How to Run a Board Meeting: A Guide for Business Leaders
Learning how to run a board meeting effectively starts with the right preparation. Finance needs to embrace a strategic approach, focusing on proactively measuring the metrics that matter to the business and aligning with departments to focus on your company’s financial and growth narratives.
Running successful board meetings relies on excellent preparation. Executive leadership needs information to put together a compelling board deck that describes where the business is now and where it has opportunities to grow.
This is finance’s time to shine.
Your financial storytelling skills come into play in a major way as you link growth initiatives with historical data and essential go-to-market metrics and KPIs. But this type of work typically takes weeks to pull together every quarter and ends up as an around-the-clock task on top of your day-to-day responsibilities.
Don’t let all that preparation go to waste. Level set with your executive team on how to run a board meeting and lean into a presenter mindset with strategic insights that truly set the company’s story and messaging up for a successful meeting of the minds.
Table of Contents
8 Steps to Run a Successful Board Meeting
There are some basic — but essential — steps to every board meeting. In government settings, you might hear the standard set of steps referred to as Robert’s Rules of Order, the parliamentary procedures that provide a standard framework for running official meetings. But even in business settings, executive leadership and board members can lean on the general guidelines as a way to set “bylaws” to ensure everyone prepares accordingly and is ready to “get down to business.”
From calling the meeting to order to adjourning when time is up, the key to success is to respect the board’s time by using your meeting time well. Board members are busy and frequently sit on several other boards, so these meetings need to be driven by intentionality and focus on agenda items. The following steps make sure there’s a strong structure for successful board meetings.
1. Start Early and Be Proactive
Make sure you’re ready for a productive and effective meeting by having real-time access to the information that matters to investors instead of scrambling to build a deck right before the event. A SaaS board deck highlights the metrics that matter, balancing high-level information with granular insights along the way. If you’re not starting from scratch, you can proactively check these metrics on a monthly basis and update the slides from quarter to quarter, which keeps the “why” behind the numbers and financial narrative fresh versus only checking every few months. Leveraging financial analysis software can streamline this process and offer deeper insights into the metrics that matter.
Once the deck is ready, executive leadership needs to send it out at least 48 hours before the meeting. This gives the board a chance to review the content and prepare any questions they may have to discuss in further detail.
It’s also helpful for the CEO or chairperson to hold a call with board members to set expectations ahead of the meeting. That’s often where the magic happens. A lot of second and third-tier questions get asked during these preliminary meetings, leading to deeper financial analysis that can unlock the answers to moving the business forward.
2. Introduce and Review the Itinerary and Previous Minutes
Learning how to start a board meeting is straightforward because it’s generally the same series of events. First, the pre-designated board chair calls the meeting to order and, in cases where there’s a large group, a roll call to ensure a quorum or enough voting members present for any essential business meeting. A board secretary or observer will also begin taking meeting minutes, which ensures board and executive leaders can keep track of any action items or any initiatives to follow up on or new business that requires an update at the next meeting.
Once everyone settles in, the current board meeting agenda and previous meeting’s minutes need to be approved. This allows any amendments to be made and also helps remind board members of any outstanding items that need to be addressed. And with the approvals in, the meeting truly begins.
Set the right tone by keeping the conversation focused and stick close to the predetermined times on the agenda. Let the board deck be your guide. There will be time at the end of the meeting for a more in-depth discussion, so diving deeper should be reserved for the end.
3. Have the CEO Provide Their Update
The CEO update sets the tone and covers key operational metrics for the business, like burn multiple, cash runway, annual recurring revenue (ARR), capital efficiency, headcount, customer count, and key wins and losses. They’ll give an overview of the company’s P&L management and what’s working in the business, including successful new processes, milestones or achievements, product traction, media recognition, team victories, and key new members.
Equally important is reviewing what’s not working, which could include recurring processes that are broken, issues that need solving, recent negative developments, long-term strategy or product concerns, and existential risks. Priorities for the upcoming quarter may also be addressed, along with how previous meetings’ priorities have been executed. This sets a precedent of accountability and transparency and helps build trust and good relationships with the board members.
You can expect the board of directors to advise on these concerns in the discussion portion of the meeting, where they’ll be able to offer significant strategic value as they consider these challenges within the full scope of the presentation.
4. Provide the Financial Overview
Finance’s insights are the glue that brings the board deck together and ensures it’s the right content presented at a high level. The CFO steps in to explain the “why” behind the numbers and dive deeper into the metrics that matter to the board.
