After finding people to serve on your advisory board, sending out invitation letters, and booking a venue, it's time to start planning the agenda for your first advisory board meeting. The key to getting your advisory board off to the right start is to structure the initial meeting for maximum productivity.
You've already given a lot of thought to what you hope to gain from having an advisory board and are looking forward to the advice and expertise that your board members can provide on various aspects of your business, including management, marketing, accounting, staffing, customer service, technology, and so on.
Thus you want to be sure that your first meeting stays on course and provides plenty of opportunities for board members to contribute.
Plan the Agenda Around a Problem or Discussion Topic
Your first meeting, like all future advisory board meetings, should be planned around a question or problem. You might find it easiest to state the problem as a goal. For instance, "We want to increase our sales by 25 percent this next quarter. How can we do this?" Or you might frame the topic for discussion more generally: "How can we cut our business costs?" or "How can we increase productivity?" or "How can we improve customer service?"
Gather the Relevant Background Materials
Once you've decided on the discussion topic, it's time to gather the materials that your advisory board members will need.
Because this is the first meeting, include a business plan and any other pertinent documents, such as charts, graphs and fact sheets that illuminate the background of the discussion topic. If possible, send a copy of these documents to all advisory board members at least two weeks in advance, along with a copy of the meeting agenda.
Create the Meeting Agenda
A meeting agenda is nothing more than an outline that lists, in order, the items to be discussed at the meeting and the amount of time that's expected to be allocated to each. Building a time schedule into your agenda and sticking to it ensures that your meeting doesn't get bogged down and stimulates on-topic discussion.
Plan for Recording the Meeting Minutes
You'll also want to make arrangements for recording the minutes of the meeting. Don't try to do this yourself as you need to be able to participate fully by listening and contributing. If you don't have someone who can attend and serve as a secretary, ask your advisory board members for permission to record the meeting.
Make Refreshments Available
Providing refreshments is a good idea. Coffee, tea, water, juices, and healthy snacks, such as fruit and muffins, are a nice touch that's always welcome at meetings. After your first meeting, you will have a sense of attendees' preferences for beverages and snacks and can plan accordingly for the next meeting.
Try to Relax
Above all, don't fret about your presentation. You're there to share your vision and hopes for your company and to seek advice, not to impress anyone with multimedia presentation effects and the like.
Your long-range goal is to establish a working relationship of trust with your advisory board members, so focus on ensuring that they walk away from the meeting feeling that they've been heard and have contributed meaningfully to the management of your company—and that they're looking forward to the next board meeting.
Review the sample agenda, which includes suggested activities with notes to help you run the meeting efficiently. Then print it out and adapt it to your needs. You can copy it directly into a Word, Excel, or similar document by selecting, copying, and pasting the text.
[Your Company Name]
|10:00–10:05 a.m.||Call to order and introductions
(Call the meeting to order and, assuming your advisory board members haven't met, introduce yourself and all the board members, giving a brief outline of their expertise.)
|10:05–10:10 a.m.||Why an advisory board?
(Make a brief statement on how you see the advisory board operating and the contributions you hope it can make to your company. Include details such as how often the board will meet.)
(Include questions If there are any. If there aren't, ask your board members how they see the advisory board operating and how they hope to contribute.)
|Discussion topic: [Insert your question/problem statement.]|
|10:20–10:25 a.m.||Presentation of the discussion topic
(Provide an outline of the history of the topic and how it's presently affecting the company; refrain from giving your views/solutions at this point.)
(You want to keep the ideas flowing, so don't reject or dismiss ideas at this point. But do contribute your ideas and views too.)
(Evaluate the ideas the group has shared and choose the best solutions.)
(Summarize the topic, the discussion, and the results for the group and tell them what you plan to do.)
[Date of next meeting]
If you plan a morning meeting, immediately following adjournment is the perfect time to take your advisory board members out to lunch (especially if snacks weren't served during the meeting). Remember, though, that the meeting is over and lunch should primarily be a social occasion.
Keep the Meetings Short
You should never schedule a board meeting to run longer than two hours, which is long enough for most people to give their undivided attention to the task at hand.
Review the Previous Topic of Discussion
In future meetings, start with a review of what you've done about the topic that was discussed at the last meeting, and invite your advisory board members' comments about your company's actions.
Because the meet and greet is out of the way, you may want to have two discussion topics at future meetings. You can even have three if you think they'll fit comfortably into the two-hour format, but you should never try to squeeze in more than three.