Every milestone deserves a good celebration.
For its 20th anniversary, Aldevron wanted to host a party for employees and their families after its annual all-staff meeting.
But the Fargo company’s staff were stretched to meet the daily demands of a quickly growing firm in the biotech field. To throw the fun celebration they imagined without adding pressure on full-time employees, they needed additional support.
Ellen Shafer, senior director of marketing and communications, contacted Reach Partners about two months before the event.
“She needed someone she could trust to handle the details,” says Rachel Asleson, co-owner of Reach Partners.
Staff had already identified the framework for the celebration – an open-house picnic with family-friendly activities. Reach Partners managed the details of the day.
We established the best way to layout the elements and served as a liaison between the event vendors – audio-visual professionals, caterers, entertainers, etc. – and Aldevron staff. We identified vendors, managed the contracts, and confirmed everything was set up as planned. If a contractor had questions or needs on the day of the event, we served as the point of contact.
We also established a process for tracking RSVPs.
While we hovered in the background, the work we did ensured that the day’s activities rolled smoothly. More than 275 people attended.
“Thank you for jumping in on such short notice, working with me and the team, and helping with all details to make a great event,” Ellen wrote to us afterwards. “Your management of the day gave me the peace of mind to take care of what I needed to take care of.”
A year later we received the best compliment of all – a request to help again with the all-employee picnic. This time the celebration coincided with a ground-breaking event for Aldevron’s newest facility in Fargo.
We are always grateful when we can help our partners focus on the daily demands of their work while we take care of the details that make one-time or occasional events run smoothly.
What We Delivered:
Planning an event or activity takes time and coordination. From the moment the brainstorming starts until the last attendee leaves, you need to know what’s going on and keep track of the details.
We believe in – and practice – documentation. Lots of it. We track everything leading up to the event welcome and detail the day of the activity until the last swag bag is grabbed.
Why? If you don’t write it down, you forget. And it becomes even more challenging to make sure a group of staff, volunteers, stakeholders, and others are on the same page.
It’s true. Every event is different. But these documents can help your gathering run smoothly.
By no means, do we consider this list exhaustive. Nor do you need to incorporate each of these tools into every event. Give them a try!
This won’t be a big surprise to many of you, but we love conferences and big events.
Yes, it’s true that we enjoy organizing them. We also enjoy attending them.
After all, you can gather information by watching online videos or reading about the latest industry trends via article or book. However, nothing replaces the face-to-face interactions that happen when people gather for a specific purpose.
When you attend a shared event or conference, you have opportunities to connect with others. You may gather new insight or hear a different perspective. When done right, conferences are energizing. You will walk away with at least a few tips that can make your personal or professional life stronger.
That said, every successful conference requires you to put forth some effort.
Here’s how you can make the most out of your time at a large event or gathering.
Before the Conference or Event
Enjoy your next conference or event!
I’ve been a planner of events – both personal and professional – for most of my life. I’ve planned meetings, small dinners with friends, family gatherings, and corporate events. When done well, these get-togethers tug at something deep and soulful inside of me. After all, there’s something magical about being with others.
I’d like to think Priya Parker would agree. She wrote “The Art of Gathering,” a beautiful book that both inspired me and allowed me to articulate what makes an event worthwhile.
To start with, Parker asserts that events are not about a bunch of checked-off details. They shouldn’t be about creating a setting or making a place beautiful.
The reason for creating the moment, she says, is about the people or, more specifically, getting “the right people in a room (to) help them collectively think, dream, argue, envision, trust and connect for a larger purpose.”
In other words, much less Martha Stewart and the right kind of tableware, and more human engagement.
Her premise makes sense. In my experience, logistics are the easy part. Logistics are utilitarian and certainly require consideration and negotiation skills, (think accessibility, restrooms, parking, affordability) but it’s really the purpose of the event that matters.
I marvel when the preparation, invitation, structure, and rules for an event inspire meaningful connections between participants and spark momentum and action afterwards.
“When we don’t examine the deeper assumptions behind why we gather, we end up skipping too quickly to replicating old, staid formats of gathering,” Parker writes. “And we forgo the possibility of creating something memorable, even transformative.”
Here are 12 takeaways I gathered from her book:
After reading this book, I was inspired to attend an event Parker curated in Minneapolis last fall. I wanted to experience an event planned with her creativity and precision. I also was hoping to meet the author in person. I wasn’t disappointed on either account.
After all, gathering is an art, not a science. Parker proves that well.
My family and I recently spent a week together on vacation.
We hiked, toasted marshmallows for s’mores, and explored one of Minnesota’s lakes by boat. That said, it wouldn’t have mattered what we did.
We were together; we were present. Mostly.
You see, for me, family vacations aren’t about what we do but how we spend time together. With two kids, ages 9 and 17, and two busy parents that is often easier said than done. The allure of email, work-related phone calls, social media sites, and Netflix is real. Disconnecting from devices is hard but an important step for us to connect as a family.
Let’s be honest: we didn’t totally disconnect. After all, I have a Timehop streak to continue and our teen has a social life to maintain. Still, we intentionally talked and did things together without the distractions of devices, housework, work projects, and more.
We learned things about each other. My kids played together – with eight years between them, that doesn’t happen much at home. We took things a little slower.
It reminded me of a vacation we took when my youngest was 3 and we watched a big, black beetle meander across the sidewalk. My son’s questions rarely stopped: “Where is he going? What is he doing? Why? Why? Why?” As I observed his focus on the bug, I focused on being with my son in the moment.
By the time the bug made its way down the sidewalk and to the nearby road, my husband and then 11-year-old had had enough beetle watching. I stayed until the youngest decided it was time to leave. For days following, he asked and wondered about that simple insect.
I wondered too – whether I would remember our bug and be reminded to be present when I was no longer in vacation mode.
This year we didn’t have a beetle, but my family experienced small moments that are seared into our hearts and memories because we slowed down and took time to be with each other.
May you find time to watch beetles this summer. After all, if you don’t have time to watch a beetle cross the road during vacation, when do you?
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:
Here’s your challenge for the month: Take on the difficult project that nobody else wants to do.
Or volunteer to handle the assignment that has been kicked back-and-forth between team members and do it with gusto.
Whoa … what?!
That’s right. Next time someone makes a request that nobody else wants to take on, make eye contact with the person and say, “yes.” Become the go-to person who solves problems and has an enthusiastic attitude.
Here’s how you can be the hero when facing a tough project:
"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.