Whether your goal is to motivate your sales staff or to pique the interest of investors, it is vital that you find ways to present yourself and your business in the best light possible. The problem is that the last thing most people want to do is to congregate around a conference table for hours listening to people drone on endlessly. The good news is that running great meetings is a skill that you can learn and become adept at performing.
Boring, ordinary and uninspiring: These are three descriptions that you never want anyone to attach to their memories of your company get-togethers. Because all of us tend to get stuck in the same old routines, one of your best strategies to jump-start your meetings is to conduct them in a way that none of the attendees could possibly predict.
To that end, have the event in a location other than your boardroom or conference space. Your options are infinite: a restaurant, a park, a museum, a ski resort or even a laser tag facility. Just because you have business to discuss doesn’t mean that you can’t combine work with a healthy dose of play. Long after the day is over, staff will continue to relive their unusual meeting experience.
As much as people grumble about those working breakfast meetings, the truth is that once everyone rubs the sleep out of their eyes and has their first cup of coffee, their energy level and ability to focus are quite high. The key is to keep your excitement level revved up, making sure that participants are encouraged to move around periodically throughout the morning. Brief skits and structured stretch breaks are also great ways to keep everyone on their toes and active in the process.
Conferences are not just about listening to speeches. If you want to truly engage your attendees on all levels, the best way is to capture all of their senses. Audio presentations should be supplemented with compelling and interesting visual imagery, for example. If there are physical props that can also be passed around, you can simultaneously allow the senses of touch and smell to integrate into the experience. The modalities you use will, of course, depend on the subject matter of the particular workshop, but even taste can enter into the picture if by no other means than by your providing a unique or particularly delicious selection of refreshments.
If you doubt whether this multi-pronged approach is necessary, take a moment to recall one of your favorite childhood memories. When you cast your mind back to that time and meditate on the event, you can remember particular sounds, odors, sights and tastes. The scent of a flower or the way a certain food item felt on your tongue might bring you back to that experience every time. Believe it or not, you can inspire a similarly intense positive memory chain with your next conference or meeting by finding diverse ways to involve the senses, emotions and intellects of everyone who is participating.
Stepping away from work-related tasks and assignments is as essential to productivity as is the actual work itself. Refreshment breaks are helpful in this regard, but you should also explicitly devote time for play. When people are encouraged to relax and have fun with each other, amazing things happen. Alliances form positive memories are created and people often arrive at solutions to difficult problems without even recognizing that their brains were hard at work. In short, play is far from a waste of time. In fact, it makes greater productivity and camaraderie possible.
At the center of the sensory engagement and play, however, must always remain the integral theme of the meeting. From the first minute until the last, attendees must understand the purpose of the program, with every event clearly designed to further the ultimate goal. When a program starts to go off the rails, it is usually because those who planned it have lost control of its purpose and are allowing it to wander aimlessly.
Whether your program lasts for a morning or for a week, it is crucial that participants quickly develop a communal bond. Team-building exercises are one of the best ways to facilitate that spirit of camaraderie and common purpose that is so vital. Exercises can take many forms, including contests pitting one group against another to solve a puzzle, performing a skit or coming up with ideas or solutions to a problem. If your conference is scheduled to take several hours, you can keep your teams together throughout, giving them various assignments along the way. Although giving out prizes at the end is not a requirement, most teams are even more highly motivated to perform well if there is an enticing reward to be had.
The traditional meeting involves one speaker or a panel of experts making presentations as an often bleary-eyed audience passively listens. While there are undoubtedly times when people need to acquire information in this way, mixing it with other interaction styles can be a powerful way to maintain everyone’s interest as well as their conviction that they have something valuable to contribute.
Breakout groups are an excellent way to empower your participants. After discussing a particular idea or goal to the entire assembly, you can divide them into smaller subsets, assigning each with a task or micro project. With this model, everyone gets time to express their opinions and furnish the group with their unique knowledge and perspectives. If time allows, each breakout group can consolidate its findings and present them to everyone in the room.
Meetings and conferences provide you with an unparalleled way to communicate innovations, principles, protocols and product information to small or large groups of people. Taking steps to ensure that these conferences are as engaging and interesting as possible will benefit you and your business in many ways. Attendees will be more likely to retain what they have learned and even to pass it on to others who did not attend. In addition, they will have built the foundations of friendships and positive team relationships that will enhance group interactions when they are asked to collaborate on projects in the future. Finally, participants will leave with a more positive opinion of the organizers and other upper-level managers, potentially leading to higher staff morale and enhanced job retention. The bottom line is that running great meetings ultimately leads to running great companies staffed by employees who are fully engaged and invested in the organization’s goals and mission.