Building Flexibility into Your Meeting Design

Hitting a Moving TargetLast week I discussed strategies to avoid a packed agenda for meetings and internal conferences. Meeting content has a way of changing and expanding as the scheduled date approaches. It's hard to hit a moving target so it's really important to build some flexibility into your meeting design including the agenda, venue, and even downtime.

1.  Print Agenda Last

Build into your design a plan to print the final agenda the afternoon before the meeting. I have never seen a meeting for which there were not last-minute changes so there is no point in printing agendas early and then pulling them out of binders.

2.  Leverage Event Apps. 

For large meetings, consider using an event app so that you can use push notifications to inform participants about last-minute changes.

3.  Arrive Early, Leave Late

One of the best ways to build flexibility into your meeting design is to arrange for attendees to arrive early on the first day and depart in the on the last day. This gives you the flexibility to start the meeting earlier or spillover into the final afternoon if you require additional time. 

Don't schedule anything for the first morning and last afternoon. Leave those time slots open as buffers that can be used for free time or into which content can be slipped if burning issues arrive in the weeks or days leading up to the meeting.

Bring participants who are coming from far in the night before the meeting. This will give them time to recover from jet lag and also build in a buffer in case there are late arrivals due to inclement whether or flight delays.

4.  Arrange Group Check-in

Arrange a group check-in Even when everyone is not arriving at the same time, my company's standard practice has been to have a special check-in area and lounge so that the point of content with attendees upon arrival is consistent. In this way, any changes can be communicated as participants arrive. Then, guests can relax, rest and settle into their rooms.

5.  Schedule an Arrival Lunch or Afternoon Tea

Bring the group together for an arrival lunch or afternoon tea. This will ensure make it possible for the hotel or resort to provide an orientation and also ensure that everyone is present so that you can start your meeting on time.

6.  Build in Buffers

The best time to build in buffers are before breaks, before lunch and before downtime. Never pack the agenda to the point that there is no margin for error.

7. Select Seating that Can be Re-Configured Quickly and Easily

8.  Build Flexibility into Food and Beverage Service

This can be done in several ways. Schedule a working lunch or working lunch alternative for the first (arrival lunch) and last days.

For lunch and breaks, select function spaces that adjoin the meeting room. (They can be indoors or outdoors. I have even used patios and verandahs.) This will make it possible to speed up food and beverage service if you need to carve out time for additional content. Participants will appreciate change of scenery for the other days.

9. Schedule Off-site Activities for After the Meeting Component is Over.

It's easier than trying to get everyone back and seated for a meeting.

The need to add content has become more of the rule than the exception in our industry. Be sure to build enough flexibility into your event design so that the final result will be positive for all attendees.

Photo Credits: Executive Oasis International, Toronto Team Building

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