How to prepare for a board meeting

This blog post is part of a series on Board Best Practices.


As we discussed in Intro to Boards, your board can be one of your most valuable assets, and it’s vital to learn how to make your board work for you.  At each board meeting, you have the opportunity to gather your board members for a prolific discussion.  How can you get the most out of your board meeting?  Preparation is key.

The bimonthly or quarterly meeting is an opportunity to put your board members’ heads together around the status of the business and important issues on the CEO’s mind.   If you are prepared, it can be immensely valuable.  It’s important to think through key priorities before the meeting and to give your board time to prepare for a thoughtful conversation.


Annual planning

Create an annual calendar at the beginning of the year

Your board members likely have very busy schedules.  Send out an annual calendar at the beginning of the year so they can plan around board meetings.

Make sure everyone is up-to-date on KPIs and other issues

A bad board meeting is one that turns into a three-hour numbers update with no time for valuable dialogue.  If you’ve been keeping up with your monthly calls (see our post on the monthly call), your board members should be up-to-date for the meeting.  This means you can spend less (or no) time walking through numbers and more time on strategic discussion.  If the company is facing bad times, you will spend more time on the root causes of financial or operational challenges.


Before the board meeting


Identify what you want to achieve (14 days out)

Remember, your board should support you, not just govern.  The meeting is your chance to channel their energy around a strategic issue you are focused on.  Spend some time thinking about what that issue should be.

Next, dive into that issue.  Get into the weeds.  Do the analysis that will illuminate the situation and inform discussion.  Loop in the team members that understand this area best (this is a great opportunity to bring someone from your management team into a board meeting to present!).  Provide your board with the context and analysis they need to help you.

Create an agenda (10-14 days out)

Use the agenda to highlight your key focus for the meeting.  Ask yourself: What do you want to get out of this meeting?  What are they key issues you want to address?  What do you need help with?  What message do you want your board to hear?

Your agenda should allot a discrete amount of time to each topic.  This keeps the meeting on track and prevents any board members from derailing the conversation.

Send a rough draft of the deck and agenda (7-10 days out)

Pick one or two board members you trust, usually the Chairman, and send them a copy of the agenda and a draft of the presentation two weeks before the board meeting.  Two reasons this is helpful:

  1. Get constructive feedback. Including a board member in the process of creating an agenda will allow them to help surface key issues and hone in on the most important topics.  It will also allow you to get a preview of how your board will respond to the issues you are surfacing and the questions you are asking.  Obtaining constructive feedback before the meeting is huge.
  2. Gain credibility. A more subtle benefit of engaging one or two board members early is that they become allies going into the board meeting.  Because they were a part of the conversation beforehand, they already understand the issues and can provide you with credibility during the presentation.  It can be powerful to have one or two respected board members backing you up as you discuss a complex or difficult issue.

Practice: Ask a board member for a practice run (4 days out)

We’re happy to help CEOs practice their presentation before a board meeting.  It can help you feel more comfortable and in control in the meeting.  It’s also one last opportunity to make sure you’re hitting the key points and delivering your intended message.

Send out your deck (2-4 days out)

One of the biggest and most common mistakes CEOs make when it comes to the board meeting is waiting until 11pm the night before to send out materials.  If board members don’t have time to digest your deck in advance, no substantive discussion can take place at the meeting.  By not giving them time to review, you have lost the opportunity to receive thoughtful input from your board.  Give them plenty of time to go through your materials, review your analyses, take notes, ask questions, and prepare for the discussion.


Post-Board Meeting

After the meeting, spend some time going back through the discussion and taking notes on important items.  Send out follow up items with timelines and responsible parties.