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.
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.
"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.
With a 150th anniversary approaching, leaders in Otter Tail County knew they had a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to celebrate the region’s history and culture. People were excited and passionate about getting involved in the milestone event, but that enthusiasm came with a price tag.
“The more ideas there were, the more opportunities there were for things to get chaotic,” says Nick Leonard, communications and external relations director for the county.
Key stakeholders including the Otter Tail County Historical Society and the Otter Tail Lakes County Association established a planning committee for the sesquicentennial, but the group needed someone to serve as a single point person for communication and project management.
Reach Partners stepped in, helping with event strategy and support.
The committee established a budget and goals for the celebration. Anita from Reach Partners helped to keep these things on track.
“She knew when to dig deeper and ask questions, and when to challenge the group,” Leonard says. “Thanks to her, we stayed hyper-focused on our plans.”
While the committee wanted to promote the region, it decided the 150th was an opportunity to celebrate all who live, work and play in the county. The committee met monthly to identify and plan events. Major events for the celebration included a musical production written for the anniversary, an ice-themed winter gathering, and a historical reenactment of the first county commission meeting. Other events included community walking tours and historical displays.
Events were held over the span of a year and throughout the geographically expansive county, but planning started months earlier.
“There were a lot of moving parts,” Anita says. “These are people who love their county and they wanted to celebrate.”
To help the group stay on task, Anita created agendas for each meetings. She identified logistics that needed to be addressed for the major events. She also managed a micro-grant program that offered support for community projects that promoted Otter Tail County and its history.
Planning and coordinating numerous events can be stressful and time intensive, especially for staff who don’t do this regularly. Asking Reach Partners, which has the expertise and experience, to take on this role was an easy choice, Leonard says.
“Planning a big event is one of the most visible things you do as an organization. It leaves a lasting impression on people. You want to make sure it’s done well,” Leonard says.
PHOTO CREDITS: Dan Broten. All photos were taken at Otter Tail County's 150th anniversary kick-off event.
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.
Even if “project manager” isn’t part of your title or job description, you likely will have to oversee a project at some point in your career. After all, projects occur at every level of all organizations, industries and professions.
Maybe you’ve been asked to organize a day-long staff retreat or a special anniversary celebration. Or maybe you’ve been asked to coordinate art and text for a marketing campaign.
For projects both complex and simple, a practical and solid plan can make everything flow more smoothly – AND make you look brilliant. (And who doesn’t want that?)
In short, everyone can benefit from a few project management skills.
Whether you’re new to project management or are looking for a few tools to effectively run your own projects, we recommend starting with these five tips.
1. Identify the project objectives.
Every project begins with two questions: What is your understanding of the task? and What will the deliverable look like? Don’t even think about starting a project until you answer those. Jot the answers into a document. This is the start of your project charter, a go-to document that lists the project basics from goals and scope to budget and timeline. This helps you communicate with stakeholders and measure progress. Use it!
2. Develop action steps.
“Begin at the beginning," advised the King as he prompted Alice in Wonderland to tell about her adventures. That’s good advice for managing a project too. Start by listing the first three steps. Categorize each task. Continue this process until you’ve listed every action step needed to get the work done. This work breakdown structure is basically a glorified (and very detailed!) to-do list. It will help you identify where team members and other resources are needed.
3. Get organized.
Maybe you've never won any “most organized” awards. Now is the time to do better. Capture ideas, requests and actions using one notebook, sticky notes, or an Excel document. Experiment using digital tools like Trello to keep you and resources in one place. The type of tool you use is less important than being confident that you know what is required, the action steps needed, and most important, how to communicate them to the team. What tools work for you?
4. Identify risks.
For project managers, a risk is anything that she doesn't have control over. For example, could less funding come through than estimated? Might a timeline be crunched because of a scheduled vacation? What if an event sells out quickly or a new product is so popular that supply can't keep up with demand?
Take a few minutes to list all of the risks that may affect your project. (Go ahead – put them in the project charter.) Think about both positive and negative events that you can't control. Once you've identified the risks, you can work on finding solutions or contingency actions to mitigate them. Trust us. You will never regret taking the time to think through potential risks and brainstorming ways to turn them into opportunities.
5. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
As your project moves forward, be sure to track and communicate project progress. Be sure you know who your team and stakeholders are. Think about what information they need and how frequently they need it – and the best way to reach them. Tools for sharing your progress include communication plans, meeting agendas and project reports. Communicate frequently road blocks, successes, failures, resource needs, meetings, and action steps. You can never over-communicate.
These five steps will get any project heading in the right direction. And you’ll know you’ve done everything you can to make it successful.
Few things make people in a group setting more uncomfortable than silence.
People look awkwardly at their phones or notebooks while the lack of speech weighs heavily in the air. Nobody makes eye contact until someone breaks the tension with nervous laughter.
But, shhhh . . .
There’s power in that silence.
Musicians know this. A few (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Claude Debussy, as a start) have been credited with variations on the sentiment that “the music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.” Or as the jazz musician Miles Davis put it: “It’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play.”
Silence gives noise meaning. In many situations, it is a golden ticket to stronger communication and building trust.
