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Thoreau’s Favorite Ice Cream.

11 Things You Can Do to Improve Your Next Board Meeting.


I got fired from Melanie’s ice cream shop my junior year of high school.  Melanie wanted us to chat it up with every customer, but the line moved too slowly and the ice cream got too melty.  I was all for being friendly, but I was able to serve the perfect scoop, while giving speedy, amazing service. I may have lost my job, but I would carry that lesson and grudge with me forever. 

I was going to tell a similar story about a girlfriend spending two hours too long explaining why she was done with me but it isn’t coming across that well, so I’m writing about not telling that story instead. 

Board dynamics aren't much different than my Melanie's story. Or, the story I’m not telling about my breakup.  

The trick to unlocking max board value is to keep your storytelling and data so straightforward and so concise, that your board can read quality content very quickly. The problem is that it’s hard to do. 

I love this quote from Seth Levine, an awesome VC in Boulder.  Seth said something close to “If I had more time I would have written a shorter note.”

While we usually prefer to use made up quotes, the quote from Seth is real.  Wait, I just looked it up and it was actually Henry David Thoreau that first said it, but Seth said it with more gusto.  

At first Seth’s line seems counterintuitive, but it’s so true. 

Our board decks at Moosejaw and CrowdRise were really long. There was never a map for the board deck.  We didn’t know what to include so we included everything.

  • Lots of data and reports (with no key takeaways, because we just didn’t know we were supposed to make it simple for our board to digest). 

  • A competitive analysis that was way too detailed (no chance it was ever read).

  • Information about site traffic by device and operating system and browser, broken down by every version, going back to the Apple 1 in 1976 (brutal, and we apologize to any board members we sent this to).

  • I could list way more but “we’ve gotta sit down in the lobby and wait for the limo.”  What movie?  The answer is way below. 

Back to it…The pages and pages of information we included in our Moosejaw and CrowdRise decks, virtually guaranteed no one read it in advance, no one sent us comments or feedback, and it all led to really long and boring and fruitless board meetings.  This was on us, not our board members (mostly saying that in case any of them are reading this, but it’s also true).  It was also really stressful and not good for anyone involved. Mostly me. 

Fortunately, this can all be fixed. 

Zeck solves everything by allowing you to follow a specific framework, specific to your industry and size.  Of course, the framework is also incredibly easy to customize.  It’s like Shopify, but for board materials.

We didn’t just make up the framework ourselves.  Pro CEOs, CFOs, VCs, Private Equity people, etc. contributed to a framework that will press you to  A) Keep your content concise and consistent, B) Surface the information that your board will actually care about and C) Get your board to engage so they can help you.

Some quick examples:

  1. Mark sections for Read-ahead that you don’t plan to discuss in the live meeting.  The Read-aheads will calibrate your board so they’re ready to add legit value to your most important strategic questions in the Live meeting.

  2. Make it mobile-friendly.  Zeck is a website so it works across all devices.  Board members would love to read your deck (we call it a Zeck) in advance on their phone, but it’s impossible to read old-school slides on a phone.  Decks are the worst.

  3. Embrace specific headings such as What You Need to Know, Highlights, Lowlights and Key Initiatives, which are designed to help the leadership team get to the point without including a nine page explanation.

  4. Make certain that every report includes Key Takeaways.

  5. Name the movie - I have a sentimental weakness for my children and I spoil them, as you can see. They talk when they should listen.  Not revealing the answer to this one.  You really should just know it.  The answer to the prior movie quote is Spinal Tap. 

  6. Dedicate the most time in your Agenda to your Deep Dives.  Deep Dives is Zeck talk for strategic discussions.  

  7. Start your Deep Dives with a list of questions you want your board members to think through with you during your board meeting.  Such  a simple concept that will pleasantly delight your board with your thoughtfulness.

  8. Encourage your board to use the Commenting tool so they can ask questions or provide feedback in advance.  They can also flag content that they want to discuss in the live meeting.  

  9. Think about the Read Time for each section and add ‘em all up. We’ll calculate it for you.  If you have seven sections and each takes twenty minutes to get through, you’re likely setting yourself up for failure.  

  10. Use links so you can surface the most important information, but still let a board member click-through to dig deeper if they want to.  

  11. Don’t ever do a list that’s this long for your board.  I definitely could have communicated everything in this post much more efficiently, but then I wouldn't have been able to use my ice cream store analogy.  Plus, I’m fairly certain no one made it past #5. 

I suppose the conclusion is that having thirty minute conversations with each customer at the ice cream shop may be lovely but half of ‘em ended up leaving because the line never moved.  Ice cream dripping everywhere, kids rioting. Not even the fun kind of chaos.  Ice cream workers have just gotta push back on that kind of tragic inefficiency. Even if it means you get fired.  

Decent Humans of Zeck

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