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The 5-Point 'Look More Pro' Board Meeting Guide


Board meetings are an essential part of running any company, but they typically leave both CEOs and board members feeling drained and frustrated. 

As a CEO, preparing for a board meeting can be a time-consuming and frustrating process. Your leadership team is spending hours dealing with the presentation when they could be working on other important projects. Additionally, the board meeting itself can be grueling. 

In this guide, we'll examine the challenges that CEOs and board members face in preparing for and conducting board meetings, and provide five critical elements that CEOs must address two transform board meetings from miserable and expensive too immensely collaborative and monumentally valuable.  

I went with ‘two’ and ‘too’ instead of ‘to’ on purpose. 


A Nightmare for the CEO.

Preparing for a board meeting can be a nightmare for CEOs. Their team spends hours working on the presentation when they really need them to be kicking ass at their jobs. The constant editing of the content can be frustrating as well, as CEOs may not feel confident that they know what the board wants to hear about or care about. CEOs may also find themselves spending hours or even days on the design, trying to make the materials look consistent and professional.

The board meeting itself can be just as challenging. Board members often come to the meeting less prepared than you’d expect which often disrupts the flow of the meeting with questions that don't really advance the decision-making process. Maintaining focus is really tough. 

I was considering googling the etymology of ‘rabbit hole’ but decided not to.  Just so you know.

CEOs may wonder if unproductive board meetings are their fault. Was the presentation way too long? Did everyone leave thinking this was a giant waste of time?  A weak board meeting always creates a little insecurity for the CEO.  I have no idea how to run a board meeting…does that mean my board, who can fire me, thinks I have no idea how to run our company too?


Despised by Board Members.

For the board members, the process can be just as frustrating.  Board decks are often a scattered mess, and are generally terrible to read. Presentation software is a horrible vehicle for this kind of information. 

Board members don't easily have a chance to engage with the content in a collaborative way ahead of the meeting.

The meetings themselves can be disorganized and unproductive. There is often too much to get through, and it can feel like the CEO is simply regurgitating the content the board supposedly already read. Too often the loudest person in the room dominates the conversation, and the meeting ends up being a reporting function instead of driving real decision-making.

However, there are steps that CEOs can take to transform their board meetings. As an advisor to dozens of companies,  I've experienced the effectiveness of the below strategies first-hand.

The following steps can help transform board meetings from being miserable and expensive to collaborative and invaluable.


It All Starts With The Board Materials and the Pre-Read. They Have to Be Focused, Organized, and Engaging.

As CEO, you have to act as the front-page editor. You set the themes for the team to hit on in their narratives, select the right amount of good news and number of updates, and craft the experience for your readers (the board). Always ensure that you're purposefully driving engagement throughout your content so that there can be plenty of productive banter.  




Clearly separate read-ahead materials for calibration from your topics for actual discussion.


Everything needs to read like a narrative. Structure your content like a conversation, including What You Need to Know, Highlights, Lowlights, and What's Keeping Me Up at Night.


Give supporting documents and reports their rightful place in the materials. This keeps you out of the weeds and reduces the number of 'just to make me look smart' questions.


Figure out how to focus on the topics that truly, truly matter. Two Truly’s. Be sure to include the baseline…Has the market changed? Has the team grown? What are the financials like? What are the key takeaways?


You and your leadership team should time themselves reading through each section and the full materials. Sections should be no longer than five minutes, and the overall presentation should be less than 45 minutes.


Spend time cutting content or moving it to a supporting role in the doc.


Design matters. Ensure your communications are well-designed so your content can be consumed quickly and feel more efficient and focused. This also helps readers have better comprehension and retention, and your team is more believable because the authors appear to be more competent and 'pro.'


The Dairy Queen near my house doesn’t serve the ice cream cold enough so I always get a blizzard.  But, if I drive another 12 minutes, I go with a medium vanilla cone.


"As the saying goes: 'I must apologize. If I had more time I would have written a shorter note.' Long board decks may seem like you’re being transparent but from my perspective it’s just being lazy."

- Seth Levine, Co-author of The New Builders: Face to Face with the True Future of Business.


The Value of Pre-Meeting Communication Cannot Be Understated.

One of your primary goals should be collaborating with your board.  So, clearly it makes sense to get that process started as early as possible. As the CEO you need to be facilitating collaboration between board members by providing opportunities for them to engage outside of your live meeting.




