10 Easy Pieces For Improving Board Meetings

1. Deal in Sound Bites

The limit of any person’s attention is about 8 seconds, unless you keep them engaged. Use the Headline Technique, which is to give the broad picture of your idea within an 8-10 second span, and then add the detail during the time when people are less likely to be listening attentively.


2. Manage Listening

The attention of normal human beings in meetings drifts in and out according to their individual motivation. You can manage your listening better by taking notes on what you are hearing that is directly on topic (the in part of listening during the meeting) and what you are hearing that is off topic (the out part of the meeting). Vagrant thoughts are off topic listening.


3. Assess Your Meeting

Always, always, always take two minutes at the end of each and every meeting and assess three things that went well and one thing to improve for the next meeting. Then, make one person in the room accountable for implementing that improvement (not always the Chair or the CEO).


4. Make Your Agendas Actionable

Your agendas should not only contain the content items for the meeting, but the process and expected outcome for each of them, for example, an agenda item that might say: “The latest recommendation to Boards” should also say: “Decision required on adoption”.


5. Control Your Own Blather

Resist the urge to comment on every item, especially if you have the bad habit of commenting at length. Rather, set up a competition among the meeting participants for brevity and use “code” expressions for when the discussion is deteriorating into too much detail (“We’re in the weeds, folks”), or when the same point is getting to be repetitive (“We’ve flogged this one long enough, people”).


6. Set and Respect a Time Standard

Set the time standard for your meeting, for example, 2 hours separated by one 5 minute break. Then, structure the meeting so that highest priority items appear first and lowest last. End the meeting 5 minutes before the elapsed time and take 2 minutes to assess your meeting. The other 3 minutes is “slack” time and is taken up with participants getting up from the board room table, chatting and making comments to each other and leaving the meeting room.


7. Do Away with Side Meetings

Simply refuse to engage in side meetings, not only because they are rude (which they are), but also because valuable information is lost when a side conversation goes on.


8. Manage Cell Phones

Decide on a policy for cell phones: some organizations don’t allow them in the meeting room; others tolerate them to be on vibrate mode; and virtually all agree that having them ring during a meeting is a definite no-no. A good middle ground is to turn cell phones off for the length of the meeting, aimed at ensuring that you are not contributing to your own inattention any more than is necessary. Remember that it wasn’t that long ago that we didn’t have cell phones and we all survived quite handily.

As for Blackberries, it is the height of discourtesy to say the “Blackberry Prayer” during a meeting.


9. Prepare

It is essential to prepare for Board meetings. It is, in fact, part of the job. If you choose to be a Board member, then, you must also choose to do the work. Lack of participant preparation is one of the key impediments to effective Board meetings.


10. Who Drives Change

Effective meeting behaviours need to be driven from individual motivation, rather than that of the group. Change is much more certain if each member of the Board decides to adopt the behaviour rather than having to impose a protocol. 


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