There you are, sitting in your cubicle or you home office, minding your own business when all of the sudden it hits you (cue dramatic music). An invite to the dreaded all-day meeting.
Let’s be honest, it’s pretty rare that an entire day needs to be devoted to a single subject. Yet sometimes solving complicated problems requires extended periods of brainstorming, especially when there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen.
So how do you make the all-day face-to-face or web meeting a worthwhile and productive experience?
Here’re a few tips:
- Build an agenda, but be flexible. There’s more tangents in all-day meetings than geometry, so prepare for them. It’s good to allow free-flowing conversation, but remember that you’re in control and have every right to reel it back in when it’s not productive anymore.
- Set conferencing rules up front. No laptops. No Blackberries. If you have to take a phone call, please excuse yourself. And so forth. It can be helpful to announce up front that you’re the moderator and you’re “not being mean” when you cut someone off.
- Make it fun and entertaining. This can make or break the all-day meeting. The key is to make participants forget they’re working at all. Bring in an eccentric guest speaker. Play a game. Change locations. Use props. Give away prizes. Show movie clips to illustrate a point. Tell a joke. Be willing to embarrass yourself. Your audience will appreciate it.
- Get participants involved. Ask questions regularly. Arrange seating ‘in the round’. Get others to present or take notes on a whiteboard or easel. Break participants into groups for brief activities and allow them to present their thoughts. Like the web, there’s always more value in user-generated content.
- Avoid ‘death by Powerpoint’ like the plague. If you need to use slides, use the 10–20–30 rule – No more than 10 slides, no longer than 20 minutes, and fonts no smaller than 30 points.
- Change it up. Try not to stay on any one activity for more than 60 minutes, and limit one-way presentations to no more than 15 minutes. If it makes sense to shuffle locations or seating arrangements, do it. Whatever gets the blood flowing.
- Feed them. Something ‘bad’ they wouldn’t order themselves. Like pizza. Prepare for any vegetarians and sweet tooth’s. And have an ample supply of caffeine on hand.
- Set aside time for breaks and catch up. It’s inevitable people have other things going on, so set aside ‘email breaks’ in the morning and the afternoon. Not too long though – 15 minutes is plenty.
- Consider a moderator. This is especially important if the meeting includes folks above your pay grade. It’s hard to tell your boss, much less your boss’s boss, that they have taken the meeting down a rat hole and it’s time to, well, shut up. A moderator can keep things on track without fear of offending someone you probably shouldn’t.
- Consider an off-site location. Nothing says ‘worthwhile event’ to your participants like going off-site, even if it’s across the street. Off-site immediately legitimizes your meeting and frees the team of ‘drive-by’ distractions that are commonplace in the office.
There you have it. Now get back to that meeting!