How to Survive a Nightmare Board Meeting

Your heart is pounding, your palms are sweaty, and your adrenaline is pumping.

It’s not a scary movie, it’s all too real — it’s a terrible meeting with your Board of Investors.

If you’re a startup founder, CEO or executive, you’ve probably had an intense, awkward, or even terrifying experience presenting to investors. These powerful Venture Capitalists handed you cash in exchange for building a successful business. But what if something goes wrong? What if your company had a rough quarter? What if you don’t have the right plan in place to satisfy the investors?

Here a few horror stories of what could happen to you if you don’t prepare fully for your upcoming board meeting. Whether you’re new to board meetings or have been to hundreds, don’t be caught off guard and find yourself in a nightmare scenario.


You walk into the meeting confident, prepared, and ready to share how much progress your company has made this quarter. Much like a group of teenagers at a cabin in the woods, you have no idea you’re about to be ambushed by the Slasher. Just a few slides into your presentation, and he attacks. The board member jumps in and tears your presentation to shreds — hacking at it from every angle.

“Why didn’t you analyze future earning potential?”
“Why haven’t you taken churn into account?”
“That number doesn’t look right to me. How did you calculate that?”

How to survive: Before you head to the board meeting, run through the presentation with a coworker and have them ask critical and tough questions. Think ahead about the questions you will probably be asked, and have answers and data to back up your points. Stay calm and remember that the Slasher is actually on your side — they’re asking you these questions to help the company grow.

[blockquote cite=”Lucy Marcus, CEO of Marcus Venture Consulting” align=”left”]Without free thought, tough questions and counterweights, companies are destined to make disastrous mistakes born from incestuous, yes-man thinking. They are ordained to believe their own hype. [/blockquote]



Your presentation is going smoothly when one simple, obvious question from a board member freezes you in place. You thought you had all the data you needed, but the one number you need seems to have…disappeared. This is the phantom metric, and it’s happened to even the best startup leaders.

How to survive:

Don’t show up to this vital meeting with a static data set. Instead of presenting a snapshot of your data, have your metrics dashboard on hand just in case. If you get stumped by a question you forgot to consider, you can quickly and easily pull that number for the board.    

[blockquote cite=”Firas Raouf, Founder at Nsquared Advisory” align=”left”] Send the board all the readily available management and operational information that you have 3-5 days before the meeting. This should include your quarterly management retrospective, the goals for this quarter, the financials, and other critical information. Demand that board members read all the materials prior to the meeting. [/blockquote] [button size=”large” align=”center” full=”false” link=”” linkTarget=”_blank” color=”blue”]Get the CEO’s Guide to Sales and Marketing KPIs »[/button]

Unfortunately, your company had a rough quarter or maybe a rough couple of quarters. You’ve been dreading the board meeting for months, and don’t know how to report honestly on what’s been happening. You’re afraid that your business is dead, and there’s no way to revive it.

How to survive: Your business might look dead, but it’s not too late. Some startups go through a difficult period where it seems like everything is going wrong — often known as the Trough of Sorrow. You can overcome a tough quarter and come back from the dead. Use your brains, come up with a solid plan to improve, and convince your board that you can achieve better results next quarter.

[blockquote cite=”Josh Linker, Founding Partner of Detroit Venture Partners” align=”left”]Stay rational at all times. Don’t let yourself get emotional, even though you’re eating, sleeping, breathing this company’s successes and pitfalls day in and day out. Explain your progress and challenges in a level-headed way in order to keep other board members on the same balanced footing. [/blockquote]



Sometimes, there will be turnover on your Board of Investors. When a new investor comes into the meeting, they may try to assert their power aggressively. This investor could burn your plan to the ground or try to forcefully change the course of the business.  

How to survive: Don’t be caught off guard by an attack. Talk to other members before you head into the meeting to get a feel for the new member’s personality and priorities. Be ready to stand up for your business plan, and fight back.

[blockquote cite=”Jason Lemkin, Co-Founder of SaaStr” align=”left”]Get someone you trust on the board.  Pick an outside director you know and trust — and with a complementary personality — to join the board. He or she can be an important counterweight. [/blockquote]



No matter what you do, sometimes the board room turns into a bloodbath. Everyone argues, yells, and can’t agree on a single plan of action. No consensus is reached and there’s no clear path of action to take as a founder or CEO. It’s a complete and utter disaster.

How to survive: Don’t be too quick to interpret this sort of lively debate as a bad thing. The questioning and dissenting opinions will actually make your business stronger. If the board meeting goes terribly, it’s not the end of the world. You’re still leading your company, and you can make a difference. Make sure your next board meeting is a success.

[blockquote cite=” Penny Herscher, CEO of FirstRain” align=”left”]In my experience, the most useful board meetings have been the ones that (in the moment) seemed the most brutal. You’re getting your money’s worth from your board when they are telling you the truth that no one else can, or will, tell you. [/blockquote]


Don’t be afraid of your Board of Investors. They truly want your business to succeed, and they want you to win. However, if you do find yourself in a scary situation, you now have the advice you need to persevere through even the toughest Board Meeting.

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