Design Your Meetings, Don’t Just Plan Them

by | Nov 1, 2009 | Blog | 0 comments

The strategic meeting designer, Mary Boone, continues her conversation with The LEAN Communicator about the elements of successful meetings.

Liz, The LEAN Communicator: In the October issue you talked about the strategic importance of meetings and shared your four elements of strategic value framework: portfolio management, meeting design, measurement and advanced logistics. We also covered portfolio management. This time we’re zeroing in on meeting design, which is your specialty.

How do you define meeting design?

Mary: I created a formal definition: “The purposeful shaping of the form and content of a meeting to deliver on crucial organizational objectives. Meeting design incorporates methods and technologies that connect, inform, and engage a broad range of relevant stakeholders before, during and after the meeting. Good design integrates the meeting with other communication activities, maximizes interactivity, and results in a significant return on investment.”

Liz: What do you mean by “form and content”?

Mary: For a long time now, meetings have been primarily delivered in broadcast mode with a bunch of people sitting in chairs listening to someone do a PowerPoint presentation. 

By “form” I mean shaping the way people interact at the meeting, which includes their environment. My role as a designer involves rethinking the way the meeting balances all forms of communication.

In terms of content, meeting designers have to deeply understand the strategy of the organization right from the top leaders (meeting owners). The meeting content has to be focused on what really matters to the organization.

Liz: What’s the most important thing about meeting design?

Mary: When meeting design is done correctly, you can realize a phenomenal return on investment. The problem is that most big meetings are planned, not designed.  There’s a big difference between the two concepts. Planning is about logistics; design is about strategy. Also most meetings are about broadcasting messages instead of interacting around ideas. Properly designed meetings are perhaps the most powerful tool a leader has for building engagement and ensuring effective and efficient execution of strategy.

Liz: What kinds of methods and technologies do you draw upon to ensure a high level of interactivity around ideas?

Mary: There are a number of methods, such as Open Space, Future Search, and World Café, referred to as “large group methods” in the Organizational Development field. They all use interactive methods to get large groups of people talking, sharing content, and building engagement. I draw from these and other methods as inspiration for designing the interactive portions of the meeting.

I also use a wide range of technologies in meetings — including group decision support tools, Twitter, blogs and many other tools.

Regardless of the method or tool, though, we need to think broadly and creatively when we design interaction at our meetings.

Liz: What do you suggest doing before and after the meeting?

Mary: Before the meeting, it’s helpful to do online surveys to gather information to share at the meeting. (This information also helps with the meeting design.) You can reduce your PowerPoint load by sending “broadcast” information out ahead of time for people to read or view in a video format. You can jump start social networking before people get to the meeting. 

After the meeting, you can use threaded discussions to extend important conversations. You can arrange follow-up conference calls or webinars to go into more depth on subjects raised at the meetings. Collaborative tools are an effective way to link project teams that formed at the meeting. By using these and other tools, you can extend the boundaries of the meeting, which makes the experience more valuable for participants and improves your meeting ROI.

Liz: Thanks for continuing the conversation on meetings, Mary. We’ll be back with you on the other two elements in a future issue.


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