Big Meeting Ahead? Skip the Trust Falls

Career Blog

Sooner or later, many employees will get tapped to plan a company event. The task can be daunting, whether it’s an extended, off-site staff meeting or a strategic, global conference. And while some larger organizations have corporate communications, HR, and/or training departments that might be able to lend a hand, often given workloads and budget restrictions, you’ll be largely left on your own.

Over the years, I’ve helped leaders in the Americas, Europe and, Asia plan and facilitate successful off-site meetings. What works and what doesn’t depends greatly on company culture and the team’s subculture. The following guidelines, however, will help ensure your success.  

  1. Provide Rich Content: Attendees want to be entertained, but not at the expense of practicality. There is no substitute for a robust and content-based agenda. There’s also no excuse for fluff. Having a facilitator can help the flow of your session – threading messages from session to session, but run screaming from anyone who suggests a “trust fall” or other touchy/feely technique from the 1970s—no need to give your attendees the creeps.
  2. Allow Time for Networking: One of the significant benefits of an off-site meeting is that employees can network and build relationships. Resist the temptation to over-engineer the meeting. Provide enough white space to allow for conversation.
  3. Mind Your Breakouts: Group activities should never be used as space fillers or simple ways to break up a speaker-packed agenda. Attendees will see through the fluff. Ask them to “role play” without reason, and you’ll lose them forever. Make the most of your breakouts by ensuring they are well-structured, outcome-focused, and aligned to real-world work. Chances are you won’t solve a major business issue in 90 minutes, so set realistic goals. Obtaining input is a worthy objective. Just make sure you follow up.
  4. Coach Your Speakers: Some leaders have excellent platform skills. Others…well, not so much. As a meeting planner, part of your job is to help them look their best. While there are specific techniques to pass along, authenticity is more important. Encouraging leaders to hone their message, speak their minds, and play to their strengths goes a long way.
  5. Set Audience Expectations: Meetings aren’t cheap. Good leaders (and their meeting planners) often set an expectation of participation, i.e., if you’ve been invited, you need to make your voice heard. Participation can differ based on cultural dynamics, but the bottom line remains: the best leadership meetings are dialogue-based, where attendees wrestle with, refine, and ultimately adopt strategies that will be cascaded to other employees.

Bonus Tip: Sometimes, the most helpful thing you can do is talk someone out of an idea that won’t play well. Years ago, a meeting sponsor strongly suggested we employ a character actor ­– Will Rogers – to serve as a buffer between presentations, imparting wit and wisdom along the way. Given the relatively young international audience and the lackluster financial results, the performer was met with, oh, let’s say, less than overflowing enthusiasm. I always knew old Will could spin a tale and twirl a rope, but I soon discovered he was also a heck of a sprinter. Sometimes, you have to protect leaders from themselves.

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