Additionally, the CFO will present finance’s statement overview, providing key takeaways from the P&L statement, cash flow statement, and current balance sheet. They’ll also review the budget vs. actuals for the previous quarter, headcount composition and planning, and key performance indicators (KPIs).
The CEO-CFO relationship informs any discussions around growth and runway so investors can see how fast revenue is growing over time. The difference between burn and runway will also influence whether the company’s runway is in good standing or if there need to be any potential operating cash flow adjustments or plans for future fundraising rounds.
5. Review Departmental Updates
Each department plays an important role in the company’s growth narrative, from product development to sales to gaining customers and solidifying the company’s position in the market. This is where executive leaders can dig into some of the granularities, whether successful metrics, opportunities, or areas of contraction.
Expect to collaborate with the following departments to ensure metrics and KPIs are as accurate as possible. This portion of the meeting will include slides that highlight the following departments and updates:
- Sales: Updates on quarterly sales performance, showing the company’s growth narrative (a sales dashboard can help here).
- Product and Engineering: Review of the product roadmap and product or engineering milestones.
- Customer Success: Insight into customer satisfaction via retention metrics and any net promoter score (NPS) surveys or reviews.
- Marketing: Review of current marketing campaigns and funnel efficiency.
Departmental updates help build relationships between the board and the department heads. Even this small amount of face time helps investors check in with leaders and learn how their departments are functioning.
6. Follow-Up on Any Administrative Updates
This brief section of the meeting is for housekeeping items that rarely require live or more in-depth discussion. While this section could fall into reviewing the previous minutes, it may be more appropriate to have administrative updates included in the deck itself. For example, the C-suite may want advice about the need for timing a funding round or if the board needs to provide thoughts around new investors. You may also discuss updates around option grants, as to whether there needs to be a restructuring of shares or pricing around shares.
7. Discuss the Deck with the Board
Discussion is the most vital part of the board meeting. If you haven’t already started having back-and-forth discussions in the previous steps, this dedicated time for questions and commentary will take up a large portion of the meeting.
This is where the board will share their opinions and continue asking deeper questions that will lead to further insights and action items. John Luttig, Principal at Founders Fund, suggests playing to the strengths of your board members during this discussion time. This is the opportunity to tap into the strategic value of the board members’ expertise and leverage key supporters in a semi-private context.
Take advantage of your board’s experience with other companies. What have they noticed is working well for their portfolio companies? What’s causing them trouble? The more you can learn from your board members and their experience, the easier it will be to adjust growth plans as needed.
8. Adjourn the Meeting
When discussion comes to a close, or you arrive at the end of the designated time frame, the board chair moves for an adjournment to end the meeting. Minutes can then be prepared and sent out after the meeting to review before the next board meeting.
Common Board Meeting Challenges
Running a successful board meeting may seem straightforward. But without the right meeting preparation, tools, and a well-organized board deck, it’s easy to run into problems. Your board members’ time is valuable, so make sure you use your meeting time to your advantage by avoiding the following common issues.
People Come Unprepared
Providing the board deck at least 48 hours before the board meeting is critical to a successful meeting. But getting department leaders and the board to review the board deck before the meeting is also essential. If board members or business leaders are just reading the numbers at the meeting for the first time, it’s difficult to make progress and gain the strategic insight you’re seeking.
John Luttig suggests something pretty straightforward: Just let everyone at the meeting know that they may be called on at any time, so they come to the meeting thoroughly prepared. Executive leadership can rehearse the deck together and ask for feedback to anticipate points that need clarity or any questions the board may ask.
Finance Fails to Collaborate
Finance teams must embrace a customer service mindset, in that they partner with each department and bring their data together in the larger company narrative. As Jervis Williams, CFO at Legion, points out, finance is “the only cross-functional department in the company, with links into every single department.” As such, finance is in the best position to bring all the necessary data together and translate it into a language that everyone understands.
If finance doesn’t collaborate with the other departments, it’s difficult to gain context on the metrics needed to assess the health of the business. However, when finance works with each department, that partnership helps construct the “why” behind the numbers. Department leaders have more opportunities to dive into why numbers are the way they are, which then leads to deeper discussions and provides more strategic insight into how the business is truly doing in terms of operational efficiency.
Board Deck Is Poorly Organized or Compiled
Your board deck is the board’s first look at the content of the meeting, so it should be clear, concise, and easy to understand. Board decks are recommended over board documents to keep information high level, rather than reading like a report. Including too much detail or data in your board deck makes it difficult to read through. It’s frustrating for your board to try to parse apart the important points if they’re buried in other information on the slides.
