Blog Better board meetings with an executive assistant

Better board meetings with an executive assistant

Jul 6, 2023

11 min read

Board meetings are designed to help businesses create strategies that will drive growth forward. They are not just formalities or obligations, but leadership opportunities to tap into the collective wisdom and experience of your C-suite, investors, and stakeholders.

By planning and executing your board meetings well, you can benefit from their data, insights, and feedback, and avoid letting your competitors get ahead of you. Board meetings are also important for reviewing the company’s performance, aligning board members and senior management on the vision, mission, and goals of the business, defining the most impactful actions, and discussing succession planning.

If a board meeting is not properly crafted, besides being a waste of time and money, it can also be a waste of valuable resources hindering further company progress.

Table of contents:

  • When a board meeting goes wrong
  • Board meetings essentials: answering 5Ws to perform better
  • How to perform better in board meetings with an executive assistant
  • Key takeaways

When a board meeting goes wrong

Sara was the COO of XYZ, a series B startup that was developing a generative AI platform for e-commerce. She was in charge of organizing the quarterly board meeting, but she had been so busy with the day-to-day operations that she had neglected to plan it properly.

She had sent the board materials only a few hours before the meeting, and they were too long and too vague to convey the key messages. Since Sara hadn’t aligned with her management team, there was no data on what happened the last quarter or the plans for the future. She had also invited too many people to the meeting, executives who didn’t need to be in the room while discussing confidential information.

The board meeting turned out to be a disaster. The board members were confused and frustrated by the lack of clarity and direction. They had too many questions and comments that Sara could not answer or address. The discussion went off track and became confrontational, as some board members challenged Sara’s decisions and performance. Sara could not present the data and insights clearly, as they were too complex and inaccurate. She could not solicit feedback and input from the board members, as they were either too passive or too aggressive. She could not make any decisions or action items during the meeting, as they were too ambiguous or unrealistic. Even when the meeting ran too long, Sara still didn’t have time to communicate the outcomes and next steps to the stakeholders.

Sara felt embarrassed and disappointed by the outcome of the board meeting. A few participants reached out to her to ask if everything in her life was OK. She had wasted a valuable opportunity to get the support and guidance she needed from her board members. She had also damaged her reputation and credibility as a leader and a manager and put a sense of doubt in the board member’s mind whether she was truly the right fit to be CEO of the company, especially for the next fundraising stages. She realized that she had to improve her skills and habits in planning, executing, and following up on board meetings, or else she would risk losing her job and jeopardizing the future of XYZ.

Board meetings essentials: answering 5Ws to perform better

To help you prepare and run effective board meetings, we will cover the 5Ws: who should attend, what topics should be covered, when and how often should they be held, where should they take place, and why are they important for the success of the startup.

Who is invited to board meetings?

Board meetings typically involve board members, founders, C-suite executives, other relevant team members, general counsel, and observers.

The invitees may vary depending on the agenda and the stage of the startup. For example, early-stage startups, like Seed or Series A, may have more informal and frequent board meetings with fewer participants like the founders and the investor with 3-4 board seats.

Later-stage startups, from Series B or C, may have more formal and structured board meetings with more stakeholders like a Series B or C investor with a board seat. In Series D and beyond, your board starts to grow to reach around 7-8 board seats.

According to Anu Hariharan, a partner from Y Combinator, once the company goes public the board meeting participants change significantly. She has seen this with Dropbox, Zoom, and Pinterest, where they add 3-5 independent board members like compensation and audit committees.

These questions work well as jumping-off points for building a strategic board: what are the major business challenges facing my company, and do I have the right people on my management team to help me tackle those challenges? If not, which independent directors can I bring on to augment that team?”

— Jeff Stump and Shannon Barbour for Andreessen Horowitz

What topics are covered?

