March 01, 1998
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio March 1998 Current Issue
March 1998 Back to BasicsPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

Back to Basics


Building a Better Board Meeting

One of the smallest gatherings you plan may be the most important

The board meeting may have only a handful of attendees and generate just a few room nights, yet decisions made there can have lasting ramifications on other events and the organization. And, on a career note, a board meeting is an opportunity to let your planning skills and professionalism shine for the VIPs. Some advice:


Your organization's bylaws should be your basic planning tool. The rules differ, depending on the type of organization, but they usually contain a section on procedures and scheduling for board meetings. These procedures may include requirements that board members receive an advance agenda and other pertinent documents by a certain date and that they be familiar with parliamentary procedure. (You might want to brush up on Robert's Rules of Order, too.) Check to see if you will be responsible for following these procedures and if parameters for site selection are noted in the bylaws.

Realize, too, that the meeting planner often takes a backseat to the chief staff member or head of the board when planning the meeting. Discuss your role with your supervisor to ensure that every detail is covered.

Whether you're dealing with a board of directors, board of governors, board of trustees or executive committee, note its level of authority. Is the board composed of subgroups, such as committees and task forces that may meet in conjunction with or as a result of the board meeting? You may need to plan these auxiliary meetings.

In planning any type of meeting, getting to know the attendees will yield better results. Keep personal profiles on the members to make sure that their needs are met on site.


The responsibilities of a board cover five major areas: policy administration, finance, public and community relations, personnel and evaluation. Meetings are the primary process by which the board governs the organization. Generally, board meetings are convened to hear progress reports, guide committees, make policy decisions, communicate objectives and plan for the future.

The meetings themselves fall into two basic categories -- regular and special session. Regular board meetings follow set schedules (quarterly, annually, etc.) with similar agendas, making them relatively easy to plan. Special sessions deal with a specific concern, such as impending legal actions or a high-level resignation. Because of the sensitive nature of a special session's agenda, confidentiality is a primary concern, and reduced lead time can be a major constraint in planning.

The board also may gather for new member orientations, which can involve workshops and social activities. Or they may hold retreats, with a program of meetings, workshops, team-building exercises and social activities.


While planners may or may not be on the board, their role is critical. In addition to logistical support, planners should pay particular attention to the following considerations.

Location and setup. The size of the board usually determines the setup, but conference style and hollow square tend to work best. Be sure chairs are comfortable for all-day sessions, lighting is appropriate and the room size allows for interaction. A window to the outside and in-room refreshments are pluses. Microphones may be needed for amplification in large setups. Special sessions will require a location conducive to confidentiality.

Agenda. Board meetings are notorious for running late, mostly because the agenda changes at the last moment. Be sure that someone is in charge of checking on the flow of the meeting and informing the hotel staff of adjustments. Keep an eye out for on-the-spot audiovisual needs and special setups.

Special personnel. A vital part of the meeting is the recording of the minutes, which is usually the job of the board's secretary. Check to see if audio recording equipment or a transcriber is required. Planners also may need to hire experts to address specific issues (for example: an economist to discuss how trends are affecting the industry).

Orientation and training. Providing educational components on such as topics as "making your first speech," "parliamentary procedure pointers" and "organizational lifecycles" give added value to the meeting. Also, don't hesitate to suggest social activities or other programming that may inspire and motivate the team. Remember, all work and no play does make a dull board. *

Martha Jo Dendinger, CMP, is an independent meeting planner in Atlanta.

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