Starting Meetings and Conferences Off with a Bang

CapoeiraThere are a number of challenges involved in kicking off large meetings and conferences. For example:

  • How can you capture the attention of participants and draw them into the meeting space?
  • How can you prevent late-comers from derailing your meeting?
  • How do you get participants in their seats so that you can start on time and not get behind schedule?
  • What strategies can engage participants fro the outset of the meeting?

Here are a few ideas:

Set-up for success

Consider selecting a venue that is large enough to place refreshment tables around the perimeter. This makes it possible for venue the banquets team to set up an refresh food stations with out disrupting the meeting. Leave enough space for mingling between the refreshment tables and participant tables. 

I have previously discussed strategies for minimizing meeting disruptions due to late arrivals. Remember to block off rows or tables close to entrances so that latecomers can slip into the meeting discreetly. Be sure to reserve a table for photographers and members of the press who are covering the meeting or conference to slip in and out of meeting rooms. 

Engaging Participants

Encourage early arrivals by announcing a networking activity with some valuable prizes such as iPads. As participants arrive, give them a table number or name and ask them to be seated at their assigned tables. Begin the networking exercise at tables 30 minutes before the scheduled start of the meeting. Let it go for 15 minutes.

Give the group a 10- to15-minute warning before you start so that they can refresh their coffee or take a quick washroom break.

Drawing Members into the Space

Samba DancersIf the size or configuration of the venue makes it impossible to serve refreshments in the meeting room, kick off the meeting with entertainment that draws participants into the space. My company has had success with:

  • Taiko Drums
  • Lion dancers who lead the group into the space and then perform on stage
  • Afro Caribbean Drumming

After breaks, we have lead participants back into the space and performed on stage with

  • Salsa or samba dancers
  • Capoiera (from Brazil)

You may also want to experiment with

  • Costumed Carnival Dancers
  • Steel Drums
  • Bagpipes (IMEX America has used a bagpiper to signal he opening of the trade show floor)

The key is to select entertainment that is colorful, lively, interesting and loud enough to capture the attention of participants.

These are just a few ideas for starting large meetings off with a bang. What approaches have you used to kick off meetings?

Photo Credits: Event Planning, Executive Oasis International

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