All topics to be covered should be consolidated in the board deck. This deck is a collaborative presentation that your C-suite should work on simultaneously to have ready by a deadline (preferably one week before the actual meeting so the information can be shared with all participants ahead of time). Your deck can have the following sections in it but keep in mind that it may vary depending on the industry and the startup’s stage:

  • Performance indicators: The key metrics and milestones that measure the startup’s growth and health, such as revenue, user acquisition, retention, churn, etc.
  • Highlights/Lowlights: The successes and challenges that the startup has experienced since the last meeting, such as product launches, customer feedback, press coverage, competitive analysis, etc.
  • Financial updates: The financial status and projections of the startup, including the income statement, balance sheet, cash flow statement, hiring (labor is typically 60%+ of expenses on a company’s income statement), burn rate, runway, fundraising plans, etc.
  • Strategy topics: The strategic issues and opportunities that the startup is facing or pursuing, such as product roadmap, go-to-market strategy, partnerships, potential M&A activity, etc. As a tip, look to cover big topics that need multiple perspectives. Save more departmental topics for one-on-one conversations with specific board members like expanding your sales efforts from mid-market to enterprise. That is the kind of conversation you want to have separately.
  • Decision making: The feedback, approvals, and sensitive matters that need to be addressed by the board, such as hiring or firing decisions, compensation plans, legal disputes, etc. This is a great time to answer any questions that have come up since the last meeting. As a tip, make sure that all participants can share their questions at least 48 hours prior to the meeting so everyone can prepare answers, research relevant data, and even send out invites to team members who may answer them.

A good board meeting should have a clear and concise agenda that outlines the topics and objectives of the meeting. The agenda should be shared with the board members at least a week in advance to allow them to prepare and review the materials. The meeting should also have a designated facilitator (an EA is usually a great individual for this) who keeps track of the time and ensures that the discussion stays on topic and productive.

Your meeting structure can be a walk-through of your deck which is why it’s crucial to have a carefully crafted one. When structuring your deck, keep the timing in mind so your board meeting doesn’t run over three hours. Also, make sure that a realistic calendar invitation is sent out, i.e. If your deck has 70 slides, don’t send out 1-hour invitations since it would be almost impossible to go through each slide in less than 1 minute.

When should you have them?

The frequency of board meetings depends on the stage and needs of the startup. Generally speaking, early-stage startups may have more informal and frequent board meetings (e.g., monthly or every six weeks) to keep the board members updated on their progress and challenges. Starting in the growth stage, Series B+, startups may have more formal and structured board meetings (e.g., quarterly) to focus on strategic decisions and governance issues.

Why are they useful?

Board meetings can be an opportunity to leverage the expertise and network of the board members, align on the vision and strategy of the startup, and get valuable feedback and support. In the words of Sam Jacobs, a board meeting is an opportunity and can be your best resource.

Sam Jacobs board meetings


Board meetings are important for startups because they provide a regular opportunity to get feedback, advice, and support from experienced and knowledgeable people who have a stake in the company’s success.

Board meetings can help founders avoid common pitfalls, identify new opportunities, and align their vision and strategy with the expectations and goals of their investors. As Anu Haniharan states, board meetings from Gusto, have been great for getting feedback on their 3-year roadmap. They used the session to get different perspectives and listen to all questions.

Board meetings are also important for maintaining accountability, transparency, and trust among the board members, the founders, and the employees. Board meetings can help track the company’s progress, highlight achievements and challenges, and address any issues or concerns that may arise. Now that the mindset has changed from growing at all costs to growing sustainably, some Series B startups have changed the advice they are getting from their boards.

Board meetings can also foster a culture of collaboration, communication, and learning within the company.

Where is a good place to have a board meeting?

Since you will be sharing confidential information and board meetings can extend up to three hours, make sure you pick a venue where you can have uninterrupted meetings and all participants can attend. Teams choose to have theirs in board members’ offices, rent a meeting room or have them done remotely.

How to perform better in board meetings with an executive assistant

In board meetings, an executive assistant can provide valuable support to executives. They can help them plan and communicate the meeting agenda and objectives. They can also help them manage and engage the meeting attendees. Furthermore, they can help them deliver and discuss the data and insights. In our experience, we’ve seen this happen successfully. We’re here to tell you how it’s been done.

