When someone mentions board meetings, people often think of boring, stuffy decks filled with walls of text, must-do actions, and lots of unnecessary information.
However, you can take the “bored” out of board meetings by making them informative, engaging, and motivating. Rather than feeling like a chore, they can be something you look forward to delivering and attending.
All you need is a strong, tailored board meeting deck that provides members with a clear, high-level overview of everything they need to know.
At an annual department update meeting with one of my co-founder clients, he noted that not everyone can build a clean C-level presentation that highlights all the key points, with no fluff. That comment is what sparked this article, where I’ll list down the important points to hit for a general company update.
What makes the perfect board deck?
How the deck looks is irrelevant — it’s what’s on the inside that matters.
Obviously, your board deck needs to be branded. It also needs to flow, and the slides within it shouldn’t be a wall of text. However, the topics and substance of the deck is what really matters.
The goal of a board is to bring the company closer to achieving its goals. So, your board meeting deck needs to address the interests of the board members, VCs, and whoever else you’ll present to.
Boards of directors want the big picture on performance with only a sprinkle of granular data where important. Meanwhile, investors might care more about the progress, growth, project status, upcoming milestones, and next steps
Keep reading to discover everything you should include in your board deck to deliver a clear summary overflowing with value for everyone who attends.
9 Steps to build a comprehensive board meeting deck
To drive momentum in your business, you have to secure buy-in from your board members. You can do this with a robust deck, specially tailored to answer and interest your board.
Constructing strong foundations for your deck is crucial to keep board members focused on the most important information about your company. Effective board meetings create forward-thinking collaboration between members, allowing them to dig deep into company performance and uncover actionable insights. Board members should leave feeling motivated, productive, and ready to take action.
Unproductive meetings, on the other hand, can be expensive; over $541 billion is lost in unproductive and unnecessary meetings.
Save your board meetings from being relegated to the “waste of time and money” category. Follow these nine steps to build a strong board meeting deck that delivers results.
1) Start with the mission
Forget beginning with an overused “Who am I?” slide or an overloaded contents page listing everything you’ll cover in the meeting. Chances are your board members and directors already know you. They also don’t need a running commentary of what to expect in the meeting; they simply want to begin.
Stop beating around the bush and get straight to the action. Remember, you want your board meeting to save time, not waste it.
Start with your mission — why the company exists and what the overarching purpose is. Use the first slide (okay, the second slide if we’re including the title slide) to reemphasize the company or project mission.
This could take the form of a punchy mission statement. The mission statement should be a short sentence or two that helps align board members, stakeholders, and directors with the overarching goals and objectives of your organization.
Write your mission statement by considering:
- What does your organization/project do?
- Who is your organization/project for?
- What value does your organization/project deliver to these people?
- What does your organization/project care about?
Tesla’s mission, for example, is “to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”
It’s short, sweet, and straight to the point. Tesla’s mission statement is also a nod to its innovations in the electric vehicle industry with the use of “accelerate.”
Alternatively, you could feature a recent success story to highlight your mission and showcase how your brand lives and breathes its purpose. This helps board members see your mission in action and the problems your brand solves.
Visualization is a powerful thing, and sharing success stories, case studies, and examples helps board members create mental pictures of the wider objectives.
However you choose to emphasize it, start your board meeting by reiterating the mission behind your organization (or project, if the meeting is related to a particular project).
2) Highlight your macro tailwinds
Keep the momentum rolling by using the next slide to highlight your macro tailwinds.
Like many business phrases, the term “tailwind” is borrowed from the aviation industry. From an aviation perspective, tailwinds occur when the wind blows in the direction an airplane is traveling. In contrast, headwinds occur when the wind blows against the airplane’s trajectory.
In a business environment, tailwinds refer to the factors and events that drive growth or positively impact profits and revenue. Meanwhile, headwinds refer to factors and events that add resistance to your business and negatively impact growth and profitability.
Macro tailwinds, as you might have guessed, simply refer to the “biggest” of these factors and events; they offer a top-level overview of the most important elements driving growth for your business.
Take a moment to call out these macro tailwinds factors at the start of your board meeting. Highlighting tailwinds helps you realign focus on the events and actions that have the greatest impact on performance.
If you’re unsure of your macro tailwinds, a SWOT analysis will help you identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats within your organization. Use this analysis to pinpoint your business’s strengths and highlight the key actions and events that are pushing the business forward.
