Successful Meeting Planning – Organize, Prepare, Execute
“Alright, everyone, grab a coffee and head to the conference room,” you say brightly, trying to manage enough excitement in your demeanor to herd the sheep into what they’ve routinely come to believe is probably another tedious and meaningless waste of time and productivity. Ugh….
Why do people typically dread attending meetings? Maybe there are too many unfocused discussions, or extraneous action plans, or a lack of engagement or inspiration. Perhaps they don’t believe the team is getting anything out of these meetings but endless droning and mind-numbing monotony. With so many unnecessary or unproductive meetings in the schedule, how can anyone accomplish their tasks? According to an MCI Conferencing White Paper titled Meetings in America, “Most professionals attend a total of 61.8 meetings per month.”
As we are all short on time these days, here are some tips for making your own meetings more productive:
- Identify the purpose of the meeting – People are busy. Far too busy to sit in a meeting that has no real purpose or relevancy to them. So identify why you need to meet. What do you hope to achieve with the meeting? The clearer you are about your purpose and goals, the more successful the endeavor will be.
- Organize the plan for the meeting – Now that you know where you want to go, you must create the necessary roadmap to achieve your goals. Is it goal-setting, brainstorming, problem-solving, team-building or educational? Regardless of the type of meeting, being organized will capture the attention of your participants and help keep them fully engaged in your subsequent outcomes.
- Communicate effectively – You have taken the time to prepare for the meeting, and now you must let the attendees prepare, too. It is best to distribute the agenda and any relative handouts 48 hours in advance of the meeting. This will allow the guests to think about the issues at hand and prepare appropriately to be productive participants.
- Preparation – As the organizer, plan to arrive early to set up the space and address any problems that might arise. I know of one event where the organizers had arrived the day before to set up the meeting room, and it worked to their benefit when they were locked out of the building the next morning. Once everyone got inside, the room was ready to go, so the event hosts were able to hold the meeting without a glitch.
- Punctuality – Set an agenda and stick to it! The fastest way to lose interest in your meeting is to let it run amuck. Do not wait an extra 10 or 15 minutes to start your meeting because not everyone has arrived. You need to begin promptly when you say you will and end when promised out of courtesy for those guests who made the commitment to be there promptly. This will build a strong rapport with attendees and maintain valued respect from your audience.
- Eliminate Distractions – Encourage all guests to turn off their electronic devices at the start of the meeting. It is important that all attendees are engaged in the session and courteous to other members by offering their undivided attention for the pre-determined timeframe.
- Stay on Topic – We all know what it’s like when that one person in the audience takes the whole group way off-topic. As the meeting organizer, it is your job to reel the discussions back in and keep them relevant to your goals. Phrases such as “perhaps we could discuss that next time,” or “we’re getting crunched for time, so we need to move on to XYZ” will help you stay on point.
- Clearly Outline the Execution Plan – As part of your meeting wrap-up, it is important to identify the action items and who will be responsible for each item. Clearly communicate the due dates of each phase of the project so that each committee member understands the importance of upholding their end of the bargain.
- Next Meeting – Identify when the team will come together again. How will people communicate in the interim? These things will help keep tasks on target and ensure that deadlines are met.
Meetings are a valuable means to accomplishing more than we could ever hope to do individually. As a manager, leader or group organizer, you are the influence – you must structure a game plan to create the energy that motivates and incites the action. Following these tips will help you build long and lasting relationships with your team members, and you will take them far on the road to success.
LEARNING FROM AIG…YOU Need a Strategic Meeting Plan!
After news of AIG’s excessive meeting budget broke in October 2008, the meeting industry was thrust into a bit of a tailspin. It came under scrutiny whether or not companies should be allocating money to corporate outings, meetings or events during these difficult economic times. However, the reality exists that business gets done at meetings – internally and externally, face-to-face – ultimately contributing to strengthening and growing the bottomline! Thus, you shouldn’t be afraid to continue to host meetings, but it is imperative that your company have a Strategic Meeting Plan (SMP) in place.
An SMP directs your team in appropriately planning and executing well-thought out events that achieve significant corporate results. While you may be required to cut costs and replace a monthly meeting with a conference call, there are times when you need all of the appropriate players around one table to fully buy into new corporate goals or fully understand a new product launch. Conference calls just don’t have the same bonding effect that helps develop a cohesive team or build camaraderie between you and your clients. If you host meetings or events, regardless of size, it is prudent to have an SMP in place.
A Basic SMP Includes the Following Components:
Establish a meeting and event policy for your company. Just as you have a vacation policy or a sexual discrimination policy, you should have an official meeting policy. What types of events are allowed and how frequently? Who will approve the events and who will be responsible for these types of projects? What is the time frame allowed for planning a meeting? Are specific types of meetings supported or encouraged by the organization? This sets the parameters for a level, well-defined playing field while demonstrating a company’s fiscal accountability.
