Don’t waste your board meetings on updates

Edited excerpt from Peter Fenton, quoted in Sunday Conversation #1: Peter Fenton, Benchmark Capital by Semil Shah:

Great board meetings are focused on asking tough questions and applying critical thinking, as opposed to just updates. I encourage a lot of the entrepreneurs I work with to get rid of the PowerPoint. A typical board meeting will have 30 to 60 PowerPoint slides. So, I ask entrepreneurs to think about that as a Word document. Can you reduce it down to something we can read before the board meeting, so we don’t sit there looking at slides for three hours?

If you think about it structurally, I think there’s something ideal in a board meeting where about a third of it is update. “Here’s how we’re doing, here are the financials, here’s the progress against commitments we’ve made.” The second third should be some meaty topic, you know, competitive landscape, potential product road map, any number of things, but a really meaty discussion which is bringing out the best of the board members. The last third should be an open dialog where the group thinks about the problems of the business.

It’s amazing what happens when you change the dynamic from being one of reporting to a bureaucratic structure to engaging with minds. It’s profoundly different.

(1) Peter Fenton suggests here that you should get three things done in a board meeting: updates, examination of a “meaty topic”, and “open dialog” about the problems of the business. Personally, I think that’s too much, and would lead to excessively long board meetings.
(2) We take an extreme approach to board meetings in Seeking Alpha — there are no updates. The updates are in the board letter and time series charts, which we send to the board and expect everyone to read before the meeting. The entire meeting is devoted to discussion, and lasts no longer than three hours.
(3) Here’s exactly how we run board meetings at Seeking Alpha.

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