3) Provide a CEO update
Once everyone is on the same page regarding your mission and objectives, you can briefly introduce your leadership and POV.
Including a CEO update early in your board deck allows you to share your perspective on the current state of play.
Use this slide to present a bird’s-eye view of what’s working, how you’re handling operations, and your current opinions, insights, and focuses as CEO.
This CEO update could be an informal bullet list that covers:
- What’s been keeping you up at night – Highlight any concerns or worries you have right now.
- What’s gone well – Share recent wins and discuss what you’re happy with so far.
- What you want out of today’s meeting – State your desired objectives for today’s meeting.
Your board members, chairs, and directors play a valuable role in the current and future success of your organization. So, it’s critical to begin your board meeting deck from a place of openness and honesty to strengthen board relationships.
This update validates your competence as CEO while confirming your familiarity with the organization’s goals — two factors that strongly influence trust in the boardroom.
Building trust with board members helps them develop a stronger sense of connection and ownership over the organization’s performance. Plus, this relationship could minimize micromanagement, friction, and any withholding of information.
Establish trust in the boardroom with your CEO update. Be transparent and communicate your thoughts and opinions honestly. Rather than just reeling off facts and figures, leverage this update to add a human touch to your board deck.
4) Include a general status update
Let your CEO update lead into a status update that briefly showcases points of friction, wins and misses, and state of the company.
This status update shows the health and progress of your organization as well as any projects currently in the works. Using a traffic light system presents a snapshot understanding of current performance.
This traffic light system could look like this:
- Green – What’s working well, including any successes, wins, and exciting developments.
- Yellow – Any friction, bottlenecks, or causes for concern, reasons why these are occurring, and how you plan to overcome them.
- Red – What’s underperforming or has been missed or removed and why.
The traffic light system can be expanded to include the project event, action, or objective. Highlight the person responsible for that task and any associated budget, costs, and revenue to add further insights too.
Additionally, your status update can include any key accomplishments, critical issues, or major risks. Drawing attention to these aspects lets you provide board members with an executive summary of performance.
Remember, this is meant to be a priority-level status update, so avoid going into mass detail.
Limit everything to a few short bullet points. You can expand on these points later in the board discussion and open up the floor to questions and comments from board members.
5) Share objectives and key results (OKRs)
After you’ve updated everyone on the current status, it’s time to talk about goal-setting with objectives and key results (OKRs).
Objectives should aim to answer the question, “Where can we provide the most value for our customers in the next quarter?”
Meanwhile, key results indicate when an objective has been achieved. Each objective should have associated key results that are measurable, verifiable, and easy to identify. There should be no doubt when a key result has been accomplished — it’s simply a “yes” or “no” answer.
While objectives can be long-lived and may span the entire life cycle of a project or organization, key results adapt and evolve. Once all key results have been completed, the objective can be considered achieved.
OKRs let you track progress and understand why goals are being met or missed. Start the OKRs section of your board deck by recapping the organizational or project objectives and any related key results.
This recap could include a review of past OKRs for the previous quarter. You could feature a retrospective summary that reflects on past OKR performance, highlighting key successes and opportunities to improve the next set of OKRs.
After the recap on the past, move into current OKRs for the quarter ahead. This check-in should confirm the objective and associated key results before highlighting the current progress status.
Make sure you have a standardized process for scoring OKRs. This could be a simple “yes” or “no” approach, a traffic light system, or a percentage scale. Choose which method works best for your organization and be consistent in your scoring method. Assigning scores to OKRs helps board members paint a top-level picture of progress.
The OKR section of the board deck also presents an opportunity to dive deeper into any performance metrics that may interest the other members, such as sales, product, and marketing performance.
Be careful not to go overboard with insights though. These metrics should be top-level data points that support your OKR progression. Incorporate graphs and main takeaways to keep this section succinct.
Along with these metrics, consider sharing recent examples of activities that enhanced OKR performance. These could be PR campaigns, implementing new processes and systems, fixing development bugs, or developing a diverse hiring process. Importantly, make sure the recent successes align with your objectives.
6) Present a clear financial update
The number-crunching isn’t over yet. Stakeholders, board directors, and members often care most about one vital element of your business model: its financial viability.
The financial state of your organization (or project) is usually the biggest indicator of success. If your bank balance is in the red and continuing to drop, it should sound alarm bells that there’s a serious problem at hand. The financial update is an opportunity to address any financial concerns before it’s too late.
