As organizations embrace a virtual meeting format, they must also contend with new obstacles, such as screen fatigue, competing priorities and nontraditional schedules. Yet with a little intention, planning and discipline from everyone involved, virtual board meetings can be just as effective, engaging and informative as in-person sessions. In this blog series, we walk board leaders through the virtual meeting process and identify best practices to maximize the experience in these highly unusual times.
Failing to plan is planning to fail
In the face of disruption and adversity, this old adage takes on a new urgency. When so much seems beyond our control, making a plan for a smooth and structured board meeting provides a sense of stability for the organization and its leaders. Board members have always generously donated their time and talents to serve the organization, but there are now more personal and professional demands than ever. Follow these suggested steps to plan for a productive and engaging meeting that respects board members’ time and keeps everyone engaged and on track.
What are your goals?
Start the planning process by identifying goals for the meeting. What do you want to achieve? Think about topics and matters to address in each meeting that will help advance the board toward strategic goals. Consider what takeaways you want to offer board members and whether you want to call them to specific actions. Coming up with a handful of goals for each meeting serves as the guide to developing a lean agenda and efficient experience.
Develop the structure
An agenda is always key to keeping a meeting on track, but in a virtual environment the format and content of a meeting take on a more important role. There may be matters or discussions that are better reserved for a direct exchange, so set those aside in favor of timelier or higher profile topics that require the board’s input and action. Beyond the agenda itself, consider how effectively your board is using committees. Not everything needs to be handled by the full board, so a strong committee structure can move topics and tasks off the board’s plate and free up time for more pressing matters.
Timing is key
Time is a professional’s most valuable resource and it seems like even more of a prized commodity during the pandemic. Board members are juggling a lot and the boundaries between work and home are blurred, so limiting meeting length will earn gratitude from participants and likely improve the focus and productivity. Set clear time limits for each agenda section and committee or executive report, so board members know when certain matters will be discussed and for how long – and stick to them! As it relates to the overall board meeting schedule in this virtual environment, consider whether less frequent meetings would be more effective and work better for board members’ adjusted schedules.
Streamline presentation and preparatory materials
It is tried and true guidance for presentations: keep slides uncluttered, present information in easy-to-read chunks and support key points on the slide with commentary (while staying within the allotted time). Producing a hefty binder of materials for board members may not be possible in the current environment, so stick to relevant documents and files when assembling digital files. It is important to include all the materials that board members must review before or have at their disposal during a meeting, but too many files can distract from the efficient environment you are working to create.
Get familiar with technology and how it will be used
No matter what video conferencing tool your organization uses, it is imperative that facilitators and board members are comfortable with all its features. Familiarity with the technology is also essential to the ground rules you should develop for a virtual meeting. Should participants keep video on all the time or just when speaking? Are board members allowed to chime in at any point or should they use the raise hand or Q&A feature? Once expectations are set from a technology perspective, consider holding practice sessions for new board members or anyone who wishes to increase their comfort level or ask technical questions about screen sharing, audio controls and more. Another option is to include a cheat sheet with ground rules and tech reminders with the board members’ preparatory materials.
A little preparation goes a long way toward an organized board meeting. But the overall value and outcomes of the meeting rely heavily on how engaged board members are throughout the proceedings. Up next, we’ll share tips and tricks to increase engagement in a virtual format.
Questions about the strategies discussed here or need assistance improving your organization’s virtual board meetings? Contact your RKL advisor or reach out using the form below this post. Visit our Business Recovery Resource Center for more guidance and insights.