A CEO’s Guide to Board Meeting Best Practices

Proper planning can help you make the most of time spent with the advisors, industry experts and investors who serve on your board.

Some meeting planners look for boardrooms that have a sitting area off to the side to allow for sidebar conversations. Roche usually books two meeting spaces—one for the meeting itself and a separate room nearby. “I keep that a private, high-level conference room, with a phone, so that any time the board needs to step away, they have a room handy.”

Atmosphere counts too. You and your board members don’t want to be stuck in a cramped boardroom, which can happen even at the nicest hotels. “The environment needs to be stimulating enough that participants can get away from day-to-day business and think clearly, without distraction,” says Lisa Meller, director of Worldview Events, a division of Worldview Travel Corporate Services in Irvine, California. “Our clients look for a high-end resort property where there’s a lot of natural light and a pleasant view from the meeting room. The room needs to be warm and residential; the lighting needs to be conducive.”

Access to nature is a big plus, says Chacko. “Especially for multi-day meetings, finding an environment where you’ve got the ability to see the outdoors breaks up the monotony of board meetings. Encouraging people to gather outside, have sidebar conversations and take a breath of fresh air gets the best out of people and promotes dialog.”

“Encouraging people to gather outside, have sidebar conversations and take a breath of fresh air gets the best out of people and promotes dialog.”

Depending on your organization’s culture, you may want to opt for a less formal meeting setting and room setup. “Many groups like traditional boardroom settings, but we’ve seen some meet in a more casual living room setup,” says Rhonda Chesney, Chicago-based regional director of worldwide sales at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. She’s even seen groups use beanbag chair seating. “At resorts, the sky’s the limit as far as different offerings,” adds Chesney. “In our Orlando resort, we have a couple of spaces where you can do meetings by the lake, meetings on the beach, so it’s more casual. That sets the tone for engagement, where the attendees are a lot more comfortable, where they can get up and walk around and have more connections than they would sitting around a board table.”

While many aspects of planning a board meeting will be left to the meeting planner, when it comes to designing the agenda, the CEO plays a pivotal role. It’s a task worthy of time, energy and attention, cautions Chacko. “The folks who sit on boards bring a wealth of experience along with them. The worst thing one can do is have a rote, one-way flow of information. If you’re going to get the best out of people, you want them to participate in a way that leverages what they bring to table.”

Rather than something to dread, board meetings can—and should—be fun. “It has to have pace, to move along; the materials have to be interesting; and, hopefully, the board members will get something out of it,” says Chacko. “That involves focusing on the things that matter, whether that’s raising money, the structure of the company, strategy or the competitive aspects of the business.”

When there are controversial or hot-button topics on the agenda, board members should be prepped ahead of time, so they’re not taken by surprise. “The worst thing you can do is discuss an issue with which board members are not familiar. You want them to reflect in advance,” advises Chacko.

Even when the list doesn’t include controversial topics, the agenda and related materials should be sent to board members early so they have time to do their homework. “There needs to be a clear expectation that the board will do the requisite work prior to the meeting—to read and digest materials in advance—so they’re prepared to have an engaging discussion,” notes Chacko. “That’s really one of the most important dynamics.”

Meller echoes that view, noting that board members need to come to the table prepared to discuss solutions, “so people feel like they’re actually accomplishing something.”

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