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How to win in the boardroom

Expert advice from Peter Jones

How to win in the boardroom
18 February 2011

In movies and TV shows, we're used to suited and booted businessmen throwing open the double doors of the boardroom and showing everyone who their daddy is.

Yet in the actual, not-quite-as-fun real world, things are never quite so satisfying. Commanding an entire room, made up of intentionally hard-to-please elders is a palm-sweating, sleep-stealing experience that demands a healthy amount of advice. Good job then that we caught an exclusive chat with Peter Jones, former Dragon and boardroom pro, who gave us his top tips on how to avoid humiliation.

Peter Jones has launched a stylish range of smart men’s business wear, The Peter Jones Collection. The range includes shirts, ties, cufflinks and socks is available to buy at


Before you walk into that room, you need to have a clear strategy of what you want to achieve from the meeting before you walk out. Preparation is crucial. When I am in the Den, my fellow Dragons and I look to see the level of research that has gone into the presentation. How thorough have they been? If you haven’t thought about what you want to achieve when you come out of the meeting, then don’t walk through the boardroom door in the first place. Think about:

Why am I going into that boardroom?

What is this meeting about?

What do I want the outcome to be?

Understanding your audience

It’s like going on a blind date. If you go on a blind date and you know nothing about the other person it’s very difficult. Whereas if you are going on a date where you’ve been carefully matched and you know their likes and dislikes, you are more likely to be successful.

When considering your audience in the boardroom, you should know their position in the organisation, what they do and what decision-making process they follow - then you can steer your pitch in the right direction. Making your audience feel good and understanding their business needs are vital.

Preparing the boardroom

Prepare the room properly. I always find it fascinating when those presenting enter at the same time as those being presented to. They turn on the lights when you arrive. There is no water on the table. They haven’t set up the visuals. It makes me think about what they are like outside the boardroom. When you have friends around for dinner, you make the house presentable and tidy up. Preparation should be just as important for every boardroom meeting – and removes the potential for any last minute hitches.

First impressions

Dress smartly. Looking sharp is very important. Offer a firm handshake, look them in the eye and introduce yourself, and then go round the table. And at that point it is very important to swap cards. And a little tip – put the cards in front of you in order of where everyone is sitting in the room so you can remember their names. It helps to build empathy in a subtle way.

Impactful Presentations

Many people use PowerPoint presentations to bring structure and format into the meeting. This is old school. If you do have to use PowerPoint, consider how you can make the best impact. Incorporate visuals, videos, music and pictures. You’ve got to imagine that you are the best storyteller in the world and take the audience on a journey. And don’t tell them the destination before you’ve started. Taking questions along the way is a good sign as it shows they are interested. Never interrupt those questions, deal with them on the spot. Make it showy, but don’t exaggerate, keep it short and concise, and state the benefits for the audience. Captivate the audience with your enthusiasm and give them the right amount of detail – don’t bore them but ensure you get the key points across.

It is like walking up a lovely hill where you know there’s the best view in the country at the top. You’ve got to keep that walk exciting enough so when the others get to the top and see the view for themselves, they are very impressed. Showing them your vision is very important.

Building Empathy

Remember to call people by their names, especially when responding to a question. Build empathy,

but don’t be too personal. If he’s called Jonathan, don’t call him “Jonny”. And don’t interrupt, it’s important to let someone finish what they have to say. Never pitch with your mouth full. And don’t tuck into the food. Always offer it around. Don’t try to play the joker - you have to realise you’re not Jimmy Carr. There’s a time and place for having a joke and that’s down the pub.

If you’re dealing with difficult questions, then employ positive but disarming tactics. Embrace their thoughts but show them why this situation is different.

Wrapping Up

When you have finished the meeting, it is important to work out the way forward making sure you are all in agreement. That comes in the form of minutes, notes or action points – you have to be very clear. Summarise the meeting and what you have agreed. At “The Close”, confirm that you have got a deal or a contract. And get the minutes out on the same day.

The old adage – win win – is true in business. How can those I am pitching to get the best out of the plan. Remember, you can’t win without them winning.