What's the worst meeting experience you can remember having? What made it so bad?
In our experience, there are six factors that combine to make a meeting a good one... or a bad one. Some of these sound like common sense—but you'd be surprised how often these items aren't addressed by meeting and event planners.
How far is the location from people who are attending?
Is parking a hassle? Is there road construction (and/or public transportation rerouting) that might affect attendees traveling to the location?
Have attendees been notified of the location, especially if it is different from precedent?
Is it possible that the location is more attractive than the meeting and attendees will drop out? (For example, did half your meeting attendees decide the pool was more interesting than the morning session?)
Is the room too small/big? Can everyone attending fit comfortably in the room (and navigate any furniture present)? If persons with disabilities are attending, is the room accessible for them?
Is the room likely to be too hot/cold? Stuffy? Can you control the temperature?
Is the meeting space close to loud equipment—or close to work areas that will be disturbed by meeting noise? Are the acoustics appropriate for everyone in the room to be able to hear meeting proceedings (without allowing everyone outside to hear proceedings as well)?
Is the room reasonably lit for the work you will be doing? (Consider the needed lighting difference between reviewing documents with tiny print vs. reviewing video content, for example.)
Is the room clean and uncluttered?
Time of Day
Have attendees been notified of the meeting day and time, especially if it is different from precedent?
Are attendees polled for meeting times that work for them? For repeated, regular meetings, are new people being invited asked whether meeting times work?
Are meetings scheduled when attendees are likely to be awake and able to attend?
Are the most important topics being covered in the after-lunch/early morning/late evening session, when people are sleepy?
Does the meeting start out with a specific agenda, or does it ramble around a topic?
Is the agenda provided in advance so attendees can prepare themselves for the meeting? Are the most important topics first on the agenda?
Does the meeting stick to the agenda and the time allotted?
Are any reports kept brief and to the most important points—and only presented by those who have something to say? Can they be provided as a brief handout instead?
Does the meeting's subject interest those who are attending? Is it relevant to them? Or are people invited to the meeting who don't really have anything to do with the topic at hand?
Refreshments and Breaks
Is something provided for refreshments, even just some pitchers of water and coffee?
If meetings extend through mealtimes, is a meal provided?
When food is provided, are attendees' dietary needs considered (for example: vegetarian, vegan, kosher, halal, allergy or food sensitivity)?
Are there regular breaks for folks to relieve themselves (and, perhaps, their pile of urgent e-mails)?
Are restrooms accessible from the meeting location?
If smokers are attending, do they know where it is and is not allowable to light up?
Speaking and Interaction
Do speakers avoid repetition and stay on topic?
Do people dialogue or dispute? Is conflict navigated in a productive way?
Is the conversation positive? Do some attendees talk down to others? Is everyone's opinion respected?
The Unexpected Occurs
Has someone verified in the day/hours ahead of the meeting that the meeting location is available and appropriate?
Is there a spill-over space if the location is double-booked—or if there are more attendees than expected?
If a speaker or meeting leader is unexpectedly absent, can someone else take over?
If the meeting is cancelled or there are hazards that would affect travel plans to the meeting location, does someone have all attendees' contact information and plan to contact them in time for them to change their plans?
Can the meeting continue if the power unexpectedly goes out? If electronic materials are being discussed, is there a backup hard copy or a copy on a well-charged laptop? Will people be able to enter/exit the building without power?
Are Internet- or server-dependent items under discussion also cached locally (ideally, on a well-charged laptop) in case of connection issues?
Is there someone at the meeting familiar enough with the location to know and direct others to the designated outside meeting place in case of a fire alarm—as well as a safe place to shelter in case of tornado warning, flash flood, or earthquake? (Feel free to substitute hazards appropriate to your location.)
Do attendees stay calm in the face of unexpected happenings?
Avoiding Poor Outcomes, or Seeking Good Outcomes?
Many of the specific applications provided above have to do with avoiding poor outcomes for your meeting. But these factors also apply to creating outstanding meeting experiences.
In general, meeting attendees are wowed when they have an experience above and beyond expectations. This generally involves positive use of that last factor: the unexpected.
- Can you use an unexpected location to impress attendees and open them up to new ideas?
- Might a shorter-than-usual meeting perk everyone up?
- How about a time limit: What if everyone only had 2 minutes to make his/her point?
- Would a change in the usual agenda lend a more open feeling to the meeting? Are there some new discussion topics to consider that are of interest to attendees? Are there usual topics that might be set aside for a time?
- What kind of refreshments would be better than expected?
- Are there break activities or amenities that would be unexpectedly positive?
- Would some training in guidelines for dialogue help to create effective interactions? Might your meeting's leader do more gentle nudging to keep the conversation polite and on track?
- Would a relevant "surprise guest" wow attendees or get people thinking in new, positive directions?
- How about an unexpected mid-meeting activity? For example, if meetings usually involve only talk, can attendees break up into small groups and create a useful product instead?
Whether you produce large meeting events or small ones, these factors are a great way to consider the meeting experience for your attendees.