If you’ve been selected to serve as board chair of your company or nonprofit (or it’s something you want to do), then running board meetings will become a major part of your job.
If you’re concerned you may not know how to run a board meeting, you’ve come to the right place to learn how. With a good meeting agenda and some best practices, you’ll have everything you need to make sure your board meetings don’t become bored meetings.
Why are board meetings different from other meetings?
Board meetings are more formal than a standard team meeting. Led by the chairperson of an organization, board meetings are documented via meeting minutes, which are considered a legal document that can be used in court during legal proceedings if the organization is called to do so.
Before you can feel intimidated, we hereby call this guide to order and propose a motion to teach you everything you need to know about how to run productive board meetings.
How to run a board meeting in 8 steps [+ free agenda]
Since board meetings are formal meetings where board members gather to discuss high-level company strategy, they need to be structured a certain way. To achieve a good structure, board chairs usually adopt parliamentary procedures such as those described in Robert’s Rules of Order.
A meeting agenda is a must-have for the foundational structure of a board meeting. Meeting agendas are made up of topics, talking points, activities, and action items discussed during the meeting. Agendas are a fundamental part of good meeting preparation.
If you use Vowel as your meeting tool, you can easily add an agenda to your meeting invitation for easy access before the meeting starts. The best part is that you can also use Vowel’s many templates – like the board meeting agenda template below.
With our handy template (adapted from BoardEffect), you won’t have to worry about overlooking any standard agenda items that are specific to the formalities of a board meeting. Here’s what you can expect to include:
1. Call to order
When the meeting starts, the board chair kicks off the meeting with opening remarks and introductions.
The chair then takes a roll call of all attendees, including presiding officers, staff members, and guests.
The roll call serves to check if there is a quorum, which is the minimum number of board members needed for the meeting to proceed as outlined in the company’s bylaws.
2. Changes to the agenda
After the call to order, the board chair calls board members to come forward with any additions, corrections, or deletions to the agenda.
3. Approval of minutes and agenda items
To confirm alignment before discussion, the chair will move to approve the board meeting agenda and the meeting minutes from the previous meeting.
If there are no objections, the agenda and meeting minutes will be approved. This approval needs to be unanimous.
Officers and committees, including key personnel like executive directors and finance heads, report to board members on the status of projects and company finances. This part of the meeting is usually brief unless the speakers recommend a specific course of action.
5. Previous unfinished tasks and action items
Unfinished business or “old business” is part of the standard order-of-business portion of the board meeting.
While the name “old business” may imply that items have already been decided, the current meeting is the time to recap those items and vote on pending decisions. This is because it’s likely that when the previous meeting adjourned, decisions and action items were postponed.
Tip: Ask the board to vote on items ready for approval first. If anything needs further discussion, ask board members to save them for the discussion part of the meeting.
6. New tasks and action items
When you’ve settled old business items, it’s time to talk about new business. These are items on the meeting agenda that need further discussion.
When opening discussion on new business items, the board chair facilitates the conversation by making sure that only one board member at a time is speaking, while also encouraging participation from all board members.
Note: Keep in mind that every item on the agenda needs to be voted on, moved to a committee for consideration, or tabled for the next board meeting agenda.
Before you adjourn the meeting, feel free to make announcements. These are items that don’t necessarily require immediate discussion, but may take the form of upcoming projects, congratulations to team members, or items that may need to be added to the next agenda.
While it’s true there’s usually a lot to discuss during a board meeting, try to limit the duration to less than two hours. Anything beyond that is likely to lead to distracted attendees and a lack of engagement. If the meeting needs to be longer, suggest a break to allow participants to refresh.
Wrap up the meeting the same way you started it, by stating the time to be recorded in the board meeting minutes. You can tie up loose ends by taking questions or comments, then thank everyone for their time and participation.
5 best practices to run better board meetings
Running an effective board meeting isn’t easy. With so many decisions to make and so many meeting attendees, discussion risks becoming unproductive. A board meeting that goes off-course may be costly, as the rest of the organization’s operations depend on the decisions made at board meetings.
In fact,$37 billion each year is wasted on unproductive meetings. Unproductive board meetings mean that the board of directors aren’t fulfilling their role in the decision-making process. Here are some ways to prevent this from happening, so your organization isn’t held back:
1. Know your board members
In the boardroom, you’ll find people of different backgrounds and personalities. Some board members might talk first and think later, or vice versa. As a board chair, you’ll need to encourage some people to speak up and others to give up the floor.
