When was the last time you left a meeting inspired? The kind of inspiration that changes you, that makes you go out and do something? The kind of inspiration that changes the world? A better question might be: When was the last time you planned a meeting that inspired your attendees? When they left for home, had they gained new tools and insights to make their company, or the world, a different and better place?
At the most aspirational level, our job is to turn our attendees into participants, and to inspire change in them during the meeting.
So how do we do that?
It turns out there has been a lot of research done around the science of inspiration. The Atlanta group Performance Inspired has dissected inspiration and uncovered seven unique drivers associated with inspirational companies and people.
Let’s look at how these seven principles might change the way we plan meetings, events and conferences.
Know how you make a difference in your workplace, the marketplace and the world. Many organizations and their employees know “what” they do but don’t always connect the “what” to the “why.” People are inspired by things that matter, even if only in a small or subtle way. Anyone can build widgets, but if the widgets you build help make cameras that capture special moments or items that empower consumers, your job has new meaning. Make sure you use every opportunity to communicate the significance of your meeting and organization through clear and consistent messaging before, during and after your program.
Be consistent in behavior and actions, transparent, genuine and true to the values for which you or the organization stand. Have you attended or been responsible for a meeting that just didn’t ring true? Maybe it was unclear why y
ou were meeting. Authenticity means being crystal clear about “why” you’re meeting and making sure all activities are tested against that “why.”
Consider the authenticity of the organization’s leaders and conference educators, too. A willingness to show weakness and be open about missteps is one of the most effective ways a true leader can be authentic.
Express and receive appreciation for an individual’s specific traits or performance. We’ve all planned awards banquets and ordered plaques for a few high-performance players. But affirmation should run throughout the meeting, not just a single dinner or luncheon. An inspired meeting affirms the entire organization and its stakeholders. Yes, reward and acknowledge achievement and successes but also highlight the product, market and organization. Use customer testimonials and stories from the front line. Let participants feel connected to the company’s success and affirm their role in it.
See what can be and show others how to get there. This is all about laying out the future and opportunities that lie ahead. From the meeting design standpoint, you must work with the meeting owner to determine what participants will know, feel, believe and be able to do at specific points and at the end of the meeting. In basic terms, these are your meeting objectives. Without them, why are you meeting?
Grow from “what is” to “what can be” planning, goal-setting and achieving vision. Get creative with how you showcase organizational progress and give participants opportunities to learn, create, problem-solve and contribute. Make sure sessions provide data and results in the context of the company’s larger journey. Give participants a chance to anticipate obstacles to progress. Make time for them to practice behaviors that leaders will want to see after the meeting.
Use a story or metaphor to communicate the why. Create a story line that emotionally connects people to the purpose and each other. This can be as simple as a theme or as complex as having the whole meeting be an unfolding story that involves participants in the plot. Let participants share their stories with one another, specifically stories that illustrate why their work makes a difference. Use video and music (make sure you secure the proper permissions).
Include others in the decision-making process and strive to make decisions that are in the best interest of everyone. Inspired meetings embody a mindset of servant leadership in which participants are at the center of the design. Utmost consideration must be given to their attention and energy. Remember, sometimes less is more. And we must begin to act on what we know about using downtime in conferences.
As we apply these concepts, we create an inspirational atmosphere that lets people connect authentically and credibly. When attendees encounter content and education that tells a meaningful story, meets their need for vision and gives them a path for progress, they feel inspired. If we recognize and affirm their strengths and talents, we encourage their growth. If we design meetings with environments, opportunities, sessions and workshops that offer people the chance to connect, learn and motivate others, we’ve inspired them.
Research from Performance Inspired, and Larry Mohl’s insights, contributed to this article.
Want to read more about how to design meetings that inspire? Check out the 2013 PYM Annual. Not on our mailing/digital distribution list? You can access our educational program for free by subscribing to PYM.