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.
Even in the best of times, work can be confusing. Efforts can be duplicated, messages mixed, and (wrong) assumptions made. Signals get crossed and, inevitably, something falls through the cracks.
When we’re adjusting to chaos, those challenges are amplified. Let’s face it, these recent days of working from home with new “coworkers” and in less-than-ideal settings can make everything feel difficult. It takes more coordination and communication to make sure good work happens. In short, it takes clarity.
We should seek clarity even when our projects and work world haven’t been turned upside down. Lack of clarity at any time often leads to confusion and, subsequently, disarray.
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.
Once the last event attendee has left and the vendors have packed up, go ahead and put your feet up.
Only for a minute or two, though.
The event may be done, but that doesn’t mean the work of an event planner is complete. Every event should include an evaluation or survey that helps you determine whether the event accomplished what you set out to do.
Consider evaluations your reality check. They confirm whether you’ve done what you wanted to do and help improve your next event or program.
After all, we don’t plan events or programs for ourselves or because we’ve always done it. Events fall flat if the participants didn’t learn anything or didn’t enjoy the day. If you’ve done your homework and established a great strategy, you’ll want to know what participants thought.
This can be easier said than done. After all, we want to know everything: What lessons did we learn? Where can we improve? Did we meet participants’ expectations?
The more I research why and how to evaluate, the more I realize how overwhelming it can be. It’s equal parts science and art. To start, as planners we want to evaluate measurable outcomes.
Easy Ways to Ask
One of the easiest ways I’ve found to evaluate an event or program is by using a Net Promotor Score (NPS). Many software and product companies use this method for feedback, but it’s relevant for gathering input from event participants, too.
NPS is a simple one-question, 10-point scale survey with an option for participants to add comments. Essentially, you ask participants how likely they are to recommend your event to friends and colleagues on a scale of 0 to 10. There’s a formula for calculating your overall score, but the higher the number, the more likely your event was a success.
An NPS score won’t be helpful in all situations. If you have specific goals, be sure to ask questions related directly to those. For example, if your goal was to attract women between the ages of 30 and 45, gather demographic information in your survey. If you promised your sponsors that participants would become more involved in your community after attending the program, ask participants whether that is happening.
Some common survey questions:
When and How to Gather
It’s best to get feedback while the activity is fresh for the participant. (Of course, you need to have your survey ready to go before the event takes place. This isn’t the time to procrastinate.) Consider asking attendees to fill out a short survey at intermission or between topic changes during an in-depth seminar. Send a survey by email the morning or evening after a day-long conference.
Evaluations can happen in person, in writing or by email. Interview parents while kids are occupied with an activity. When the event is done, collect a written survey placed in the program. Send a survey a day or two later by email.
Be sure to ask participants, planners, and committee members to respond to your evaluation. Keep in mind that the separate surveys may need to be sent to each of these distinct groups. After all, you may want to gather different information from each of these groups. They all view the event from a different perspective and deserve to be heard.
No, your event isn’t done until your post-event evaluation is. Embrace the feedback and make your next event even better.
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:
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.
It’s relatively easy to think about ways that rituals unite, connect and motivate us. Imagine the ways your family celebrates and recognizes holidays. Picture how a sports team carries out a certain behavior or chant before competition starts.
When done right, rituals are mindful actions that help us build community or identity. They create strong and long-lasting connections.
As such, rituals have a place in supporting a healthy work environment among both teams and at the organizational level. Fun rituals that solve problems and do no harm can help to build effective teams and make the meetings they hold more productive.
Every team has rituals, even if you don’t recognize them as such. We have rituals around hiring, recognition, production, innovation, quality, promotions, family, customer service, community service, learning, etc.
Being intentional about those rituals can reinforce a business need or a team’s need for connection. Effective rituals fit your leadership style and the personality of your team – they feel natural. What works for one organization or team won’t necessarily build trust among another.
Think about the Kiwanis Club. Can you imagine a meeting without music? This service club has a ritual of spontaneous singing, which leads to a spirit of cooperation. (And, let’s be honest: it may be the difference between a boring club and a lively one!)
Rituals do not need to be complex or serious. They can be short and silly. The important thing to remember is that rituals should do no harm. If an activity introduces shame or humiliation, it will promote disconnection instead of unity.
Here are some ideas for meeting rituals that can build up teams:
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!