The first board meeting I ever went to was just after our seed financing in 2009 and I was leading it. I’ve actually never been to a formal board meeting I wasn’t running so what follows is simply my limited perspective.
Next Big Sound had 6-8 board meetings per year until our acquisition in July 0f 2015. We had five official board members but usually we had 2-3 other people in the room from the NBS management team. We had great some board meetings and some terrible ones. We had hilarious board meetings and really serious ones. Most sessions were a mix of great discussion, humor, and serious questions and decisions.
After 6+ years of running board meetings I finally landed on my preferred meeting format: whatever format gets the exact mix of people in the room talking about the most important topics for the business in a way that is constructive for management.
At the beginning I got really wrapped up in board format, slides, and a lot of busywork-preparation that was more of a distraction for me and my team than anything else. As I became more confident, talked with our investors and other CEOs, and realized that the board was there to support me, I was able to evolve the format to fit the people in the room and topics at hand.
In the weeks before a board meeting I would start to think about the topic. I really liked Paul Berberian’s advice: "What is the one sentence I want them to hear at this meeting? Is it all systems go? Are we on target or we need help? I try to summarize the meeting in three minutes and then build it up from there.”
If you don’t know the one thing you want them to hear you can start with your brainstorm list of everything you are worried or anxious about or the big hypotheses you are currently trying to prove. I usually would turn my thinking into a pre-board meeting letter. 1-2 pages to share with my management team and then with the board so everyone could see where my head was at. It was my collected thoughts that would frame the dinner and actual meeting. Google docs was really helpful because that board letter could then include updates, metrics, and other key information and anyone could comment with questions or things they wanted to dive into in advance of getting together.
Additional resources that I found helpful over the years: