Whenever we plan an event, an in-depth meeting, a social gathering, or virtual experience Reach Partners will always argue for the same thing. Every time.
This thing is the most important detail for every planned interaction. It is the life blood of our work and what drives us to do better every day. Most importantly it’s the power, the energy that fuels the work at hand.
How do you tap into this energy? How do you make it work for you? Draw the right audience? Craft the right marketing activities? Align stakeholders? Create value?
You start by defining purpose.
From the exquisite gala to the unglamorous gathering, we spend a lot of time at Reach Partners researching and thinking about the unsung aspects of events.
One question we ask every single time we design an event is essential. Why will (or should) a person attend the event? Time is a rare and limited resource. If we want someone to spend precious minutes at our gathering or get-together, we better understand and communicate why they should do so.
At Reach, we always stress that purpose is the driver for any event. When that purpose is well defined, creatively and accurately articulated, it informs the language we use for everything else. It becomes part of the call to action – what we want our attendees to do.
How you will get people to an event, a gathering, or a meeting is very important. After all, if you can’t get people to your event, everything else is pointless. And the “how” sets the tone. To begin with, how you get people interested your gathering must be part of the communication plan. This helps to set and manage expectations, provides context, and builds excitement. Part of this plan includes a strong understanding how you will ask people to participate.
When we make that call to action, we also have choices. Simply, will our call to action be passive or active? When we ask people to attend, will we invite or recruit? Which method we choose sets up different expectations for the attendees – and those hosting the event.
Passive Request: An Invitation
Issuing an invitation is appropriate for many events. This is the typical request where the host wants and encourages your presence, your attendance, or your participation. The main distinction is the event is not specifically for you. You are most certainly a valued guest, but the host is the one who gets the most out of your participation.
In these cases where the event is most meaningful to the host (think: wedding or party, fundraiser, marketing event or activity, awards ceremony, or even a football game) the attendee’s purpose is to witness, observe, demonstrate loyalty, or give.
Of course, the attendee likely will (and should!) absorb some benefits from attending. Maybe he or she expands their network, learns a new skill, enjoys a nice meal, or earns bragging rights for being part of something big. That said, the attendee is called to something and that call is passive.
Some common passive forms of invitation are social media or traditional media campaigns, broadcast email, direct mail, postcards, and invitations.
Active Request: A Recruitment
When recruited to an event or gathering, you are called for something (active).
This is quite different compared to an invitation. Recruitment suggests the event is first meaningful to the attendee. Its relevance to the audience is customized for the recruited. Some examples: networking, board meetings, learning and training.
In these cases, the host recruits a person specifically. He or she has skills, experiences, funds, or assets that will contribute to the success of an event, gathering, or meeting.
Some active forms of recruitment include a phone call, a handwritten note, bespoke email campaign, direct marketing, or an application. Whatever form it takes, recruitment is personal and personalized. It’s a tailored effort to get that special person involved.
The important thing to remember is that whether you invite or recruit is irrelevant. What matters is that as an event planner or organizer you are intentional about your choice. It sets the stage for everything else to come.
Let’s face it: we spend a lot of time in meetings.
On average, employees attend 62 hours of meetings in a month, according to Forbes magazine. Related research from Bain & Company found that executives spent up to 15% of an organization’s collective time in meetings, a percentage that has been increasing in the last decade.
Sure, we could schedule fewer meetings but we could also make better use of the time we have together.
Earlier this year, I shared some tips with our our local chamber about how to make meetings more efficient, more productive, more fun. To prepare for the presentation, I analyzed observations and inhaled information from respected speakers and authors exploring similar topics. Below are some of the resources I found most helpful plus links to other Reach Partners posts related to #BetterMeetings.
Whether you have 15 minutes or five days, you’ll find these resources engaging. Enjoy!
Meetings, Meetings, Meetings!
Here are some good resources to help you make the most of your time together:
Culture at Work
Productive, meaningful meetings can only take place when you have a supportive and encouraging team and work environment. Here are some tools to help you define and build a work environment for positive innovation:
Reach Partners Articles
At Reach Partners, we’ve done a lot of research and thinking about how to make meetings better. After all, we’ve attended and led our fair share of them. Here are a few of our favorite blog posts on the topic:
"Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” – Gene Fowler
Okay, the quotation above contains a bit of hyperbole, but let’s face it: writing can be harder than you expect. Whether you’re drafting a document or creating content for your website, finding the right words and tone can cause the even the bravest to break into a sweat.
And then, we complicate things by bringing in the team.
Collaborative writing is an ever-increasing reality in our businesses and organizations. We gather a group in a meeting or pass a document back-and-forth, asking colleagues for feedback and input. After all, the more brains, the better the writing, right?
Like most creative endeavors, writing isn’t a natural team sport. Multiple writers can be frustrating and counter-effective and, in the worst-case scenarios, completely cause communication to derail. If you’ve ever spent an hour debating the merits of using “farm” or “hobby farm” to describe a rural venture, you know what we mean.
That said, collaboration can lead to good written work if you follow some ground rules.
First of all, identify a lead writer and someone to guide the process. This last role may be a project manager or the lead writer, but be clear on who it is. (Shout-out to Erin Hemme Froslie at Whistle Editorial who works with us on our writing woes!)
Now, embrace some of these guidelines to help the process go more smoothly:
1. Clarify what you need to accomplish.
It’s easy to spend time and energy on words and phrases that don’t matter. Make sure everybody around the table understands the big picture – your ultimate goal and the audience you are trying to reach. Are you trying to articulate your event’s mission or update an employee policy manual? Are you trying to attract new customers with clever marketing copy or thanking donors for their generosity? Clarifying your goals keeps everyone focused on the task at hand and, hopefully, keeps them from getting too deep in the weeds.
2. Establish an outline.
If you’re going to collaborate on a writing project, this step is critical. This is where everyone has a chance to contribute without actually writing. An outline captures the team’s ideas and key phrases, but keeps the group from getting bogged down in the technical aspects of writing. Focus on the “what you want to say,” not the “how you say it” part of communication. Before everyone walks away, get buy-in on the final outline. This should alleviate any attempts to completely rewrite later in the process.
3.Create a standard guide.
Ideally, your company or organization has a style guide for writing. This document helps to establish voice and tone and even word choices, so that all written material sounds like it’s coming from the same source even if there are different authors. If you don’t have a formal style guide, you can get your team to agree to a core set of writing values. Are you direct or more poetic? Do you back up statements with evidence or present information in a more creative way? Do you use the more informal “we/you” or do you present everything from a third-person point of view? Are you more serious or playful? If everyone agrees from the onset, you (hopefully!) won’t have someone wordsmithing the life out of your brilliant copy later on.
4. Communicate where you are in the writing or editing process.
At some point, drafts should be shared with the entire team. Be clear on what kind of feedback the lead writer wants or needs. Ask yourself: is this iteration meant to clean up issues like style or for bigger things like structure and flow? Ask your colleagues specific questions to provide crystal clarity on the revision’s purpose: Are our key terms defined on first reference? Does it take too long to get to the main point? Are the words spelled correctly? Do you notice any grammatical mistakes? It’s frustrating for everyone if the lead writer is expecting substantive edits and everyone comes back with nit-picky tweaks.
5. Designate a final editor (and approver).
Be clear about who pulls together the final copy and who gives it the final stamp of approval. Let’s face it, differences of opinion are going to pop up. That’s okay. Explore those differences, but don’t try to make everyone happy. You won’t succeed. To make progress, designate one person as the final authority on what is written. Take into consideration everyone else’s perspective, but don’t let petty arguments over a word choice hold up the project.
Writing may not be a team sport, but these tips may make the process more collaborative. Happy writing!
Every meeting has the potential to veer into a tangent, to carry its attendees into a deep forest so far from the original path that it’s nearly impossible to find the route home.
It’s easy to blame this on others – those who arrange the agenda, those whose comments lead us astray. But whether we like it or not, we are all accountable for keeping meetings effective. If you’re in charge, the steps you need to take are more obvious. If you’re not officially in charge, there are still things you can do to keep everyone on track.
But wait, you say. I’m not the meeting leader. What can I do? A lot, it turns out.
It can be uncomfortable to step in and say something. But if you don’t deploy some guerilla tactics, you’re actually rewarding bad meeting behavior. An easy way to bring people back to the meeting at hand is to use the power of curiosity: Ask questions instead of launching accusations.
Here are some specific ways to address some major meeting derailers. Keep these ideas in mind and you will move from a passive observer to problem solver – all while making your meetings better.
Problem: Meeting starts without a purpose.
Solution: When a meeting starts without a purpose, outcomes or products simply ask: “Can you take a second to go over the overall purpose of this meeting and what we need to have when we’re done? That information will help me stay focused.”
Recognize we are all doing our best. Sometimes that best doesn’t come with a clear purpose. The meeting organizer may not know that meetings need purpose. They may not have had an opportunity to learn. Don’t be snarky, rude, or mean – ask the questions honestly and kindly.
Problem: Discussion goes off track.
Solution: This happens often in meetings, right? It usually goes something like this: Todd (and we all know Todd, we may have even been him!) has this great idea for new bedroom footwear, and he must share every single detail now. Great, except the meeting is about brainstorming nightwear for cats.
When Todd goes off on his random tangent, speak up and say: “These are excellent ideas for slippers. I know we need to get back to our main topic, but your ideas may be important for a future meeting. I will write them down for future discussion. Can we get back to discussing number four on the agenda: cat pajamas?”
Or use PAL (purpose, agenda, limit) to remind the group of the meeting’s purpose, the agenda items being addressed, and a time limit for discussion.
Problem: One person dominates discussion.
Solution: This situation can get sticky. If the person dominating the conversation is the official meeting leader, you might not be able to use the following technique. But if it’s a peer, chime in with a suggestion. Say something like: “This is an important point. Todd has shared his views, and it would be great to hear from everyone else. Can we go around the room?”
Problem: Decisions and actions not documented
Solution: It’s important to have somebody jotting down decisions and action points throughout the meeting. Even if these notes don’t turn into formal meeting minutes, they keep a group from spinning and having the same discussion every single time they meet.
If the meeting leader isn’t capturing decisions, suggest that somebody serve as a Monkey Minder who takes notes. But if it’s too late for that, ask a question: “There have been decisions made here. Can we make sure someone is capturing those?” Or, step in and assign yourself the role: “There have been decisions made here. Is anyone officially writing these down? If not, I’d be willing to share my notes with the group.”
Consider your tone and remember that we don’t share the same brain, urgencies, or priorities. The rambler, the dominator, and the wayward meeting leader are often doing what’s easy or natural. Take personal responsibility for your attention and actions in a meeting.
Problem: Not paying attention in the meeting.
Solution: Check in with yourself. Are you carrying emotions from another conversation or are you worried about something you’re missing? Are you present and taking responsibility for listening and contributing? Are you engaged, asking questions, and taking your own notes?
Sadly, 98% of us can’t actually multitask. (Take this fun test to see how you do.) So if you’re texting, reading an article, or browsing the Internet during a meeting, you are not paying attention. Take a deep breath, put down your phone/laptop/tablet, grab a pen and take your own notes. The act of writing will help you pay attention to the meeting at hand.
Keeping meetings on track isn’t easy, but it’s something anybody and everybody can help to do. Keep these guerilla tactics in mind during your next gathering, and you’ll have some control over keeping things efficient and on point.
Have you ever stepped into a meeting and experienced that “walking on eggshells” feeling? Like you’ve missed the joke, and no one is going to share it with you? Have you been in a meeting where you were afraid to tell the truth, bring up the hard facts, or provide constructive feedback?
The fact is, good meetings are a symptom of great teams.
Amy Edmondson was a part of Google’s Project Aristotle, where the tech company investigated what makes a team productive, innovative, or effective. In essence, what makes a team great? Through her research, she coined the term “psychological safety.” Psychological safety is a belief that you won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. It describes a healthy way people relate to each other as a team.
You can’t have better meetings (collaborations, decisions) without psychological safety. It’s good for the mental health of your team and decreases employee turnover. If that’s not enough for you, consider improved employee engagement.
Teams with psychological safety share accountability; they hold themselves and others accountable, which makes working together both demanding and inviting. There is a shared believe that each person on the team is capable and has the skills and knowledge to do their work that contributes to the whole.
On teams with psychological safety, there is an attitude of “we are better together.” Employees feel fulfilled because the team respects and needs their perspective, input, and ideas. There is satisfaction in the work when each person contributes meaningfully in the way they were hired, called, or volunteered to do.
Psychological safety means team members can show up to a meeting as their authentic selves, share ideas, take risks, and ask for help in front of the group. Curiosity replaces blame. Imagine being asked “what needs to happen?” instead of being asked “how could you?”
Meetings are where we solve problems, make decisions, share ideas. To do our best work, we need to be able to say what we are thinking. We can’t avoid or skirt around problems.
So, how can we encourage and build psychological safety?
Once your team starts to express psychological safety, you’ll see relationships grow, ideas expand, productivity increase. When we bring out true selves to work and to our meetings – everyone benefits.
If it seems like you’re spending a good chunk of your work week in meetings, you’re not alone.
Meetings have increased in both length and frequency over the past 50 years, according to an article published in the Harvard Business Review. One example: on average, executives spend nearly 23 hours a week in meetings, up from less than 10 hours in the 1960s.
And yet, as we spend more of our work time in meetings, we don’t necessarily feel more connected or better prepared to do our work. The same Harvard Business Review article found that 54 percent of people surveyed by the authors said that meetings resulted in losses in productivity, collaboration and well-being.
We’ve all been there.
When meetings are too frequent and badly run, it may seem like we’re in a never-ending, awkward episode of The Office. We’ve all sat through gatherings where Co-worker Eddy kept going on irrelevant tangents and shared bad jokes. We left the conference room wishing we had the last 60 minutes of our life back.
If we’re honest, sometimes the fault is our own. We can all think of times when we weren’t prepared or forgot to bring needed materials that were critical to the discussion at hand. Or maybe we showed up late, again and again. Or we invited the wrong person to attend a meeting. Repeatedly.
The deal is this, we’re going to waste time in meetings. It’s life. There are kids, parents, snow days, health concerns, and technology fails that are always going to affect the cost of meetings.
But we can do something to curb the other stuff: the poor behavior, the lack of planning, no semblance of purpose, unprepared people.
We can help the teams that are so disengaged, they sabotage themselves. We can build trust. We can help make a team feel like a team. We can work really hard. We can learn and grow. We can connect. We can celebrate.
After all, meetings are at the intersection of work and people. Meetings are where individuals come together and form a team or group that gets things done.
It makes sense that if we want to do better work together, we need better ways to meet.
On March 13, I’ll be presenting “The Culture of Meeting,” as part of our local chamber’s Business Training series. I’ll be sharing observations and techniques for how to conduct better meetings and, in the process, improve your work culture and productivity.
I hope you’ll join me in person. (You can get your tickets here.)
But, if you can’t, stay tuned. I’ll be sharing some of what I’ve discovered and experienced right here on the Reach Partners blog and newsletter.
#BetterMeetings are possible. Trust me.
Sometimes it’s hard to focus in a meeting. We’re distracted, tired, hangry, concerned about other things. It may be tempting to power through, but there are simple practices that can help us bring energy into the meeting and enhance our productivity. When we adapt to people’s needs – whether physical, social or psychological – we can get more accomplished during a meeting.
Wiggle It, Just a Little Bit
About a decade ago, researchers observed that children actually fidget to focus and learn. The more complicated the mental task, the more they needed to move.
Like those kiddos, adults appreciate fidgets too. Have a few quiet toys to occupy an active sub-conscious (and maybe prevent Dave from clicking his pen). Bring bit of nature into deep meetings by offering pine cones, shells, sticks, or switches of grass to play with or sacred items like a rosary, prayer beads, or a Hindu mala. There is evidence that adults playing with these items eases anxiety and expands their thoughts on a problem. It even works for right-brained engineers!
Stand Up, Sit Down
Kids have a lot of energy, and let’s face it: adults aren’t any different. Movement helps focus ideas. We are made to move and our work lives spent sitting on a chair and at a computer station don’t help us do our best thinking. Allow and encourage your meeting goers to stand up during a long meeting, gathering. Offer a mid-agenda stretch to wake up fatigued attendees.
Next time you have a meeting with three or fewer people and a simple agenda, try a walking meeting. Take a lap around the building or, better yet, head outside. Dedicate a lap to a topic, pause to write the next step or decision, then move along to the next agenda item.
Or gather a group to stand around a white board or an easel pad. Standing meetings typically have a short, focused agenda (think 15 minutes), but they are extremely effective.
At larger events like conferences, people are usually expected to sit for long periods of time. Place high-top tables in the back of the room to encourage movement and standing. (These have the added benefit of helping participants connect with others.) Create a schedule that allows people to move between sessions. Consider the distance between meeting room locations so that people are encouraged to move and stand.
People always bring mental baggage when they join a meeting. Unless they prepared or are leading the meeting, they are probably thinking everything except what’s on the agenda: who do they need to talk to; what groceries are needed for this weekend’s gathering; who fed the cat?
Bring the group together by pausing at the beginning of every meeting. A brief centering meditation can help everyone get focused on the work that needs to be done together.
When people show up to work as their authentic selves, they feel safe to share ideas and take risks in a group. When people feel safe, they don’t fear humiliation (because of age, gender, education, class, etc.). They’re more willing to discuss tough issues and ask for help. They feel valued and don’t worry about repercussions for misspeaking or a failure.
If you want to have a successful, focused meeting, your team members need to feel connected to each other.
In meetings were team members feel connected to each other demonstrate a higher level of dependability, innovation, executive function and overall impact.
As a leader, examine how your business culture is at work: do you feel comfortable showing up as your true self? You might feel free to be you, but do others?
Have your team take a quiz, and learn how to foster psychological safety.
It sounds simple, but snacks help to elevate the mood while building a sense of camaraderie. Don’t worry. Not every snack needs to be a high-sugar, high-fat item. Set out fresh or dried fruit, or nuts. Make sure there’s a good selection of teas and flavored waters. And, of course, set out donuts, cookies, and cake when the occasion calls for it.
Breaking bread has long been a part of holy occasions. Food is often a centerpiece of our holidays and celebrations. (Can you imagine Thanksgiving without turkey or mashed potatoes?) By incorporating snacks or a meal (lunch meetings, anyone?) into your gathering, you give people an opportunity to build relationships. Even at larger meetings or conferences, a meal or snack gives people time to converse and connect.
Next time you schedule a meeting, give one of these practices a try. Tell us how it went!
Think about the last time you showed up for a meeting.
Did the group leader take a moment and review why the group was gathered? Did she summarize what had been agreed upon at the last meeting and what needed to be accomplished at this one?
How did that meeting go?
When a group meets, it pays to devote two to three minutes at the start of every meeting to recap previous efforts and share a vision for the future.
This does not mean you revisit the previous meeting’s entire agenda. Projects would never move forward if you did that. But taking a few minutes to share where things are at or what has happened since the last meeting can be beneficial.
To be clear, a recap is different than sending out meeting notes or minutes (which should be distributed after each gathering). But if you assume that everyone in the meeting has read the previous meeting notes, you are likely to be disappointed. (No judgment here. It’s reality.)
Even if everyone reads the notes and were at the last meeting, they will appreciate a reminder of what is going on, where things are headed, and what needs to be done.
After all, people make better decisions when they have context for the questions, needs, or purpose.
Start your recap with a statement of purpose, declare why you are meeting. Dignify past efforts by briefly providing the facts: the who, what, when, why. Let them know what needs attention and action today.
This statement can be part of each agenda and read by someone at the start of each meeting. The brief summary allows everyone to move as a team and step into the role of decision maker. It serves as a friendly reminder of why the group has gathered and keeps everyone focused on what is important at the moment.
