Strategic Meeting Planning: Format Follows Function

Equinox LogoStrategic meeting planning requires a willingness to forget about last year’s meeting.  Too often companies begin the planning process by pulling out the agenda from the previous year and changing the date and venue.  From there, the agenda gets updated with the new theme, presentations and workshop topics, resulting in a meeting that looks very similar to the previous year.  As a result, the meeting becomes familiar, predictable … and ineffective.

These formulaic meetings are a tremendous waste of resources and a major disservice to both the company and the audience.

Today’s business moves at an amazing rate of speed.  The economy is volatile and technology is changing the way everyone does business, resulting in changes in customer demand, markets and the competitive landscape.  To be successful, companies must be nimble and adapt to changing conditions faster than ever before.  Five-year plans have been replaced by six-month strategies and quarterly initiatives.  In this environment, what worked well last year is probably not going to work this year.

Audiences are changing as well.  They are young, connected and more technology-based.  Many of them learn differently and prefer interactivity, social connection and short bursts of information vs. long, one-way presentations.  They want ownership and demand that their voices be heard.  Given these multi-generational demographics, the boomer-style meetings of five years ago simply don’t connect with most of today’s audiences.

It’s time for our meeting archetype to change.

Strategically designed meetings start with the end in mind.  Whether you refer to goals, objectives, initiatives or outcomes, it’s imperative to define what you want to happen as a result of the meeting and the metrics you will use to measure your success.  Keep in mind that your outcomes need to be specific, achievable, realistic and measurable.  If your results can’t be measured, they aren’t specific enough to form the basis of a truly effective meeting.

Once you know where you are going, you can begin designing a path to get there.  Remember, there are many meeting formats and presentation styles that don’t require PowerPoint or a lectern.  In fact, some of the most engaging and effective formats are quite unconventional; using interactivity and creativity to make them effective and memorable.

As you add content to your meeting design, remember that regardless of format or presentation style, you are telling your audience a story with a very specific ending.  Every element of your meeting, from presentations to activities, provides an opportunity to add detail to that story.  The more detail you add, the more effective your story; especially when the detail is not delivered through one-way presentations.  The best storytelling involves the audience by using multiple characters, different voices and colorful settings to engage their imagination.

Who knows, your CEO might become the next J.K. Rowling.

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