Organizing and holding successful board meetings can be surprisingly straightforward, provided that you think everything through and plan carefully.
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Board meetings are about people, ideas, discussions and actions, and that's why you need your preparation to be strong. Any meeting has the potential to go off at a tangent or become boring, so good management skills will help bring the best outcomes for your business.
Making decisions is arguably the key to board meetings, so everyone around the table should feel they have a stake in what is being discussed and that the decisions they help reach are clear and feasible to action. So what are the best methods you can use to make sure your business is ahead of the pack?
Prepare the papers in good time
Not all board members will be intimately knowledgeable about all the aspects of the business. You and your key colleagues should discuss what you hope to get out of the meeting and prepare the papers to give members plenty of time to read and understand what is on the agenda. You don't to have every fact and figure in there, but enough so that members can have informed discussions and be able to make sensible decisions.
Some members prefer to have their papers printed out, while others will be happy just to receive an email with the information that they can go through on their laptop or tablet. Technology has come on in leaps and bounds over the years, so many people will be quite comfortable using a variety of devices. It also saves paper, though it's good plan to have additional paper copies available where necessary.
Ensure all the papers are sent out some three or four days in advance so board members can read them and raise any queries or get clarification where needed, especially when it comes to the reason for particular decisions to be taken.
Put major items for decisions at the top of the agenda
Board meetings can take some time, even if the agenda has been made as tight as possible, so the best place for discussing important items is close to the beginning. It means that members will be more focused and be able to make valuable contributions to what you hope to do. If the meeting goes on a for a long time, people will get tired and may lose their concentration towards the end, making it even more important that you get those big decisions taken relatively early on.
There might be one or two items where you want to have a PowerPoint presentation made. It's a simple and effective way of running through points, so connecting your laptop to a screen that everyone can easily see is a useful method of making specific points with clarity.
You might also have a short video that relates to a particular product line, and your laptop and screen are again pieces of technology you can use to inform the board about these.
Minuting the meeting
Discussions leading to decisions and action points, such as who is being tasked to take forward a specific course of action, need to be clearly minuted by an experienced minute taker. Minutes should be accurate, but the person doing the minuting doesn't have to write down absolutely everything. Points made in discussion should be highlighted, and of course, what decisions were taken and who is responsible for taking these forward. Using technology such as a meeting minute template word can make a real difference in the ability to take minutes quickly and then to disseminate them to meeting members at a later date.
There may be some agenda items right at the end of a meeting that board members alone, without any supporting staff, will need to discuss. This is because the items may be of a confidential nature and thus should be discussed in private. Information, decisions and actions should be minuted, but these confidential minutes should not be circulated to those who did not take part in those deliberations.
Structuring the meeting.
Some board meetings have a timed agenda and if you want to keep your meeting well organized and focused you may want to consider this approach, if not already implemented. It gives the impression to board members that there is shared purpose, that the meeting is intended to get things done and not just be a talking shop.
Allow longer times for larger agenda items so there is plenty of opportunity for board members to discuss things in depth where needed. This is where the chair of the board needs to be proactive. If the chair allows items to overrun, you'll end up with a meeting much longer than anyone either anticipated or wanted.
At the beginning of the meeting, you should introduce any new board members, as well as staff who are there to help service the meeting and respond to questions about specific papers they have been responsible for producing. Guests who may be presenting items can also be introduced at this time and their area of expertise briefly explained.
Moving the meeting forward
A good chair will allow time for discussion on key issues but will also be effective at winding discussions up. Each agenda item will be introduced and time given for the appropriate member of staff to speak to it, explaining any complexities where necessary, before members are invited to contribute their thoughts.
Concluding the meeting
Remembering to thank every attendee for their time is a courteous way to end a meeting when all the business has been done. A date for the next meeting should be set, unless you have a rolling program of board dates already in place.
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By using a variety of technological aids and ensuring the meeting is well organized right from the beginning, you will have a streamlined operation that enables cool and careful thought and good decision-making, and this can put you well ahead of the pack.