Get the board materials out early to give the board members time to prepare.  A good rule of thumb is to give to board members 1 day of review per 8 pages of materials.  Don’t think you can deliver the materials 4 days in advance? Then you better keep the materials super focused and under 25 pages. 


I’d re-read A just because it’s such a good one.


Provide a path for your board to ask questions or comment in advance of your board meeting. This gets the easy questions out of the way and out of the live meeting. 


Find ways to understand which topics your board cares about most.  This could be 1:1 over email, or a group communications app.  This will be invaluable to you as CEO. You’ll be able to anticipate the questions you’re likely to get in the meeting and have the best possible answers ready.


Going back and forth about topics in advance of your live meeting also has a sneaky peer pressure effect that will often get unengaged board members to chime in earlier in the process.  No board member wants to be seen as the only person who didn’t ask a single question.


I once had a fish named Sneaky.  He’s dead now though.  


"In 2023 we should not be feeding out board materials in a non-iterative, fixed way that doesn't allow for questions and collaboration. It’s just fundamentally inefficient."

- Edward Norton, Co-Founder of Zeck, award-winning actor and entrepreneur

Watch Edward talk about the modern, effective board meeting (1:40)


Set the Stage to be Collaborative and Productive.

Start with a mindset change. Reframe the conversation in your mind, and understand that your board is not there solely to judge you. They are there to help your company, and they are in this with you.  




Don't present. Sit at the table and don't stand. Don't get bogged down by presenting all your content live. Ask if there are questions about anything in the read-ahead and then move on directly to the important discussions.


Try not to wander far from the agreed-upon agenda. Time spent talking off-agenda could be valuable, but more often, those discussions are rabbit holes that take important time away from the decisions that impact the business.


Don't be afraid to assign tasks to board members. While scary at first, this establishes the group as a team working for a common goal.  Again, your board should want to help you.


Get as much admin done ahead of the meeting as possible. Starting a board meeting with the admin can kill your ability to ‘set-the-stage’ for strategic discussions. It often bogs down the in-person meeting.


Approve prior meeting minutes and standard option grants through unanimous written consents if possible. 


"In my world, the day of the 'board update' is over. I find no value in sitting in a room for three hours, paging through a PowerPoint deck while people present at me."

- Brad Feld, Partner and Co-Founder, Foundry


Always Include at Least One ‘Deep Dive’ and Be Honest About Where You Need Help.

The purpose of the Deep Dive is to facilitate important strategic discussions. Deep Dives are meant to be forward-looking and hopefully help to unlock awesome value from your board members.  




Carve out at least 45 minutes for discussion per Deep Dive.


As we mentioned, don't be afraid to ask your board for help generally and definitely ask ‘em for help when you get to the Deep Dives. That’s what they’re there for.  Just be sure to be clear about what you need help with. It’s okay to say you don’t know the best way to approach a problem.


A great way to do this is by including the questions you'd like to have answered by the end of the Deep Dive session in your board materials. 


Understand the areas where your board members can be doing the most to help you, such as major market or economic shifts, company pivots, complex agreements or deal structures, valuable introductions, fundraising, overseas expansion, sourcing talent, and messy legal issues.


"Board meetings should be discussions... Some CEOs make the mistake of driving the Board line by line through the agenda, cutting off meaty discussions in the name of staying on schedule. The purpose of Board meetings are to have these meaty discussions not to get through the agenda on time."

- Fred Wilson, Managing Partner, Union Square Ventures, AVC.com


Loop Your Operating Team About the Board Meeting and the Board’s Feedback.

Often board meetings are characterized as secretive and lacking transparency. Many are closed-door affairs, where only board members are allowed to attend. This lack of transparency can lead to misalignment and mistrust among shareholders, employees, and other stakeholders.  




If possible, remove any stock option info or sensitive HR issues from the board materials so that you can share as much of the content as possible with the team.


Find ways to communicate to your team that the board is aware of them and the work they’re doing for the company.


Additionally, make sure the team understands the board’s alignment with the goals of the company.



It’s a Puzzle

In taking the right steps, CEOs can transform board meetings from a tedious and exhausting process to an immensely collaborative and invaluable experience.  Always remember, your board is there to help you, so don't be afraid to ask for help and be honest about where you need it.

That’s it. I’ll stop typing now.

- Decent Humans at Zeck

Make These Ideas a Reality with Zeck.

Zeck is a platform that dramatically decreases the time your leadership team spends preparing board decks, and delivers a superior presentation that will actually get you’re board to engage.

Wait, your, not you’re.