There’s another way to look at it is like this. To move forward as a team, you should:
Identify purpose + Summarize steps taken + Identify desired outcome
If you want to make progress, it’s always worth taking a step or two backwards to recap.
A few years ago my daughter Olivia was attending a week-long foreign language camp for the first time. A week! They were going to mostly speak Norwegian! Dad was nervous: how in the world was she going to make friends?
My wife and I helped her arrange her things in the cabin and completed the final check-in at the medical station. As we prepared to leave, Olivia ran up the steps to grab something from her bunk. She was back in less than 60 seconds. “You guys should go now. I made a friend while I was upstairs,” she said.
Making the First Move
In the work world, it’s tougher to make friends this fast. As we go about our work, we all run into situations where we need to initiate contact with people we may not know well. There are times when we need to bring a group together that hasn’t gathered before.
To help warm up the conversation, we often turn to icebreakers. After all, taking time for deliberate activities leads to a more cohesive group and people learn more when they feel connected.
Yet, we’ve all been in situations where an activity certainly didn’t help to break the ice and, in fact, may have even chilled the room.
Time and time again, I’ve learned that icebreakers tend to produce results equivalent to the thought put into designing them. In other words, choosing an ice breaker as you walk down the hall to the conference room is not going to end well.
Just because a get-to-know-you activity worked well with one group does not mean it will be a good fit with the next one.
Choosing the right type of icebreaker is vital.
Fun and Games Icebreakers
Ice breaker games can be the most fun, but they also can be the most stress-inducing for some participants. This type of activity works best when you have a group gathering for a social purpose, or if you already know most of the personalities in the room.
The goal of this ice breaker is to bring some fun and offer a welcome break during long meetings or training sessions.
Two Truths and One Lie: This icebreaker is usually quite popular. Each participant in the group says three things about themselves — two are true and one is a lie. The other participants guess which one is the lie and share why they think so.
The Best Week of the Year: Each year I refer to the week my family spends at a rented lake cabin as “Best Week of the Year.” What would your best week consist of?
Finish the Sentence: Write sentence starters on slips of paper and place these in a bowl, basket, or bag. Have adults sit in a circle. One person pulls a slip, reads the sentence starter, and completes it. Some sample starters:
This type of gathering activity gets names out into the open plus some snippets of information that help make a connection.
The size of your group probably determines what type of activity you do here. One of my favorites for larger groups is the “2 Minute Circle.” For this activity, pair people off and then form two circles, with one partner of each group on the inside circle, facing the other partner. Each pair shares their name and something about themselves. Then, after two minutes, the inside circle rotates one person to the left.
I attend a weekly meeting where we introduce ourselves like this each time. We often share some piece of info that is related to the week’s topic. Recently, the speaker was talking about a local beer and burgers festival. We were told to introduce ourselves and share our favorite beer or burger. I had a nice conversation that day with Mark, who simply liked my answer: “My favorite beer is whatever one I’m drinking while I grill burgers in my backyard.”
This icebreaker is best when you want to get directly relevant information from participants.
With this type of activity, I have always found it useful to establish one firm ground rule: this is NOT a time for discussion. It IS everyone’s opportunity to share their thoughts.
I often think back to staff meetings I led and wish I had, even in that small group that knew each other well, opened with activities like this. As a meeting leader, the insightful icebreaker allows you to check the temperature in the room right when you start. I usually ask participants to provide three things: their name and department/organization, what they hope to get out of the day, and what is the most interesting thing that COULD happen as a result of the meeting.
An example: “My name is Sean Kelly, with Reach Partners. I hope that we walk out of here today with a firm vision of what our priorities over the next six months should be. My wildest hope is that we come up with an idea for a plan that includes more sidewalk cafes under brightly colored awnings . . . because my daughter and I love to visit places like that! If we did, I could tell her ‘Dad helped make this happen!’”
Right there is everything you can hope for in an icebreaker: you know who’s talking and conversation can flow from it. You might even remember who said it.
After all, who doesn’t want to be the guy who wants bring colorful awnings downtown to make his daughter happy? Choose the right icebreaker and you just might be him.