After all, when we have a message to deliver, we want people to listen. Silence may signal that someone is actively paying attention and they need a moment to collect their thoughts before responding. Silence, in this case, suggests they’ve actually listened to the conversation before forming their own commentary.
Posing a good question to the group also may result in quiet space. People are thinking, figuring out how to frame their responses. Consider the communication styles of those around you. While some people work through their ideas verbally, others need a few minutes of quiet time to collect their thoughts and courage.
If a group is brainstorming or sharing ideas, you can expect that conversation will ebb and flow. For a few minutes, ideas may come very quickly and then the pace slows down. Just as a piece of music may contain different time signatures, this rhythm may change multiple times throughout the conversation. If you don’t allow space between the noise, ideas could be left out.
There are times, of course, that silence signals a problem.
For example, phone conversations or conference calls are difficult to monitor when it comes to silence. Because you can’t read non-verbal cues, it’s challenging to know whether silence means a person is thinking (perfect!), walked away in frustration (not perfect!), or got disconnected (oops!).
If you are gathering in person, silence could signal that everyone isn’t prepared for the meeting. Just because you created a thorough agenda doesn’t mean everyone has read it. Watch body language to determine whether people need a moment to compose their thoughts or they haven’t completed their homework.
The most difficult part about silence may not be interpreting it, but in allowing it to happen. Handling a bit of silence may be more challenging than you think.
We’re so used to filling quiet with sound that true silence may feel like eternity even if it’s only a few seconds or more.
If you’re tempted to jump in with a comment, stop. Count silently in your head or watch the second hand of a clock. Don’t fall into the trap of rescuing anybody. Let the awkward silence achieve its superpower.
You won’t have to wait long. In my experience someone will start talking in 10 seconds or less. Someone almost always does.
Shhh . . . wait for it.
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.
There are few things worse in business than showing up for a meeting that has been poorly planned. You don’t know why you’re there or what needs to be accomplished. The organizer either hasn’t taken time to plan the purpose or – perhaps – hasn’t bothered to share the purpose with those around the table.
The solution to this problem is easy, people: Write an agenda. Send an agenda ahead of time. Print an agenda. (And, yes, you should do all three).
It may seem like a lot of pre-work, but every time you write and appropriately share an agenda, you’ll thank yourself.
An agenda is a mini-plan. It’s a small step in a larger plan that provides structure and direction. And, frankly, it also keeps teams focused on priorities.
Without an agenda, you’ll be less productive. You’ll have co-workers who get off topic and spend 20 minutes rehashing what happened over the weekend. Then you’ll spend 30 minutes agonizing over the color of flowers in a centerpiece when you really needed to decide the lunch menu.
The weekly staff meetings at Reach Partners have a set agenda. I think of agenda topics more like buckets. The specific items under each bucket change weekly, but we are always focused on our three major priorities: financials, marketing, and workload.
Without a clear agenda, it is too easy to discuss things that don’t matter.
Saves Time (and Resources)
Nobody wants to meet for the purpose of meeting.
A good agenda saves time and respects stakeholders’ time commitment. Since there’s a purpose and people know what it is, they are less likely to regret coming. In addition, a good agenda lists a start time and an end time, so people know what they are committing to beforehand.
Time is money and meetings are expensive. If you have 10 people attending a meeting and each person’s wage is $25 an hour, it costs $250 for every hour that group meets. An agenda helps make the most of that time.
I’ve been part of meetings where the project lead dismissed people after agenda items that pertained to them were done. At first it felt harsh and abrupt, but I’ve changed my mind. This person was giving people the gift of time. If the rest of the meeting didn’t pertain to them, they could be doing something more productive.
The general purpose of any meeting is to get a group of people together for some focused reason. The underlying premise is that each person invited has expertise to share or important opinions to be expressed.
An agenda sent ahead of time (no later than three days before the meeting) gives each stakeholder an opportunity to review, think, research and prepare. You want people to be engaged during the meeting, and there is a better chance of that if attendees know what to expect.
Without an agenda, attendees may be asked questions that they didn’t prepare for. Or the group isn’t prepared for the discussion you wanted to have or didn’t bring the data needed to support meaningful conversation.
An agenda sent ahead of time is more useful than one provided when you walk in the door. However, neglecting to send an agenda ahead of time doesn’t give you permission to not have one at all. A late agenda is better than no agenda at all.
Defines Next Steps
At the end of a recent meeting, I reached the last item on the agenda: review responsibilities. “John,” I said. “You are doing _______.” John quickly responded: “Oh, yes. I’m going to write that down.”
Include a quick “review” item at the end of every agenda. That plus a brief recap of the previous meeting at the beginning of every meeting put everyone on the same page quickly. We are more successful when we all know what’s going on, where things are headed, and what needs to be done.
In summary, I’ve never seen a meeting without an agenda go well. If I don’t know how to prepare or who will be attending, it feels like a waste of time.
Of course, an agenda doesn’t mean that the meeting has to be stuffy or formal. You can still have fun and share a story or two. Flexibility is allowed.
Just keep your meeting purposeful and focused. Everyone will thank you.