The best way to get to know your board of directors is to spend time with them outside the boardroom. Top-level personnel such as the CEO, board chair, and executive director need to meet periodically to allow for personal conversations that can’t happen in the formal setting of a board of directors meeting.
This is why many companies organize board retreats or informal catch-ups online. It’s a way for board members to interact informally and foster a sense of camaraderie. When they all come back to the boardroom, the conversation will flow more smoothly, leading to a better meeting culture.
Good board chairs also do a lot of relationship management between board meetings. These board management activities include:
Scheduling pre-meeting calls to set a focus for the board meeting
Following up to hear board members’ feedback
Reinforcing board assignments
Mentoring new members
2. Create an accurate meeting agenda
The foundation of every productive meeting is a thoughtful and accurate meeting agenda.
Transparency is one of the key values of good board management. Your board members should know what to expect when they walk into the boardroom (or join a virtual board meeting). Good meeting agendas promote trust between all the stakeholders – directors, donors, and investors.
For a focused meeting agenda, consider:
Gathering input from stakeholders before the meeting
Setting a time frame for each item on the agenda
Identifying topic leaders and giving them prior notice if they’re presenting
Using a good tool to assign and track action items
With Vowel, you can create clear and concise agendas that set expectations and keep every meeting on track.
3. Keep your board meeting structured
To run board meetings that are productive and effective, each agenda item should flow smoothly. That means keeping surprises for board members at a minimum.
Last minute agenda items will cause the meeting to run longer, as you’ll need to spend more time explaining new items and maybe even fielding questions about why they were added.
4. Follow up and assign action items
Effective board meeting management extends outside the boardroom. A productive board meeting ends with follow-up tasks and action items.
Action items are a way to transform intent into action, which some leaders struggle with. By focusing on transparency and accountability from the start, you’ll be able to set clear expectations by removing barriers to action and agreeing on timelines.
These best practices begin with the right tool to keep track of meeting minutes and action items. With Vowel, you can assign action items within your meeting agenda or shared meeting notes. When people attend a meeting via Vowel, attendees can easily go back to recorded meetings and see all their assigned action items on their dashboard (and from the meeting summary).
For meeting minutes, Vowel eliminates the need to take them manually — real-time transcription becomes your meeting minute taker! With transcription, notes are name-stamped, time-stamped, and searchable. So if there are any misunderstandings, it’s easy to go back to exact moments during the meeting to clear them up.
5. Evaluate your meetings for vibes and inclusivity
Like any other business activity, board meetings can and should be optimized. We recommend evaluating your board meetings at least once a year with a survey.
Polling and survey apps can help you gauge everyone’s opinion on the productivity of your board meetings. Simply share the link to a poll or survey in a meeting follow-up email.
Another way to evaluate meeting participation is through analysis of share of voice. Share of voice measures how much each board member speaks during a meeting, so you’re aware of those who are taking up too much space and those who aren’t speaking enough. Knowing exactly who’s talking too much allows you to take steps to have more inclusive meetings.
Vowel can help you optimize your meetings with its talk-time percentage feature. During every meeting, Vowel automatically detects the percentage of time every person has spent vocalizing their thoughts. We recommend reviewing these numbers after every few meetings, so you can call on people who historically haven’t added their thoughts as much.
Organize and run better board meetings with the right tool
Board meetings aren’t overwhelming when you’re equipped with the right knowledge and tools. With Vowel, you can share clear agendas, assign action items, use recordings and automatic transcription to create meeting minutes, and of course, host the meeting itself!
If you’re ready to turn all of your meetings — including board meetings! — into searchable, shareable knowledge, sign up for free!
Q1. What’s a board meeting?
A board meeting is a formal meeting of an organization’s board of directors and their guests. It’s a recurring meeting to make high-level decisions for an organization, review performance, discuss policy issues, address problems, and perform the board’s legal business.
Q2. What are the duties of the chair of a board meeting?
During the board meeting, the board chair oversees the agenda, meeting management, committee reports, evolutions, board conduct, and success planning. Outside of the boardroom, the duties of the board chair are to monitor the execution of strategies and goals implemented by the CEO.
Q3. How do you open a board meeting?
To open a board meeting:
Call the meeting to order
State the time, date, and meeting intent for the meeting minutes
Welcome any new board members
Perform roll call
The roll call is an important duty of the board chair because without a sufficient number of board members present there is no quorum to start the meeting.
Q4. What do you talk about in a board meeting?
At the board meeting, the discussion typically falls into three categories:
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
The meeting will typically also include follow-ups (outstanding business) from the previous meeting and a look ahead to the next meeting.