Don't let your next big internal meeting turn into a nightmare.

 

Last night I dreamed that a client was organizing a big meeting to support a major product launch. The company was bringing together more than a hundred employees in key roles to prepare them for this important milestone.

The client showed me the agenda for the two-day session. It was an example of every mistake you can possibly make when planning a big meeting, including:

  • Boring content. Every session—from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.—was designed as a presentation followed by questions and answers.
  • Information overload. When you added up all those presentations, you ended up with 15 speakers sharing tons of information on 15 different topics.
  • Static schedule. The days marched along in a regimented way: 8 a.m., 10 a.m., 11 a.m.—all the way to 6 p.m. when there was a short break before the evening events.
  • One way. Meeting attendees had no role, other than to sit quietly and listen.

And that’s when I realized I was having a nightmare. But although I would wake up from this bad dream, there are too many big meetings that actually go this way. The horror!

How to make sure your big meeting doesn’t turn into a boring, expensive nightmare? Here are 5 ways:

  1. Create meaningful objectives. “Sharing information” is not an objective. “Preparing participants to take action” is. Facilitate a serious conversation with key stakeholders to develop objectives the entire team can agree on.
  2. Now that you’ve got objectives, embrace the premise that a big meeting is an event, not a data dump. A meeting is worthwhile only if you create energy.
  3. Prioritize content. Not every topic is of equal importance. If you’ve got 10 or 15 content pieces that are all treated equally, participants won’t retain knowledge about key topics. Decide on what really matters and structure sessions accordingly.
  4. Emphasize participation. Attendees will remember what they did much better than they will recall what they heard (while passively watching presentations.)
  5. Don’t let the committee kill the experience. You will get pressure to “add just one more speaker” or “eliminate this exercise because it takes too much time” or “cut this Q&A so more content can be presented.” Defend the experience to achieve your objectives.

There are lots of other ways to build an effective big meeting, of course—these tips are just designed to get you started. Need more suggestions? I’d be glad to chat.

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