The board deck is a reflection of the company. Early-stage board decks will focus on cash flow and growth. As companies mature, capital efficiency and profitability measures matter more, and performance vs. the annual or quarterly plan becomes much more relevant. At later stages, the board will most likely focus on whether current growth trends are smart and efficient, which will call for more efficiency metrics.
The board deck needs to match the agenda, which also creates clarity in terms of speaking order and how the narrative unfolds. Highlight key points in the deck and build off of each point as much as possible to ensure cohesion, then expand further in the dedicated discussion time. And whenever possible, opt for visualizations over words for quick references. Your speaking provides the words that match the picture on the wall, and you want the board to listen as much as possible as they gather their thoughts.
The Information Gathering Process Is Inefficient
Some companies’ financial departments take several weeks (sometimes even longer) to gather the data and metrics necessary for a board meeting. This occupies all of the finance team’s time, meaning they can’t perform other duties that support the business. But prep for a board meeting shouldn’t detract from running the business.
Preparing for a board meeting needs to be a smooth process, which allows for opportunities to create an additive deck that requires minimal updates and revamps every meeting. Getting to that point of knowing exactly what board members want to see takes time, but remaining proactive and anticipating their needs results in a clear, concise board deck that keeps everyone focused on the company’s best interests.
Board Meeting Best Practices
Running board meetings well shows respect for board members’ time and keeps an accurate record of business discussions. These meetings provide essential insights that benefit the company. Keep these SaaS board meeting tips in mind to lead the way in keeping engagement high across business partners, investors, and board members alike.
Stick to Your Meeting Agenda and Board Deck
Each presentation is key to building transparency and trust with your board. It’ll be difficult to maintain that momentum if meetings go off the rails or speakers find themselves side-lined and unable to complete their portions of the presentation.
Set expectations for a productive meeting by maintaining Robert’s Rules of Order and presenting an accurate board meeting agenda. Follow the agenda and stay on schedule for maximum focus and efficiency, and keep deeper discussion to the discussion section.
Highlight Your Strengths
As a business, John Luttig encourages finding your superpower and honing it over time. Rather than compensating for your weaknesses, lean into your strengths to stand out from the crowd. What is your company going to be in five years if we continue on this trajectory?
Paint a picture of the company’s future by highlighting your strengths with data. You want your metrics as close to real-time as possible, which typically means continuously updating the deck until the 48-hour mark of sending the deck out. Apply real-time data and scenarios (such as an impending economic downturn) to create realistic forecasts that consider base, worst, and best-case scenarios alongside any other variables (like including a funding round if that seems imminent).
Be Prepared With the Metrics You Need
Don’t wait until it’s too late to start tracking important metrics. Finance shouldn’t have to scramble to pull data together for the board meeting presentation. Have the infrastructure in place as early as possible to track the things you’ll need. This not only saves the finance team significant time in the lead-up to the meeting, but it also ensures you’ll have what you need when it’s time to fundraise or make the case for more investments with stakeholders.
Get Your Financial Story Straight with Mosaic
Board meetings are heavily reliant on the numbers, but financial reports don’t provide the full story without context. To aid in this context, tools like an executive dashboard can be useful because finance teams provide the full story without context. Finance teams provide the most value to the company when they collaborate with the other departments to get the “why” behind the numbers. But that’s difficult to do when finance is spending weeks just trying to compile spreadsheets and make sense of raw data. And that’s where Mosaic comes in.
Mosaic allows you to prepare for running board meetings seamlessly. Use our board deck template to tell the story of your business with the right metrics. Our dashboards automate the calculation and consolidation of various metrics, financial projections, and KPIs, making visually optimized charts and graphs easy to produce and present. Mosaic’s preloaded financial dashboards include an executive summary dashboard, the CFO dashboard, and the operational efficiency dashboard, which you can customize to quickly compile the company’s narrative and forward-thinking plans to support an environment of proactive decision-making.
Ready to take your board meeting to the next level? Request a demo of Mosaic today, and discover the power of truly centralizing your board deck prep and presentation in one Strategic Finance Platform.
Board Meeting FAQs
How do you start a board meeting?
Learning how to start a board meeting begins with preparation. The CEO or chairperson shares the agenda 48 hours before the meeting to confirm everyone’s participation and the time needed for each section. Agenda items give clear guidance to attendees and set expectations about what will be addressed. The board chair opens the meeting with a call to order at the designated start time, and board meeting minutes begin right away. From there, roll call ensures there’s a quorum present to vote and conduct business.