“Whoever invented the meeting must have had Hollywood in mind. I think they should consider giving Oscars for meetings: Best Meeting of the Year, Best Supporting Meeting, Best Meeting Based on Material from Another Meeting.” – William Goldman (Adventures in the Screen Trade, 1983)
Once in a while it happens, the spontaneous amazing magical meeting. A team gets together and has productive and energetic discussion. Everyone is highly engaged and stays focused and on topic. Everyone walks away knowing that their time was well spent.
Does this happen with your team meetings? Or are you still waiting for some meeting magic to occur? Don’t wait for the magic make it happen. Magical meetings do not materialize because the stars have aligned; they materialize when you work hard to make them happen. Magical meetings are the result of going beyond the basics of agendas, starting and ending on time and taking notes.
Timing is everything – Do you select your meeting time because a conference room is available and MOST attendees are free? It can be frustrating simply trying to get a group together, but that does not mean you should grab the first open time slot for your meeting. Unless your meeting is an emergency, pick a time of day that works for the majority of attendees. Not the very first or the very last 30 minutes of the day, and not during mealtimes unless you are catering.
Location, location, location – That old real estate adage is true for meetings too. It is not just a case of any available conference room will do. Try to find a location that is comfortable, with enough seating, adequate temperature control and accommodates your technology requirements. If you must settle for a location that is less than adequate, then acknowledge the shortcomings of your location and try to work around them. It also does not hurt to shorten the duration of the meeting and perhaps include some special perk for attendees for being good sports.
Speak up – If your attendees cannot hear you or one another, then nothing was really said. Consider your audio/visual requirements carefully. If you need a microphone or sound system, then make sure you have one. Arrive early and test it. Have a back up plan in case you experience technical difficulties. It is frustrating for you and your audience to sit and wait for sound checks, system reboots and other equipment tests. The longer people wait, the more pressure there is for the rest of your meeting to be beyond perfect.
It’s not an eye exam – If you are using visuals, make sure that they are clear, not overly complicated and easy to view. MOST people will not complain if what you display is too large (as long as it is scaled properly), but MANY people will have a difficult time with images that are too small, too blurry etc. Test it yourself in advance from the back of the room. Stay away from fancy fonts and red text or light colored text.
Curate your guest list – All of your careful planning can go awry if the right people are not included or if the wrong people are included. In a perfect world you only invite those who are absolutely necessary in order to have good productive discussions. In a perfect world you can keep enemies and rivals apart. In the real world you often must include unnecessary people for political reasons. Sometimes you have to have warring factions in the same room. Sometimes this can be productive and helpful. If not, you might invite them to separate sessions. For those who want to attend, but are not really necessary, perhaps offer them a recap or a follow-up session. You can frame it like this, “I know how busy you are, perhaps I can come see you and catch you up on our session.”
Be a good host/hostess – Be aware of how your audience is responding to the meeting. If something changes, the temperature or the lighting or the mood, ask people if they are comfortable. Do what is within your power to bring people back to a productive frame of mind.
Know when to call it quits – You already know that good meetings end on time. Sometimes it is necessary to end early. If all planned business has been accomplished, consider letting people go. Everyone loves having extra time back in his or her schedule. Beyond this, if the meeting conditions just are not right, the audio/visual is not working, or maybe the room is uncomfortable or the timing is off, call the meeting to an end and coordinate a reschedule. It is tempting to just push ahead, but consider your results carefully. Will pushing people to continue when they are clearly uncomfortable provide the right results? Not sure? Ask the group. Sometimes just putting it out there, that perhaps we should try again, helps people to decide together to make things work. If so, it is now a group decision and not you disregarding their needs in the name of productivity.
If the above sounds like some of the basics of event planning, well then – good! Magical meetings are events. Events that people actually look forward to with enthusiasm. There really is no mystery behind the magic – YOU make it happen!
Go make magic!