When meetings go off-track, the most important thing is not panic. Pause and take a breath. And if you need time to work out a solution, call an impromptu break.
First, plan for mishaps with these 3 quick tips:
- Think margin and prepare. It's never a good idea to plan wall-to-wall content for meetings and always best to build some space into the design of meetings so that, if unforeseen circumstances arise, they can be handled without having to end the meeting late.
- In the same way, always set one more table than needed and have it placed near the door with a reserved sign. (For large groups set two.)
- Ask the venue how much extra food they prepared, and identify menu items that can be prepared quickly if the need arises.
Here are 6 of the most common challenges and possible solutions:
- Many participants are late. Always begin with a session starter, a small group exercise that participants can complete in pairs or trios. Have the participants who are present begin in pairs and have latecomers join the pairs. Debrief the content later in the meeting so that everyone has a chance to get caught up. 16 Ways to Prevent Latecomers from Derailing Corporate Events.
- Audio-visual stops working. When budgets are tight, the temptation is to cut back on on-site tech support. Particularly if the group is large, this is not the best place to cut corners. Always include one or two self-paced group exercises with clear step by step instructions exercises in the participant material and make them your go to agenda item if audio-visual breaks down or some other aspect of logistics requires your urgent attention.
- A participant gets sick or there is an accident. Be prepared by having emergency numbers on hand and a quick way to get a hold of hotel staff. Always have a first aid kit on hand and a cold kit on hand. Slip in some anti-nausea pills and an Epi-Pen. For meetings off the beaten track, get a medical profile for each participant and keep each in an individually sealed "confidential: envelope to hand to medical personnel." A nurse should accompany you and a quick plan for reaching a doctor is essential. Goofproofing Spring and Summer Events.
- Participants "aren't getting it." Instead of leaving debriefing for the end, more frequent mini-debriefs are always a better plan. If a number of participants seem confused, debrief more frequently and pause for questions until the confusion has been cleared up. 5 Ways to Debrief Conference Breakouts Groups (Without Boring Participants).
- Meal service is slow or you are behind schedule for some other reason. Ask the banquet captain to serve coffee and tea in the meeting room (for small groups you can even serve dessert.) Alternatively, serve the dessert for coffee break. Serve what was planned for coffee break about an hour before the meeting is over. It can be placed on a side table and you can take a brief pause for participants to help themselves.
- More participants arrive than expected. If you have set an extra table, just remove the reserved sign. If the food can't stretch, ask the banquet captain to serve the meals allocated for staff to the unexpected guests. Order something else from the menu for event staff and any other guests that can't be accommodated.
Here are tips for Managing 6 Challenging Meeting Scenarios.