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Meetings Designed to Engage

Let’s face it… Some meetings may not be the best environment for learning. Attendees’ minds are distracted with pending projects. They’re away from their family. They’re out late socializing. Then to top it all off, the meeting owner has many objectives to cover over the course of the conference.

By the last day nearly half of attendees have thrown in the towel and have one foot out the door. Their mind checked out yesterday.

Starting to sound familiar?

It’s time to redesign our meetings and here are five ways to do just that:

1. Shorter General Sessions

  • This time is for setting expectations and building excitement. Focus on keeping these segments to under 90 minutes.

2. Longer Breaks

  • People need time to catch up on emails, tend to projects, talk to loved ones, or just move around. Communicate to your audience the reason for the breaks. Don’t be afraid to cut into time dedicated to delivering content. Remember less is more when it comes to retaining information. Here are a few best practices when planning breaks:
    • Longer breaks after keynotes. If you host a 90 minute keynote, you’ll want to follow with a 30 minute break before starting the next session.
    • Provide 20 – 25 minutes between sessions. Give attendees the opportunity to reflect, develop relationships, and share best practices. This is more than just a break to walk from room to room.

3. Attendee Matchmaking

  • Yes, people attend conferences to learn but they also attend to network. Sometimes it only takes one good connection to justify the whole event. Here are a few ways to help attendees reach their networking goals:
    • Form networking friendly areas. Setup tables and chairs for people to connect over a refreshment break. Encourage speakers and executives to spend their down time in these areas. This will generate a comfortable environment for people to ask questions and connect.
    • Breakout into small groups. Studies show learning and engagement is strongest in smaller groups. They create settings where people feel encouraged to ask questions and share best practices.
    • Breakdown barriers. Sit departments struggling with communication at the same table during lunch. Do the same with individuals who could learn from each other. Create opportunities for extended interaction between employees and high level executives. You will be amazed at the positive effect this has on morale!

4. Rethink the Classroom Setup

  • There’s a revolution happening in the way offices are being designed, so why not meetings? Try a 360 stage in the middle of the room. Switch out the standard classroom seating for lounge furniture to promote collaboration. Get creative and you’ll inspire attendees to do the same.

5. Customized Experiences

  • Technology has provided the ability to tailor what we focus on. Resulting in us becoming more selective in how we pay attention. We’ve moved from customization being an added bonus to it being expected. Here are few ideas to consider when personalizing your next event:
    • Add a ticker for upcoming talking points. This works best with expert panels but can be done with keynote speakers as well. Start by identifying different subjects during a session. Then allot an amount of time for each talking point. Use a banner at the bottom of the screen to notify attendees what subject is coming up next. We were inspired by ESPN for this idea and used it at a client’s Franchise Meeting. It was a huge hit!
    • People want options. Provide a schedule that allows attendees to pick and choose which sessions appeal to them the most.
    • Poll your audience. Before the event find out what topics interest them, ask about entertainment, and what off-site events they’d like to attend. People naturally become more invested when they are given the ability to choose.

If anything, I hope you take away from this article the fact that the way people are learning is changing. While millennials seem to be the hot topic in learning discussions, the change has to do with all of us. Technology has changed the way we receive information and therefore impacted our capacity for learning. It’s not a bad thing. People are evolving, and it’s time our meetings evolved too.

Until next time!