The bane of every Founder & CEO’s existence: the dreaded board meeting. There are numerous articles, blogs, and opinions on how to run an efficient and effective board meeting, but many of these articles contain advice you already know. Based on years of experience on both the CEO side and the investor side of board meetings, we’ve assembled a concise list of best practices: just what you need to run your board effectively including a few tips that might not be so obvious.
What You Already Know: Get the deck out a week in advance. Keep the deck under 30 pages. Have a clear agenda with times. Tell your board to review and send questions prior to the meeting.
Best in Class Tips:
- Prepare. Select one to two board members to review or help design your agenda two to three weeks in advance. Include your most vocal board member to get early buy-in. Our portfolio company Harness is always on top of this one!
- Don’t wing it. Do a dry run or two through the presentation ahead of time, especially if you are not used to having institutional investors in the boardroom.
- Good is better than perfect! Sending a draft board deck a week early is much better than sending the final deck the night before.
- Assign Homework. Require the board to do its homework. Ask your board to review materials, minutes, and option grant information prior to the board meeting. Set deadlines for questions.
- Delegate. Put your board to work. Board members love to show that they can add value, so use the opportunity for free resources. Examples include doing a quarterly competitive review, analyzing the impact of price increases, or assisting in vendor selection (auditor, venture debt provider).
- Use technology. Just saw a demo of this awesome board deck software that makes the process much easier and collaborative. Very affordable. Check out Zeck.app! Thanks to board advisor and technology expert Travis Priest for this one.
What You Already Know: Start on time. Make sure the technology works. If in person, host a board dinner or social event before or after the meeting. Invite part or all of your senior team to join the dinner and have a chance to socialize with board members.
Best in Class Tips:
- Make it easy (and save money). Remind your board members to book flights a few weeks before the meeting. Recommend a hotel. Order lunch in. Put the address of the board meeting in the calendar invitation.
- Make it Efficient. Target approximately four hours for the entire meeting. Our guidance is three hours for the board meeting, 15 – 30 minutes for committee meeting(s), 15 – 30 for CEO and Board, and 15 – 30 for the board executive session.
- Sargeant of Arms. Appoint a secretary to take minutes and keep the meeting running on time. Law firms will often take on this role free of charge.
- Mix it up! Host one board meeting per year in a different city or a local place of interest. Vocap’s Florida office is a popular choice in February.
What You Already Know: Approve the previous meeting’s minutes up front. Present Financials and KPIs up front. Have 1-2 key functional leaders (sales, marketing, engineering, product) present at each board meeting.
Best in Class Tips:
- Objectives. Clearly state board meeting objectives at the beginning of the meeting. This allows you to keep the board focused. Sean Barry, former CEO at Bridgevine was a master at this.
- Rule of 10. Summarize financials and KPIs into ~10 meaningful pages (or less). Focus on positive deviations that deserve more resources and negative deviations that deserve mitigation. This will save you 45 minutes every board meeting!
- Construct. Create a conversation framework and call it out as needed to ensure board members are talking on the same level at any given time:
- Identity level: mission, values
- Strategic level: which markets, resource allocation, why
- Tactical level: specific roadmaps/features, playbooks, processes
- Administrative level: housekeeping items
- More Construct. Categorize the important board items into one of the following. This can be explicit in materials or voiced-over as you go through the board deck.
- We know what to do, we are just informing you
- We think we know what to do, please offer any recommendation or constructive feedback
- We need some input and discussion
- People. Discuss human capital and provide a current picture of the organizational structure. This is often skipped in board meetings and shouldn’t be. Human capital strategy is critical. Delve deep and include open positions, culture, retention, up-leveling (how to coach those with promise and replace those without), and benefits/options.
- Appendix. Place pre-read materials in the appendix. The shortest board decks often lead to the most effective board meetings.
- SWAG. You may laugh, but board members love SWAG. Most early-stage board positions come without cash compensation, so a unique gift once a year goes a long way. Our portfolio company Soundstripe does a great job of this!
What You Already Know: Send an email summary of action items. Include owner and timing for each item. Send monthly reporting packages to the board on time.
Best in Class Tips:
- Learn and improve. Send out a short survey. Example below.
- Was the board deck/pre-read materials pack clear?
- Was time best used to discuss the most relevant topics?
- Were presenters prepared?
- How can we improve for the next board meeting?
- Bad News. Deliver bad news quickly with explanation and mitigation. Do not wait until quarterly board meetings to relay bad news, which prevents a constructive and productive board meeting.
- Celebrate the big wins. The most effective way to do this is by forwarding or sharing news in the same way that it is communicated to the company. Board members want to be part of the team. Will Boeglin at TimeDoc does a great job of sharing patient experiences that support their mission.
- Observers. Board observers and venture fund support teams are free and impactful resources that can help with research, financial models, and most importantly provide priceless insight on your board members and their approaches to governance.
- Experts. Have an expert present – limit to a one-hour session – in between your board meetings. Even better, have your board help line up bankers, industry experts, or functional experts.