I spent the last six years in sales at one of Chicago’s major convention hotels. I’ve worked with groups of 10 VIPs, to groups of 1,000 people. No matter the size and scope of the meeting, planning a meeting is like herding cats.
There is so much energy put into building a meeting. I’ve seen that energy spent in many ways. I met a meeting planner that was so focused on making sure that the blackout shades in her ballroom where airtight that she neglected to share that her group had doubled in size (and barely fit in the room anymore). My colleague worked a meeting once where the planners had offered myriad activities for people to do while in town… so many, in fact, that their attendance suffered during their breakout sessions. I’ll be honest: I once fell asleep, face down, during a panel discussion on the topic of revenue maximization and market share growth amongst a growing competitor base. Sounds fun.
As Meeting Planners, you’re pulled in a lot of directions. You balance a lot of your internal client’s needs, and often have to juggle your vendors- AV, Venue/Catering, Speakers, Learning. You have to spend so much time digging into the not-so-fun details: the logistics. For example, there’s often an undue focus on food. If the food’s good, then you’re good- because that feels controllable. But what gets lost when you’re being asked to worry over things like color of the ballroom carpet or the mustards on the sandwich bar? When you’re being pulled in so many directions by so many people, it’s hard to hone in on keeping people listening, engaged, and curious. These are the things that makes your audience sit up and pay attention.
And while the planner of the meeting isn’t always the one responsible for the content, there’s always pressure on the planner to deliver an experience. The vibe, the feeling, and the ability to actually get people away from their cell phones somehow falls back on you.
So how do you, the planner, become the hero of the meeting? When you’ve got a short amount of time to get a BIG point across, how do you make that time count?
By bringing your meeting to the Second City.
Second City can help make you the HERO by:
Take people out of the normal hotel ballroom and into a place that challenges the status quo of meetings. When you put people in an invigorating space, they come up with invigorating ideas. Getting away from a standard ‘four walls-and-a-roof’ meeting space can help re-focus your team. In school, did your teacher or professor ever allow class to be outside for the afternoon? Do you remember how exciting that felt? Challenge expectations through the venue- and welcome your attendees to a space that inspires.
There’s a reason you’re having a meeting to begin with. If that reason- the message – gets lost in translation you’ve wasted a great deal of time, money, and resources. It’s important to find engaging hosts that keep energy high. When you have a panel, support that panel! Ensure your panelists are ready- Todd from Accounting needs to sound equally as inspiring as Melissa in Marketing. Make sure messaging is concise, witty, and memorable. Communicate your content through expertise in engagement- cultivated through years of practice. The most important thing about your meeting is to make sure the attendees retain your message.
Want to provide your attendees with meaningful behavior change? Make your breakouts worth it. Yes, of course you have to hold sessions that teach the nitty gritty of a job role or a new process. But also leverage your breakout sessions to wake people up. Breakouts are the perfect time to get people actively participating instead of note-taking. Consider using this time to accomplish a task through small-group brainstorming. Or, have a group leader facilitate a hands-on business exercise. Even better, use time in smaller group sizes to introduce new soft skills that every organization needs to thrive. For example, Second City facilitates breakout sessions using techniques customized to an organization’s goals to build a personal toolbox of skills — all based in interactive improvisation exercises. Breakouts should be highly engaging and fun. Otherwise, your attendees might take that time to practice their Active Listening skills at the bar.
It doesn’t hurt if they’re also raving about the food. Here’s the reality of Food & Beverage at meetings- food is a valuable tool to ensure people are happy, full, and focused. Your food choices can impact brainpower during a meeting; people get sleepy after their afternoon break if they’re full of doughnuts or heavy snacks. You can harness the power of incredible food to channel your attendees’ attention in the right direction. Perhaps try Apples and Artisan Potato Chips during your afternoon break? The apples will keep people alert while the chips will keep them full. Elevate your major meals with seasonal dishes that will have your attendees guessing at the recipe- Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Pancetta and Parmesan, anyone? Food is very important—just don’t let it be more important than everything else.
Make sure you’ve built a meeting where your attendees will leave energized instead of depleted. It’s a big deal to take these people out of the field, away from their jobs or customers. Make it worth it by ensuring their learning, sharing, and networking will be fun. There is no reason that serious material can’t also be peppered with humor. If they laugh, they may just remember the joke- and that joke will remind them of the message. Redefine what a keynote presentation or a General Session looks like by ensuring your attendees are enjoying themselves. Speaking of enjoyment- please redefine what evening entertainment looks like. Stop it with the hypnotists already! Evening fun also doesn’t have to be limited to a theme party; bring in performers that get your industry, and tailor what they perform to you. Your attendees should leave feeling like they’ve had more fun than they ever thought they could have at a meeting.
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