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Running Effective Board Meetings: A Guide for First-Timers

In charge of a board meeting for the first time? Find tips for success here.

Are you a first-time board chair, member or executive assistant tasked with organizing and/or facilitating a board meeting for the first time? It can seem daunting but with careful planning and preparation, you can ensure your board meetings run smoothly and accomplish their goals. This guide covers the key elements for planning and executing successful board meetings, from setting the agenda to taking minutes. Follow these tips to keep your board engaged, informed, and moving in the right direction.

Set and Send the Agenda

A well-crafted agenda is essential for keeping board meetings on track and focused on key issues. Here are some tips for setting the agenda:

  • Consult your bylaws to understand required agenda items, such as financial reports or committee updates.
  • Touch base with the CEO or executive director at least 2 weeks prior to get their input on pressing issues or decisions required.
  • Circulate a request for agenda items to all board members with a due date for submissions.
  • Categorize agenda items into informational updates, discussion topics and action items requiring a vote.
  • Limit discussion topics to 2-4 key issues to allow sufficient time for discussion. Defer other items to future meetings, if needed.
  • Allot timing estimates for each agenda item to stay on track. Important decisions may need more time.
  • Include brief background materials for key discussion and action items so board members can prepare.

A well-organized, focused agenda will make your board meeting time more productive. Distribute the agenda with any supporting documentation at least 5-7 days prior to allow board members to adequately prepare.

Select the Right Location

Choosing the appropriate venue sets the stage for a productive board meeting. Look for a professional space offering:

  • Flexible meeting rooms to accommodate your group size and layout needs. Opt for spaces with movable tables and chairs that can be configured for open discussion or more formal presentation styles.
  • Advanced A/V equipment like wall-mounted screens, projectors, wireless microphones and video conferencing capabilities for remote attendees. Verify on-site technical support is available during your event.
  • Catering services that provide breakfast pastries, coffee, snacks, and fresh lunch options to keep your board fueled and focused. If meeting in the evening or conducting a “board retreat” you’ll want to choose a venue that can support those efforts, too. Look for venues that offer customized catering menus to meet your group’s preferences.
  • Convenient location that’s easily accessible to board members. Seek a venue with plentiful on-site parking options, and if possible, near public transit. Nearby lodging is ideal for out-of-town attendees.
  • Experience hosting business meetings and events. Prioritize venues with professional staff experienced in event coordination and A/V support to help ensure a smooth experience.

Venues like Loft on Two offer a professional yet versatile meeting and event facilities with state-of-the-art A/V technology, adaptive room layouts, and expert staff to assist with every detail of your board meeting. 

Take Notes to Track Decisions

Precise meeting minutes provide an important record of key discussion points, decisions and action items. Designate a note taker (if not already designated) to document the following:

  • Attendance of board members noting any absences or late arrivals
  • Document if the attendance achieves a quorum (if relevant)
  • Main discussion points on key agenda items
  • Action items indicating what needs follow up, the owners and due dates
  • Motions made and seconded during the meeting
  • Voting outcomes on motions and next steps assigned
  • Scheduling of next Board meeting date and time

Ensure someone other than the Board Chair takes notes so the Chair can focus on facilitating discussion. The CEO/executive director may designate staff to take minutes, if appropriate. Share a draft of the minutes soon after the meeting so members can review for accuracy while the discussion is still fresh. Maintain meticulous minutes in accordance with legal requirements.

Promote Open Dialogue and Active Participation

An essential component to a successful board meeting is open dialogue and active participation. Encouraging this ensures that all voices are heard on key issues. To prepare, consider the following:

  • Come prepared by reviewing agenda materials to synthesize issues and identify points needing discussion.
  • Give each member a chance to weigh in by going around the table on important topics.
  • Ask clarifying questions to ensure understanding. Paraphrase statements to show you are listening.
  • Pay attention to non-verbal cues and body language that may indicate agreement, disagreement or confusion.
  • Tactfully steer dialogue to move in constructive directions without shutting down contributors.
  • Summarize points of agreement and any next steps before moving to the next agenda item.
  • Manage time flexibly, allowing more time for deeper discussion around critical agenda items.

Mastering these techniques will help you lead productive, engaging discussion in board meetings.

Pulling it all together

Conducting well-run, substantive board meetings is integral to any organization’s governance and oversight. Following the tips outlined here will set you up for success as you chair your first board meeting. Leverage the experience of other members, seek a venue that meets your needs, prepare meticulously, facilitate engaged dialogue and document clearly.

Consider hosting your meeting at Loft on Two in the heart of Boston. With flexible meeting spaces, state-of-the-art A/V, catering options and expert staff, Loft on Two offers an ideal professional setting designed to facilitate productivity.

With practice, you will gain confidence in keeping your meetings focused, participative and moving the organization forward. Choosing the right venue like Loft on Two will help ensure your board meetings are effective and successful.