Productive and effective board meetings are two-way conversations that allow and encourage board members to actively engage in discussions, ask questions, provide feedback, and offer insights based on their expertise and experience.
Preparation is the backbone of a successful board meeting. Seasoned executives use the days and weeks leading up to a board meeting to set expectations for members, define the objectives of the upcoming meeting, and align with the necessary members. This ensures everyone comes to the discussion on the same page, fostering a more productive and effective meeting. Before every board meeting, the leadership team should set and send the agenda in advance and do pre-meetings with some or all of the board members.
For a complete guide to making the most out of your board meetings + a downloadable template for finance slides, check out our guide to effective board conversations.
1. Provide an agenda and pre-read items
A few days before the scheduled meeting, business leaders should share what’s going to be covered in the session and provide pre-read items. These items help ensure that the board members understand the organization's performance, opportunities, risks, and challenges before the board meeting, so more time is left for discussion topics.
Pre-read items can include straightforward company updates with no discussion points, such as company financials, KPIs, risk management reports, minutes from the previous meeting, marketing and branding updates, operations and logistic reports, and updates on projects or partnerships. By providing these items in advance, board members can digest the information at their own pace and come prepared with questions and insights.
2. Schedule meetings with key members
Meeting with board members before the full board meeting can help build relationships, establish trust, and ensure that the executive team and board members are aligned on key issues and priorities. These pre-meetings allow the executive team to understand the board member’s points of view, identify any disconnects, and enable the board member to provide feedback and give candid thoughts.
This is especially important if there are critical or opinionated board members with significant inputs or differences of opinion with the team. Obtaining all that information in advance ensures that it can be appropriately addressed and doesn’t derail an otherwise productive meeting.
3. Don’t skimp on presentation preparation
Constructing a compelling financial presentation can be challenging, requiring a balance between providing detailed information and presenting it in an accessible and engaging way. With board members coming from diverse backgrounds and expertise, simplifying financial information is critical to ensuring everyone can understand and make informed decisions.
While providing a comprehensive overview of your company's financial health is essential, inundating board members with too much information can be counterproductive. Instead, focus on presenting the key metrics and trends that are most relevant to the board's decision-making process. Consider the strategic goals and priorities of the organization, and tailor your presentation to highlight the financial data that align with those objectives. It’s generally a good idea to highlight a few numbers and show whether or not they’re on track via green or red shapes (square or circle) to get the board's attention on what matters.
Why this works
When everyone comes to the meeting with a clear understanding of the agenda and the issues at hand, discussions are more likely to stay on track and cover all necessary points. Board members who have had the chance to review pre-read items and engage in pre-meetings are better equipped to provide valuable insights and make informed decisions. Finally, thorough preparation improves the overall outcomes of the meeting. When everyone is on the same page and potential issues have been addressed beforehand, the meeting is more likely to result in clear action steps and consensus on key decisions.