How to Host Great Virtual Board Meetings: 5 Best Practices

While some organizations have resumed their regular in-person board meetings, others have decided to remain digital, and understandably so. Virtual board meetings have all kinds of benefits: they allow you to connect with board members who don’t live locally, make it easier to share materials, encourage more participation, and can even be more efficient.

But virtual meetings can also have their downsides. Your board members are more likely to get distracted, it’s more difficult to pick up on subtle body language cues, and organization can go off the rails. Fortunately, a bit of extra planning can resolve each of these problems.

Keeping the convenience of virtual board meetings doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice productivity or your members’ engagement. When planning and running your virtual board meeting, you should:

These 5 best practices can help you host fantastic virtual meetings. Although planning ahead might take up extra time, the results are well worth it. Not only will you demonstrate that you value your board members’ time, but you will also get more out of your meetings, leaving everyone with a sense of accomplishment.

1. Create an agenda.

Have you ever left a board meeting and realized that you forgot to bring up an important decision that needed to be made or an essential task that needed to be completed? If so, you’re not alone. It’s easy to get distracted once the board meeting gets going or to think you’ll remember a mental note, only for it to slip your mind.

Luckily, creating an agenda for your meeting can help you avoid this problem, keep your meeting on track, and develop a detailed record of the topics you’ve covered in your meetings.

When you’re preparing your agenda, you want to be strategic so that the final product is as effective as possible. Here are some of our essentials for strong agendas:

  1. Logical organization: Your agenda should serve as a guide throughout the meeting. Put your talking points in the order that you will address them so it’s easy for everyone to follow along.
  2. Established talking times: Give each talking point a set amount of time. This way, a one-hour meeting won’t turn into a two-hour one, and you’ll get a clear sense of which talking points need more attention.
  3. Assigned speaker: To avoid confusion about who should speak when, assign a speaker to each talking point.
  4. Only necessary information: Aim to strike the balance between including all necessary information without giving your board members a complete information overload. It can be helpful to provide a short context description for each talking point or to attach any essential documents to the agenda for reference.
  5. Clear next steps: At the end of each talking point leave space to record the next steps so that the expectations before the next meeting are clear.

Including an agenda for your board meeting is a helpful way to keep virtual meetings succinct and organized as well as ensuring your board members are engaged. If everyone knows what will be covered, there will be no surprises once your meeting begins. Additionally, your board members will have time to prepare for each talking point so you can avoid awkward silences. Especially for virtual meetings, an agenda will help maintain a natural flow of conversation.

2. Send important materials ahead of time.

No one wants to go into a board meeting feeling unprepared. Your agenda can help to ease some nerves, but you can prepare your board members even more by sending them any important materials ahead of time.

Regardless if you’re directly referring to these materials during the meeting, it’s still a good idea to allow your board members to briefly review any documents that will be discussed. Not only will your board members feel more prepared coming into the meeting, but they will also have the extra time to come up with new ideas or other valuable contributions to the conversation.

Prior to a meeting, you should also ask each speaker if they have any documents they would like the board to review as well. This way, your speakers can easily reference whatever materials they need. For your virtual meetings, you should link to each of these documents in your agenda so that your team can quickly pull up necessary materials.

Sending materials ahead of time is also an excellent idea as you train new board members. Giving your newcomers a chance to review any relevant onboarding materials allows them to prepare questions.

Lastly, consider setting a reminder at least 24 hours in advance of your meeting so that you don’t forget! Investing in association software or board management software is a great way to help you keep these communications organized and get them into the right inboxes on time.

3. Encourage participation.

One of the challenges of virtual meetings is keeping your board members engaged. When working from home, it’s inevitable that distractions will pop up to pull your board members’ attention away.

According to this Fonteva guide on member engagement, communicating consistently with your board members can increase their involvement. This level of communication should happen during your meetings and outside of them. To encourage participation during meetings, you should:

  1. Acknowledge specific members: In virtual meetings, it is much more difficult to read body language or anticipate who will speak next. As a result, some of your board members might be hesitant to speak up for fear of talking over someone else. If the conversation has fizzled, try calling on specific members to hear what they have to say.
  2. Permit the use of chat/raise hand features: The chat or raise hand features on Zoom or other video conferencing platforms can also help to keep conversation orderly. Board members can quickly chime in or know to wait their turn before speaking.
  3. Require video cameras to be on: Another way to avoid distracted board members is to enforce a video-on policy. When your board members are on camera, they are more likely to pay attention.
  4. Thank your board members: Be sure to thank board members for their participation and emphasize your appreciation for their efforts. By making board members feel valued, you demonstrate that their participation is important to you.

Just because your board members aren’t in the same room doesn’t mean that lively conversations are a thing of the past. Putting extra effort into engaging your board members virtually will help you get the most out of your meetings and will keep your board members focused.

4. Keep meetings short.

Let’s face it: online fatigue is real.

It’s admittedly much harder to stay focused during online meetings than it is in person. The constant eye contact, having to look at ourselves, and the inability to read body language can get tiring after a while. In fact, most of your group will lose focus just 10 minutes into a meeting. For this reason, it’s best to keep your meetings as efficient as possible.

Although keeping your board meetings under 10 minutes is likely impossible, you can still make it a priority to keep them short. Organizational tools like your agenda can help you stay on track, but you should also ask yourself if everything you discuss must be referenced in the meeting. For each talking point, ask yourself if it could be covered in an email. If your answer is yes, then you can cut it from the agenda.

Navigating board governance in the digital age requires some adjustments. With shorter, virtual meetings, your board might be spending less time together, but might also increase productivity and obtain better results.

5. Outline next steps.

At the end of every board meeting, clearly outline the tasks that must be completed before the next meeting.

For virtual meetings, explicit expectations are especially important because it’s unlikely that you’ll be passing by a board member in the hallway where you could quickly check in. However, ensuring that everyone is on the same page when you’re all together can clear up any uncertainties so that important tasks are completed on time.

But outlining next steps and ensuring that they get done are two different things. Here are some tips to get your next steps done:

  • Record them in your minutes: Be sure to keep a record of your next steps in your board meeting’s minutes. This way, it’s easy to remember what needs to be completed before the next meeting.

  • Assign tasks to each person: In addition to noting next steps, you should also assign each task to a specific person so that there is someone to hold accountable at the next meeting.

  • Set a follow-up date: While your board is together, agree on a time to meet next and when each task should be completed.

  • Send a follow-up email summarizing the above points: A follow-up email is great for accountability and to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

Whether you’re planning an online donation event, an in-person gathering, or are reassessing your marketing strategy, building in some accountability to your board meeting structure can keep everyone on task and working towards the same goals. Additionally, by noting each of these expectations, you’ll already have a framework for the next meeting.

If sticking with virtual meetings is the best logistical option for your board, don’t be afraid to adapt! Your board members will appreciate the convenience and the flexibility. Remember that by planning ahead and doing what you can to keep your board members engaged, you can make your online meetings effective and efficient!

Jake Fabbri provided these tips for virtual board meetings. Author: Jake Fabbri

Chief Marketing Officer, Fonteva

With over two decades of experience marketing association technology, Fonteva CMO Jake Fabbri has developed a deep understanding of the unique needs of associations and the challenges technology can solve. Jake’s marketing expertise has been honed by demonstrated excellence in the areas of lead generation, content marketing, marketing automation, and events.

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