How an EA can support before a board meeting

Preparing for a board meeting involves several tasks that an EA can help their executive with, such as:

  1. Deck support: helping their executive and other C-level executives on the deck that showcases the overall strategy and direction of the company. This will help them align on the vision and goals of the company and communicate them effectively to the board. Follow up with them in terms of deadlines and make sure they are aware of any changes in the board deck’s outline and the proposal.
  2. OKR tracking: weekly OKR tracking and rounding up this information from various team leads so all data makes sense at EOQ.
  3. Focused Time Blocks: Blocking time in their executive’s calendar for focused work, and turning off notifications to avoid distractions. This will allow them to concentrate on the content of the board meeting and prepare their presentation.
  4. Delegating tasks: Taking things off their plate, such as delegating or postponing as many tasks and meetings as possible. This will free up their bandwidth and reduce their stress level.
  5. Travel planning: Organizing travel plans for all executives, especially if they have remote teams in different locations. This may include booking flights, hotels, and dinners, and coordinating schedules and logistics.
  6. Creating a Monthly Operational Review with specific metrics to show the performance and opportunities of their department. This will help them demonstrate their achievements and challenges to the board and other C-level executives.
  7. Sending materials to board members: You’ll want to send your materials 24-48 hours in advance to give participants time to review the material and formulate their questions. Your EA can handle this task by aligning with the team to make sure the deck is ready by a specific deadline.

How an EA can support during board meetings

During the board meeting, the EA participates actively and helps their executive with the following tasks:

  1. Capturing action items: EA support goes beyond taking notes of the discussion, it’s about capturing the action items that need to be followed up on. For example, using an automated software like, they may note down any changes to the financial model, feedback for the marketing team, or questions that were raised by the board members (which should have been shared before the meeting to allow for preparation).
  2. Action plan for participants: Focusing on the action plan for each department, rather than just summarizing the meeting. They identify the next steps, deadlines, and responsibilities for each action item, and communicate them clearly to the relevant parties. Besides reviewing and cleaning the automated transcription, an EA summarizes the meeting and uses human judgment and understanding to highlight the key points.

How an EA can support you after board meetings

Board meetings are not over when the meeting ends. There are still many tasks and follow-ups that need to be done to ensure that the meeting was productive and valuable for both the founders and the board members. These tasks can be tedious and time-consuming, but they are essential for maintaining a good relationship with your board and achieving your goals. Fortunately, you don’t have to do them all by yourself. You can delegate some of them to your executive assistant (EA), who can help you streamline your workflow and improve your communication with your board.

  1. Cleaning up the meeting data, notes, and comments: and sending it to their founders (e.g., CEO and CTO) for further verification. They ensure that no confidential information is leaked to unauthorized stakeholders. EAs also help their founders share the meeting information with their executives so they build OKRs (objectives and key results) that align with the board’s expectations and feedback.
  2. Updating board members on progress: Communicating with your board members regularly and transparently is a key way to build trust and rapport with them. You can update them on your progress, challenges, and plans through monthly or quarterly reports, newsletters, or dashboards that highlight your key metrics, achievements, and learnings. You can also connect with them individually or in small groups to share news, ask for advice, or solicit feedback. Your EA can support you in these tasks by collecting this information, creating decks and newsletters, and monitoring their progress. Sylvain Kalache, the co-founder of Holberton, an ed-tech company training digital talent in more than 10 countries, said he does this on a regular basis.
  3. Your EA can also help you add some fun and action: using gamification and incentives, EAs can track action items and reward members who have completed them with gift cards or donations to their favorite charities. Danny Nathan, the founder and CEO of Los Angeles-based Apollo 21, a company that connects gamers with streamers, said he uses such gamification and incentives to add some fun and action to his board meetings.

Key takeaways

Board meetings can be challenging and stressful for both executives and board members. They have to deal with complex issues, make important decisions, and balance different perspectives. That’s why you need an EA who is not only organized and efficient but also knowledgeable and curious.

An EA who is constantly learning about business acumen and industry-related terms will be able to understand the action items and comments that they’re writing down and following up on. Make sure that you allow your EA to have as much context as possible to help you delegate efficiently. In today’s world, where growth is not just about speed but also about sustainability, having an EA who can support your board meetings effectively is a valuable asset.

At Viva, we know how important board meetings are for your success. That’s why we have a team of EAs who are not only structured and streamlined but also savvy and inquisitive. They can help you with everything from preparing and running your board meetings to following up on action items. Want to learn more? Let’s chat about how we can support your specific needs for your next board meeting.

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