It’s meeting day. The room is full. The agenda is set. But will you make this time spent together count? Ellen Sinclair, senior vice president of operations at Benchmark, was named one of 2018’s “Top 25 Women in the Meetings Industry” by Meetings & Conventions magazine, and understands effective meeting management that respects everyone’s time but gets all the important points across. We recently chatted with Sinclair, a 23-year meetings industry veteran and chair of the ongoing IACC Meeting Room of the Future project, and she shared seven of the most pressing things for planners (and meeting leaders) to keep in mind as they organize their next corporate event or program.
Who Needs to Be There, and What’s in It for Them?
Sinclair starts by stressing that the agenda needs to be crafted so that every participant is a stakeholder in the goals that are being discussed. If you’re fuzzy on your objective, you haven’t thought it through enough. The people you do invite will be asking WIIFM – what’s in it for me? “Why do they have to leave their family? What are they going to get out of it? What’s expected of them? What’s the company policy around dress?” asks Sinclair. “Give them the logistics of what’s happening and why before the meeting starts.”
Surprise Them Every Now and Then
“Change and surprise ignite creativity. If it’s always what you expect, your brain goes into standby mode, but if something different is interjected and shakes things up, your brain gets refreshed,” says Sinclair, comparing it to driving a different route to work. Don’t be afraid to remove components of the meeting on the fly if you get the sense that a particular piece isn’t needed for this crowd. Go off-script if the room needs a jolt of energy.
Schedule Less Structured Time
This one may be counterintuitive – after all, you value your time together, and want to get as much as you can out of it, right? But not everyone absorbs information at the same rate, says Sinclair: “You need some down time to think about the topic, discuss it in small groups, or discuss it – even more importantly – on a casual basis. Attendees won’t raise their hands in a public setting and say, ‘I don’t understand this.’ That’s what those small groups and casual conversations are for.” She compares it to how classrooms across America have evolved. “There should be less one-way communication and more team-oriented time with peers. Giving people time to do their work, keep in touch with their life, FaceTime home, or return a call to a major client, you have to build those times. Stop trying to capitalize on every minute.”
Serve the Right Food at the Right Time
It’s no secret that food and beverage plays an important role in meetings. But it’s crucial to understand biorhythms – when people are naturally engaged, when they need a break, and when they need to eat, says Sinclair. “Everyone wants to impress people with amazing food, but sometimes it isn’t the right food at the right time. We had a smart client who served the main meal in the morning, when people needed protein, then breakfast at night. The attendees were skeptical, because it wasn’t your traditional meeting catering, but they ended up loving it.”
Check the Bandwidth
We treat internet connectivity like turning on a faucet – we expect it to always be there. So, when it’s not there, it’s frustrating. “One of the things that’s very important to productive meetings is accurately estimating the broadband usage you’ll need,” says Sinclair. “People come to meetings with three or four devices. No matter what broadband capabilities a hotel may have, they probably need to double it every six months or so, because of the rate at which usage is growing.” Sinclair recommends the IACC’s Broadband Estimator tool. This could also help you shape your agenda and serve as a reminder to not rely on tech for every component, all the way through. While “scheduled downtime” during a meeting is good, unscheduled downtime – the kind brought on by tech failures – is not and makes everyone involved look bad.
Know What a Win Looks Like
Some meetings won’t reveal themselves as successes until a much later date. Others, you can “grade” with a quick survey after the program, to see if the message sunk in. For things like trainings, you can compare sales numbers before and after the meeting. But there’s another big bellwether, says Sinclair. “For many meetings, there’s a long-term vision being communicated, and the biggest indicator of whether it was a success or not is the amount of turnover you have in your ranks in the months following. If people feel engaged in your purpose, they’ll stay.” Pick a single metric to measure whether a meeting was a success – it’ll help you shape your next one.
Turn to Us for More Input
Benchmark has had a special relationship with meeting professionals since the company’s earliest days. “We try to talk with the person actually setting the agenda, not simply the meeting planner,” says Sinclair. “As much as our meeting professionals can get involved, we want to. We have one person as their single point of contact for all aspects of their event – not just the basics like food, AV, security, and parking, but actually crafting the agenda, too. The more details we get, the better we can help the planner craft the right meeting experience.”