This section of your board meeting deck provides clarity on cash flow, profit and loss reports, and financial projections. Altogether, these figures should give board members a clear understanding of the organization’s financial scale and performance.
Start with an overview of key financial metrics. The metrics you choose to focus on will depend on your business objectives and priorities. This top-level summary gives board members a cross-functional view of business performance. They can see what is (or isn’t) working before digging deeper into any other financial reports.
Then, take a more in-depth look at cash flow with a balance sheet. If cash flow is negative for any aspect, share what you’re doing to mitigate the burn rate. Actions could include moving budgets from other areas, scaling back resources, increasing income sources, or pausing operations. Managing burn rate is crucial for strong, long-term performance.
Sharing profit and loss highlights, budget versus actual spend for the previous period, and future projections helps the board determine the current successes of the organization. They can also review these reports and offer strategic advice for overcoming roadblocks, mitigating loss, and ensuring future financial security.
7) Include team structure and updates
Spotlight your team by adding a team structure and updates section to your board meeting deck. Board members can be great at spotting top talent and culture fits for your company. They can also offer insight into organizational structure and hiring opportunities. Drawing attention to your current team hierarchy allows the board to compare it to resource expectations and needs.
Provide the board with a head count of current employees alongside an organizational hierarchy that shows how the various departments and roles function together. From there, you can explore which departments need additional resources, which roles you’re actively hiring for, or where you may need to restructure teams to improve performance.
At a previous client, I saw my name and photo listed in a team update along with my previous work experience with relevant companies in the industry. This can also be helpful for the board to see where the team’s expertise is coming from.
Additionally, sharing a RACI (responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed) chart can shed light on the employee roles and responsibilities of key projects or campaigns.
Leverage the team structure and updates section to gain support from the board in finding new talent and strengthening the organizational hierarchy.
8) Visualize your product roadmap
At this stage of the board meeting, you’re ready to dive into product development. Members should now have a thorough understanding of past and present performance, along with an overview of the current objectives, financial state, and team structure.
This gives them all the background information they need to understand the underlying factors of product development.
Segue into the upcoming product roadmap and highlight any key achievements or changes since the last meeting. This reveals a brief glimpse into future innovations and refreshes the board’s memory of previous developments.
Discuss key stages and features within the product roadmap and share product plans for the next three to six months. Provide additional metrics concerning the product, explain the reasoning behind new features, or enhance the product strategy during this time. Make sure you also reiterate how the product roadmap supports wider project and organizational goals.
9) Leave space for open discussion
Lastly, set aside time for deeper discussions. This could be addressing the topics in the board deck in further detail, talking about board governance and business, or broaching a new subject.
Take comments and questions from the members and use this time to ask for help where needed. If there’s a particular action that you want the board to support, tell them and open up the floor for discussion or strategy planning.
The board’s main purpose is to ensure the success of your organization. This open discussion is critical to allow the board members to share their insights and provide valuable feedback and support.
Bonus: Marketing meeting deck components
Curious about the meeting deck I used during my annual department update? Since I was leading the marketing team, these are the components I touched on.
- Bullet list of what’s on the agenda
- Team overview; key roles and prior history
- A breakdown of important updates and KPIs by channel/initiative
- Lifecycle (emails)
- Paid acquisition
- Last year vs current year performance
- Budget updates and expected budget for next year
- Marketing misses (annual post-mortem)
- Next goals and priorities
- Marketing resources (such as brand guidelines, IPC overviews, customer interview recordings, one-pagers, etc. and where to find them)
They are not all the same as the board deck, but there’s a lot of overlap. The biggest difference is I didn’t have to do as much level-setting, as the co-founder was already involved and aware of the general operations of the acquisition team.
Final thoughts — Increase stakeholder buy-in with a strong board meeting deck
Board meetings under the guidance of a strategic action plan can be efficient, effective, and engaging. Following a clear structure keeps the board meeting aligned with the members’ big picture goals and needs.
This advice can be applied to pitch decks too. Whether providing the board with an update or pitching to investors, the principles remain the same: Share an executive-level overview of current performance, future projections, and plans.
Give board members a copy of the board deck 24–48 hours before the meeting to maximize the efficiency of your meeting. (Note: This doesn’t have to be the final version of the board deck.) A preview of the deck lets the board review the agenda and form any questions or comments to bring to the meeting.
In the meantime, keep working on the final deck. You’ll be amazed at how well-thought-out preparation and structure can increase board meeting productivity.