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A Commando Approach to Compliance: How to Make a Compelling Ethics & Compliance Presentation to the Board

By Pauline Blondet (updated )

As a compliance professional, you need to secure the necessary resources and support from many stakeholders, in particular—at the top. To reach that objective, you must convince your board and top management that you and your ethics and compliance mission make business sense.

A compelling compliance presentation to the board will definitely help you position your function.

We all agree that ethics and compliance is such a strategic topic that it deserves top management’s utmost and undivided attention. But the truth is that oftentimes you don’t have that much-needed attention when you present your quarterly update.

Granted, top-level executives are a tricky audience: they have very short attention spans, high tolerance to stress, and complex and really diverse decision drivers.

Today, let’s take a blunt look at how we approach our job, including getting top management buy-in. How would you feel if you had to listen to a laundry list of initiatives and look at unappealing slides with far too many words on them?

The (ugly) truth is that most presentations made in the world of enterprise organizations are boring, way too long, contain too much detail and create zero engagement.

Today we want to help you master getting your board on board with compliance, and this starts with delivering an effective presentation and it all starts by being sharp and smart!

1.) Be clear on your core underlying message

Your ethics and compliance program is about protecting the company as well as its management and employees from regulatory and reputational risk. Ethics and Compliance is a company-wide initiative involving many functions and stakeholders, and you are the project manager. You should not - in fact, you cannot - do it alone. Key to your success is a solid team across the organization.

We see a slight drift from that principle in many companies, where compliance tends to be seen as compliance’s problem, rather than a company-wide initiative which is everybody’s business. Avoid that drift at all costs.

Very concretely, make sure to remind top management regularly that compliance is their business. When you underline a problem or a need in your compliance presentation, it is not your problem or need, it is a company need and should be addressed as such, involving the relevant functions and stakeholders.

This works both ways, of course, when you underline a success or progress, make sure to highlight it as a company-wide achievement!

2.) Prepare an impactful ethics and compliance presentation to the board

Every single time you speak to your board, you want to be impactful.

Take a few minutes to write down some bullet points about what you want to achieve (e.g. support, more resources, engagement, a decision on a business partner, or on starting to do business in a risky country) and keep your objective in mind while organizing your content.

Remember that less is more. Carefully gauge what is relevant to top management and provide them with the big picture. They do not care about detail; Leave these out to focus on strategies and desired outcomes.

The way your message is presented is as important as the message itself. Abide by the one idea per slide principle.

Your deck should be visual to support what you say, rather than containing all you will say in a simple manner. If you need to write down what you will say, do it in the note sections of your PowerPoint rather than on the slide itself, or distribute readouts. Don’t try to impress your board with a laundry list of ways your compliance program adds value; focus on the core message and present it very succinctly.

3.) A gentle disruption goes a long way

You need to speak to the reptilian brain of your audience and retain their attention extremely quickly. This is applicable to any meeting, but all the more when you speak to the board. You are facing a sharp audience that spends a lot of time in meetings and who is hard to engage so make sure to create a high level of novelty.

As Olen Klaff puts it in his thought triggering book Pitch Anything, your message has a few seconds to be classified by your audience as follows:

  1. If it’s not dangerous, ignore it.
  2. If it’s not new and exciting, ignore it.
  3. If it is new, summarize it as quickly as possible—and forget about the details.

As a result, “unless your message is presented in such a way that the crocodile brain views it to be new and exciting—it is going to be ignored’”.

You want to gently disrupt while avoiding triggering the fear circuits caused by big chunks of abstract information and lack of visual cues, which will create a fight or flight response (i.e., have them want to either attack you or leave the room).

Start with a disrupting comment.

Look for the non-verbal cues of your audience and adjust your messaging along the way: if they lift their eyes from their phones, you are on the right track, so make sure you retain the attention that you have just created. On the contrary, if they sit back in their chairs, cross their legs and arms, beware, this is a defensive posture!

To keep them engaged, keep your message about your compliance initiatives at a high level, concrete, and fact-based. It's an opportunity to speak their language with high-level metrics and KPIs and present highly contrasting options to choose from.

4.) Deliver your compliance presentation to the board with style

Keep your eyes on the prize while speaking to your audience.

Refresh your mind on Marjorie North’s Ten Tips for Improving your Public Speaking Skills, and in particular, remember to abide by the following principles:

  • Your speech is about your audience, not about you: be on the lookout for your board reactions, in particular their body language (arms crossed, legs crossed, back pushed in the chairs...) to adjust your message along the way
  • Don’t read! How could you interact with your audience if you are reading your slides or your notes? Make sure that you’re well prepared so that you don’t need to look at your notes while presenting.
  • Be yourself and be likeable, remember to smile and use humor. And if you need to be convinced of the tremendous power of a simple smile, watch this inspiring Ted talk delivered by Ron Gutman on the hidden power of smiling. Smiling to your board will not only make them like you and help overcome adverse reactions, it will make you appear more competent.

5.) Remember that you are selling an outstanding product - ethics and compliance!

At the end of the day, it is about selling what you do. As compliance professionals, this tends to challenge us, as we like to see ourselves as experts and we take pride in this expertise.

Let’s drop the pride, we all are “in the business of selling compliance” as Kristy Grant-Hart puts it in How to be a Wildly Effective Compliance Officer.

As she explains in her book, you are selling an amazing product! Your ethics and compliance program is about protecting the company from regulatory and reputational risk, it may not be perfect just yet, but if you are given the means and resources to develop it enough, it will not only avoid you and your company fines and prison, but it will have a sustainable and deep cultural impact, maintain the company’s reputation, protect its bottom line and help secure the future of business.

So, when you go into these meetings, you are going there with the objective of getting the support and resources you need to deliver on your vision. Being wholeheartedly enthusiastic about the benefits of your product and the meaning of your mission will create so much engagement and make your sell natural and easy!

A Commando Approach to Compliance

In case you didn’t catch the introductory post, Key Compliance Challenges from the Field: Meet GAN’s Newest Expert, I wanted to fill you in on what ‘A Commando Approach to Compliance’ is all about. In short: it is a blog series that will focus on the very concrete challenges compliance officers face in their day-to-day lives. The commando aspect of this title refers to the diligent and proactive approach that we believe drives the best results for compliance leaders. This blog series aims to address some of the most common but least addressed hurdles that compliance professionals strive to overcome. Sign up for our newsletter to ensure you are up to date on the latest commando blog posts!