What makes a meeting a success? That answer is likely different for someone tasked with the immense responsibility of organizing the event versus an attendee.
In many ways, the metrics an organizer might use when evaluating a conference tend to be quantitative and logistics-driven. On the other hand, the criteria that an attendee might use tend to be less tangible and more about the event’s feel.
Here are three ways to design a meeting from the attendees’ perspective:
Are you skipping right to logistics?
A facilitation technique I like to lead organizers through is to ask “Why?” at least 5 times to get to the true heart of the event. You may, for example, start by saying, “We do this conference because it’s part of our sales department’s annual plan.” But then we ask why it’s part of the annual plan. Maybe the answer is to connect our salespeople. Then why? Perhaps the answer is “to share knowledge.” But why? Eventually, perhaps what we clarify is that this conference is meant to lead to a transmission of best practices among veteran and newer employees. That gives us a much richer, more specific structure with which to build out an event.
Also, make sure you’re not recycling the same meeting. As you plan, look critically at your agenda and highlight things that are really different from last year.
Will the audience think it feels good, not just looks good?
A lot of conferences look great. A huge ballroom full of people. Elegant hors d’oeuvres on artsy plates. An executive at a lectern, flanked by giant screens, dramatic uplighting, and elaborate staging. And so on.
But how does it feel? I use people on their cellphones as a guide. If you see someone on a phone, that person is making a choice that whatever is on the phone is more valuable than being present at that event. If you look around and see a pattern where attendees are looking at their cellphones, they might be saying, “I’m bored,” “I’m not learning” or “I’m not connected to anyone in this room.” It’s a good indicator that the “feel” is off.
Focusing on content at the expense of connection
Big meetings may have dozens or hundreds of sessions, most of which put one person or a select cadre in front of a room. Then we ask that room to patiently listen for the better part of an hour before allowing for a few questions—provided that time isn’t cut because a session started late or a speaker went long. Meanwhile, the person speaking might have a few dozen years of experience versus the room’s cumulative total, which could be hundreds of years of experience! Yet, that larger body of knowledge is hardly ever tapped. Rather than consigning time to connect to quick breaks or a single formal networking hour, how can you incorporate it purposefully throughout the entire event?
Lee Gimpel is a conference facilitator, meeting trainer, and event designer in Washington, DC. He’s the founder of Better Meetings, which focuses on making meetings more effective and engaging. The firm works on team meetings, conferences, and networking events.