Upon returning from a government meeting, a friend related to me a very grim scenario that I know happens everyday all over the world. Twenty people were invited from around the country to attend a two-day meeting intended to foster understanding and cooperation between organizations. The collective cost for this venture was around $30,000. The value? She told me she could have gotten as much from a collection of presentations in an email and saved the stress that comes with two days of travel and two days in a high-stress, smog-filled city. She also said that much of the time was used to market the group on an offering that most of them were not interested in or able to take advantage of at this time.
This is not to say that creating events that allow people to get to know each other and create opportunities to collaborate, it’s just that most of these meetings are conducted using an old, worn-out, soul-sucking paradigm.
Here’s another story I received the other day from one of my readers, Ann Laidlaw, that again fits into the category of “Meetings that Kill”…your time, your energy, and your spirit.
I’ve “inherited” this project from a full-time facilitator in a hospital who is going on maternity leave. She’s already done a lot of agenda building with the team who’ve decided that prior to any strategy work or planning, they want to get to know each other better. Consequently, the agenda they’ve agreed upon for this one-day meeting consists of five 45-minute presentations, from each team member recounting their various specialties. From these presentations, they hope to get to know one another’s strengths, goals, issues, and begin creating a Commonalities, Uniqueness, Themes workpage. And perhaps to start finding spots where they can leverage each other’s work for overall team productivity.
My challenge as a facilitator is to take an already agreed upon agenda and make it interesting and interactive. I am afraid that 45-minute presentations will be very dry and we will lose people by the 3rd presentation. There are also eight very influential group members who refuse to do any “fluffy stuff”!
What I have thought of so far is to challenge this team to form small groups of two to plan presentations that will be creative, unique, such as skits, use of props, drawings, testimonials, and stories. I could create a cheat sheet for them on various things they could do to make the presentations interesting. I thought that those who refuse the fluffy stuff could choose PowerPoint to do their presentation and others could choose something else. Do you have any ideas for me here?
As a consultant and coach, Ann was smart in that she knew the process needed to be adjusted and reached out for help in time to make some consultive suggestions to her client. Here are some suggestions I sent her and I hope you share these with others who are considering invoking another “PowerPoint Purgatory.”
Meet to Collaborative or Not at All!
Typical status reporting or information dump meetings are a colossal waste of time, yet still happen way too often. I believe this happens because it takes least effort on the part of the meeting planner. It’s easy to transfer text to slides to create a PowerPoint presentation then read the slides…ARGGGH! This approach translates into many collective hours wasted and energy sapped that could have been leveraged into otherwise creative and collaborative efforts within the group. I applaud your sensibility that this is off course Ann. Here are some suggestions.
Define Why. Be very clear about why we’re here having this meeting with a crystal clear meeting Purpose. Make sure that the people invited to this meeting clearly know it’s purpose, what’s expected of them, and what they can expect to leave with. In fact, share the meeting objective with them and ask for creative ideas about how they’d like to have it accomplished. You show respect for your participants by asking them how they’d like to spend their time and they will likely give you fresh ideas and a higher stake in the meeting.
Define What. What information or content is required to perform the objectives? But remember, keep information sharing to an absolute minimum “during” meetings. People can read! In fact for this event, you might ask each member to write a one-page summary of information they planned on sharing in their 45-minute PowerPoint that includes their strengths, goals, and issues and send it out several days prior to the meeting to participants for review. Send them a model by doing yours first so that they have a good example and format to follow. Plan an extra 15 minutes to used at the beginning of the meeting for those who didn’t prepare. Lock them in the room to do their reading and let those who did have a long coffee break.
Design for Collaboration. Specifically define how people will Collaborate with one another. If this piece is missing, consider a non-meeting option or consider how you can turn up the collaborative volume. For example, you might have participants start by sharing something of their vision and passion for the work they do and then seek input, ideas, feedback on their goals and issues in small groups, aggregated based on interest (ala Open Space or Speed Dating approach). Inputs can be recorded followed by a large group debrief. Collate all inputs on separate flipcharts labeled, for example, Commonalities, Uniqueness, Themes respectively, and perhaps add an “Other” flip chart to catch inputs that don’t fit but that might be useful. The opportunity for collaborative work is the most legitimate reason to hold a meeting anyway, so let’s use it for that purpose!
Design Environment Congruent with Purpose. Stop serving coffee and donuts and other assorted “junk” foods at presentation meetings. We only need to do this at the types of meetings that require anesthesia to make the boredom tolerable. If we stop holding meetings like the one Ann’s group was planning, then we don’t need to tranquilize our victims. Serve healthy, hydrating foods at day long meetings like fruit, salads, bottled water, plain yogurt, etc. Scrap the conference tables and set up the room to facilitate communication and collaboration in lieu of lecture sleep fests. Assure that the climate controls provide a relatively constant, moderate temperature, or find a venue where this is possible. And finally, please invite people with colds or flu to go home rather than passing it on to everyone else!
Do you need help designing a meeting and can’t find anyone to bounce ideas of off? That’s what I’m here for! Send me an email and let me know how I can help.
What will you add from the suggestions above to your workshop planning checklist? If you’re a participant, offer this article or suggestions from it to the meeting planners to contribute to a more dynamic and collaborative gathering. I look forward to your comments, insights or feedback about this article. Please tell us about your experiences or if there’s something we’ve missed in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you.