Getting the most from your board meetings: The Five D's Strategy

In my years of experience (founded five companies and been on > 20 boards…), I've found that the key to a successful board meeting lies in preparing and structuring, and running a good board meeting. 

In preparation, I prefer using a Google Document vs. Deck (Google Slides/PPT). Why? It allows for a comprehensive narrative (not constrained by slide formatting), including longer sections and image embedding, and crucially, it enables pre-meeting engagement through comments from board members and management team members.  Of course, the document should include major updates about key aspects of the business, with KPIs, trends over time, %/absolute numbers, and key learnings/challenges from the management team’s perspective. 

As you (CEO) think about the meeting and therefore the document, I suggest organize it via the 4Ds.

Prioritizing Content: The 4D's of preparation and a good board meeting and the 5th D(ocument)
  1. Decisions: The top priority is identifying the decisions the CEO aims to finalize in the meeting. These are the critical points around which the meeting should revolve.  A board meeting should start here and focus as much time as necessary to get to a clear decision and plan of attack.
  2. Discussion: Next are the significant topics that require input but not immediate decisions. This is where the CEO seeks insights from the board, drawing on their collective experience to gauge the complexity and importance of the issues. This may suggest a future Decision to be made.
  3. Data: Then we have key data points about the business that everyone should be aware of. This is the foundational information that supports the decisions and discussions. Most of this should be presented in the document and pre-read/commented on before the board meeting. 
  4. Delegation: Finally, emphasize the importance of taking notes, next actions, todos, and, if it makes sense, giving board members clear tasks and deadlines.
Efficient Agenda Setting

By structuring the meeting around these four D's and placing them at the top of the agenda, we ensure focus and efficiency. This approach guarantees that even in a time-constrained meeting, the most crucial elements are addressed: the vital decisions, the important discussion points, and the essential data. Many times, the CEO spends too much time reviewing the "data:" (I already read that) and leaves key decisions to the end of the meeting. Bad form!

Other Process Enhancements that make your life easier
  • Timely Distribution of Materials: Send out preparatory materials at least three days before the meeting, with a reminder and potentially additional resources the day before. This ensures all participants come prepared, fostering a more efficient and productive meeting environment. I personally like to get it with a weekend day to pre-read, usually 3-4 days ahead of the meeting.
  • Comments are a gift: If you have a good board, they bring lots of experience and, often, ideas, strategies, and key learnings from other leaders. You should encourage them to comment in your Document before the meeting. These comments often become agenda items for further discussion and/or encourage more data to be added to the prep Docs. Embrace the comments!
  • Pre-Meeting Preparation: Link all necessary materials directly in the meeting invite for easy access. Most board members sit on many boards, so you, as a CEO, need to help them re-contextualize the discussion.

And a few things that a CEO should include that are sometimes missed;

  • Key customer wins and quotes from customers about the product/value - reminds everyone why we are doing what we are doing and makes it more "real"
  • Last three months' burn rate (how much are we spending and how is it changing). Are you spending more of less than you planned?
  • Projected cash-out date (based on agreed/approved budgets/plans) and modest projections
  • Plans for next fundraising (timing and amount), with a reminder on the last round details
  • Quick review of investor meetings for investors who might lead the next financing round. Link to the overall investor target list for reference. A good CEO is always building relationships with new, potential investors.
  • Employee Options to be granted (new employees), returned (if employees left and did not exercise), total pool remaining (to be granted)
  • Team health and morale (narrative), including key departures (good/bad attrition) and key upcoming hires, especially executive or opportunistic hires
  • Links to relevant documents/services - approved budget, customer list, customer pipeline, product roadmap...

One bonus idea - "news you can use"

Most board members are part of VC partnerships. They like to share a quick summary of the company with their partners, so make it easy. Add a section that includes 5-10 bullet points that are easy to copy and paste into an email that your board member can send to their partners after the meeting, usually with an attached PDF of the board prep docs. What would you want other people to know about the company - big customer wins, key new hires, new product release metrics, revenue run rate...

This method has transformed how CEOs I’ve worked with run board meetings, ensuring every minute counts and every participant is aligned toward making impactful decisions. Remember, a well-prepared and structured meeting is more than a routine gathering; it's a strategic tool for driving your business forward. 

Subscribe to T.A. McCann

Don’t miss out on the latest issues. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.