Once the parameters for the policy have been defined, it is important to establish systems to support your policy. This will include defining a meeting’s purpose and identifying clear, concise and measurable outcomes which the organization hopes to accomplish as a result of the event.
Initial budgeting should be submitted, reviewed and approved early in the planning phase to accurately track expenses and adequately evaluate a return on investment. . Some companies lump the occasional employee lunches, meetings, client dinners, etc., into one large category that can add up quickly without showing whether they are receiving any benefits from these expenditures. The goal is to identify how much is spent on each event and track the resulting benefit from those dollars. This is crucial to event evaluation.
Documentation can be kept simple, but it is important that forms exist and that each event is provided a unique identifying number to track attendees and the budget within your organization. To adequately evaluate the success and determine the necessity of the finances spent on meetings, you must be able to efficiently track the details of each event to maintain corporate responsibility. Your SMP roadmap provides direction, budgeting, record-keeping and a transparent paper trail for assessment and evaluation.
Once your policy and processes are instituted, it is important to communicate the details of the SMP to the appropriate staff. To be effective, people need to be aware of the plan and understand the details. This will be simple for some organizations, but in larger companies with several assistants planning meetings for a variety of staff or divisions, clear communication is imperative. The players must understand the reason for a sudden change in corporate policy, so be sure to communicate openly and effectively to guarantee the success of your SMP.
At least annually, the team should review the policy and processes associated with your SMP to evaluate the strengths and successes of the system while identifying how the system could be improved.
The SMP is a useful tool that will not only navigate you through the meeting planning process but it can also help determine if you should proceed. For example, Texas Roadhouse continued forward with their decision to spend more than $2 million on an annual incentive program for 1,000 employees and spouses to participate in a five-day recognition event at posh hotels like the Fairmont and the Ritz-Carlton. CEO G.J. Hart defended the decision explaining that this event was crucial to the success of their restaurants as these are the staff members driving their business, and it is important for the employees to be shown value and recognition for their contributions to the restaurant’s success.
Your organization may not be a global insurance conglomerate or a large restaurant chain, but it shouldn’t stop you from investing in an SMP that will allow you to strategically and responsibly educate your staff, reward key contributors of your team or reach out to new and existing clients in an effort to grow your bottom line.
Networking: 9 Tips You Need to Succeed
Everyone is looking to grow their business on a shoestring budget during these troubled economic times, and networking has become extremely popular as one of the most effective and inexpensive ways to meet potential new leads. But there is a strategy for success. You can’t just show up, hang out in a corner and think that your business is going to grow. You need to be an active player in this game!
- Choose carefully. Opportunities abound! You could spend hours each day at these events if you wanted, but most of us have limited time to invest so select networking events that are the best fit for your business. If you attend a couple of events and don’t seem to be “connecting” with a particular group of people, simply redirect and try a new networking group.
- Dress to impress. It still holds true that “you only get one chance to make a first impression!” Dress professionally to establish credibility and show that you are a dedicated business professional.
- Take plenty of business cards (and be determined to dispense ALL of them). We’re often amazed at the number of people who never seem to have business cards with them because the whole point of networking is to seek out potential business relationships. By exchanging cards, it’ll be easier for your new acquaintance to remember you and contact you in the future.
- Prepare yourself. You will introduce yourself repeatedly at a networking event so prepare and rehearse a 30-second introduction that clearly tells people who you are and what you do.
- Set a goal for yourself. Some people are uncomfortable introducing themselves to strangers, so create a goal that will alleviate some of this tension. Knowing that you want to walk away with 5 new contacts will keep you focused on why you bothered to attend in the first place. Remember that you are looking to meet people who need your product or service in an attempt to solve their problems. Someone needs your help, so SMILE and go out there to find them.
- Bring a networking buddy. Networking makes many people feel anxious and self-conscious. Invite a colleague or customer who is also seeking new leads to accompany you to events. You’ll appear to be more at ease, comfortable in circulating and available to conversation.
- Move out of your “safe” circle and split up. If you attend events with a co-worker, sit at different tables and roam different sections of the event so you can meet twice as many people than you would if you stick together. It is easy to talk to the people you already know, but remember that you’re there to renew acquaintances and make new contacts.
- Be a good listener and ALWAYS ask questions to open and maintain a conversation.
- Follow up after the event. An email, a note or a card is the least you should do, but when you find someone that seems like a particularly good contact for you and your business, you should arrange an appointment. Whether they are a potential customer or just a good business resource, follow up with them while your acquaintance is still fresh in their mind.
Make it about them first (people love talking about themselves) and you’ll be able to determine if this is a useful connection. Interject that your business applies perfectly to their industry and how you can be of service. If it doesn’t fit, chat anyway. Always hand out a card and say it was nice to meet—they may end up being a great referral some day.
In the search for new clientele, it is human nature to network more during slow periods, but you must maintain consistency in your efforts to keep your business flow steady. And whatever you do, don’t give up! The more you network, the easier it gets. Best of luck in growing your business!