Let’s face it, meetings have generally gotten a bad rap as a waste of time for busy people. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a small internal planning session for five people or a national conference for 1,000 — most attendees have some level of “contempt prior to investigation” based on a previous, less-than-stellar experience. As planners, there are a number of simple items, which, if addressed, can turn the nonbelievers into vocal advocates for a given event.
ITEM 1: Have a specific set of goals. It’s truly remarkable how many times I’ve asked meeting stakeholders to articulate their goals for an event only to have them look stunned by the question, then stumble over a very general answer. “Provide continuing education” or “education, networking and awards” are popular bad answers.
If stakeholders are this vague about their goals, is it any wonder that attendees aren’t sure what they are supposed to get out of the meeting, too? Specific looks more like this:
A: Give attendees three actionable insights they can use to retain more customers (or increase Internet marketing/profitability/operational performance).
B. Ensure every attendee understands and can articulate the product differentiators of our new Product X.
Once you know the goals of your event, you can immediately begin communicating those goals to all potential attendees. If they show up knowing what to expect, and what is expected of them, they’ll participate more fully from the first minute to the last.
ITEM 2: Be human. With an ever-increasing focus on the importance of content, organizations are cramming their agendas with as much content as they possibly can — asking attendees to begin meeting at 7 a.m. and keep going until 10 p.m. with only minimal breaks and meal functions required. Then do it all over again the next day.
The intention, of course, is good, trying to keep rooming costs down and get people back to their jobs and families. But the human brain cannot absorb that much content so quickly with any real retention. The brain needs to rest in order to assimilate.
In addition, people need to make themselves available to answer emails and make a phone call here and there. If the schedule doesn’t allow for these demands, attendees will rebel and go AWOL to do what they feel compelled to do, regardless of how the schedule is structured to prevent it.
ITEM 3: Mix it up. Even with all the heightened awareness about attendee “engagement” in meetings, many organizations are either uninformed or unwilling to do what it takes to create true engagement. Engagement involves three things:
- Active, rather than passive, involvement. This can be done through hands-on learning — actually doing the thing being taught, a dialogue with attendees using open mic Q&A or audience-response systems, role playing, or purpose-driven team-building and other “play” activities.
- Asking attendees before the event what content would be helpful to them. And then providing it.
- Giving attendees action items as take-aways.
A big part of the resistance to engagement-oriented content is the pre-planning it requires. You have to think about how to ask for attendee input soon enough to implement it, for instance. But the time it takes is worth the results that engagement can generate, making a meeting pay for itself many times over in real ROI.
ITEM 4: Repeat yourself but not repetitively. Within the context of a given presentation, common wisdom holds that you should “tell people what you are going to tell them, then tell it to them, and then tell them what you told them.” This is realistic. It has to do with how people absorb the spoken word. It need not be demeaning.
What will set an audience off, however, is if they are hearing the same information at this meeting that they heard at the last one. Naturally new attendees may not have heard the information, but that means there needs to be recordings of the sessions or tracks set up for different attendee levels.
Ultimately, the most successful meetings always keep the audience in mind, first and foremost – letting them know what to expect, treating their time with respect, engaging them completely, and keeping it fresh and current. Do these things, and the rest will take care of itself – well – almost.
Next: MBEC 33.06 — Establish and conduct business relationships