identify them.
  • Some members do not listen.

Identifying these dynamics in your boardroom will assist you in cultivating a presence, understanding that decisions and comments are not personal but a means of self-protection.

Key Strategies for Cultivating Presence

Body Language

Cultivating Presence in the Boardroom

Before you utter a word, your body communicates to everyone in the meeting. What do you want it to say?

“Hi everyone, I am a little nervous and unsure about this!”

No, you want to project confidence, demonstrating that you mean business and can lead effectively. Start cultivating a presence in the boardroom by taking charge of your body language.

Eye Contact

Making eye contact with individual board members can be highly effective. Eye contact releases oxytocin, the bonding hormone, in the brain, helping build trust, confidence, and assertiveness—qualities associated with fantastic leaders.


While boardroom meetings may be serious, there is a difference between serious and professional. A genuine smile conveys warmth, positivity, and can reassure board members, especially when delivering unsettling information.

Hand Gestures

Contrary to the historical image of stiff, white men in suits, being rigid does nothing for your presence. Incorporate hand gestures to create a dynamic presence, emphasizing your words and building trustworthiness.


In one boardroom meeting, I was presenting figures to directors and the chairman, trying to explain why recent figures were an improvement. Despite my efforts, the board seemed unconvinced. Focusing on improving my body language, maintaining eye contact, smiling, using open body language, and incorporating hand gestures in the following month’s presentation resulted in an engaged board that clearly understood my message, creating a positive presence.

Active Listening

Cultivating Presence in the Boardroom

In the boardroom, you may do most of the talking, but there’s always an opportunity for others to ask questions or share ideas. Actively listening is imperative because if people feel unheard, your presence may convey a lack of care or understanding. Consider these examples:

  • “With the markets changing so much, it’s not clear that your strategy is rock solid” – They feel uncertain about the proposed direction.
  • “Do you think you will be successful if we hire more staff?” – They worry about failure.
  • “In my company, we did X and that helped my team’s performance” – They want you to consider their idea.

Respond with phrases like “It sounds like…” to confirm the thoughts and feelings of the other person. Active listening helps cultivate a presence in the boardroom by making people feel valued and respected, enhancing your overall presence.

Concise Communication

Cultivating Presence in the Boardroom

Law 4 in “The 48 Laws of Power” states:

Always Say Less Than Necessary

While delivering a presentation to senior managers, I realized I was talking too much—covering everything from my weekend to personal relationships and growth ideas for the company. I wasn’t cultivating a presence; I had everyone thinking I was erratic, incompetent, and foolish. Learn from my mistakes!

If you want a presence of power and authority, follow Law 4: always say less than necessary. Consider these examples:

  • “Emm so I was thinking about creating something that could help us with staffing, like what I did at my last company, it worked really really well!”
  • “Let’s create a spreadsheet to help with staff rotas.”
  • “Why do you think performance could be so low, do you think it’s because we changed the coffee in the staff room, or that there is no money for the Christmas party?”
  • “I’ve noticed performance is low, how can we change that?”
  • “Did you hear that David left the organization? Who do you think is going to get his job? I know Steve is keen to be considered; did you hear what he did when he last was a manager?”
  • “Should we consider Steve for this new role?”

Practice silence, and learn when to speak. Talking can get you into trouble, so choose your words carefully and purposefully for a lasting impact.


In conclusion, cultivating a strong presence in the boardroom is not just about what you say but how you say it. By understanding and adapting to boardroom dynamics, employing confident body language, maintaining active listening, and mastering concise communication, leaders can enhance their effectiveness in crucial decision-making settings. Remember, a positive presence not only influences perceptions but also fosters trust and collaboration. As you implement these strategies, you’ll find yourself better equipped to navigate the complexities of boardroom interactions, leaving a lasting impression that aligns with your vision for effective leadership. So, step into the boardroom with confidence, knowing that your presence speaks volumes.