11 ways you can make an ordinary meeting extraordinary
If you want to have a successful meeting where people are inspired, participative and engaged in creative thinking; a good meeting space is all you need. Consultant, Laurie Tema-Lyn who has spent over 20 years working with Fortune 500 companies to energize minds and break down barriers to creative thinking shares eleven secrets in making meetings extraordinary.
1. Set up the room to allow eye contact.
Circle or U-shape setup is the best arrangement for eye contact. It also puts everyone on the same level. This setup is great if you want to create an intimate setting especially for a small meeting. This setup also builds camaraderie between people and encourages them to be candid with one another. Aside from small groups, this can also be used for larger group.
2. Provide space and natural light.
Space and natural light is important in the creative thinking process, hence, whenever possible, conduct your meetings in a spacious room with huge windows that let natural light in. Natural light can prevent fatigue while spacious rooms contribute to being open-minded and thinking big.Whenever possible, try to arrange for meetings (or breakout sessions) outside the classic four-wall meeting room. Windows that let in natural light keep people energized and contribute to mental stimulus. “Windows make a huge difference in our ability to think big and be open-minded,” Tema-Lyn says.When the weather is good, small groups can meet outdoors, even poolside, to stimulate creative thinking and allow attendees to breathe in fresh air. It’s especially important for corporate meetings to take place “off campus” whenever possible, so people avoid the usual workday distractions. However, make sure that the place is not full of distractions. She finds that a quieter and cleaner space, in terms of design, can be more appropriate, depending on what you want to accomplish with your meeting.Sometimes a nice-looking space can make it difficult for people to stay focused. “I’ve worked in places that are lovely but have too many distractions — things that clutter the mind like too many plants or paintings or chatchkas,” Tema-Lyn says. She finds that a quieter and cleaner space, in terms of design, can be more appropriate, depending on what you want to accomplish with your meeting.
3. Provide chairs that are comfortable.
If you plan to have the message for many hours, you need to provide chairs that are comfortable even after many hours of sitting. You may choose from an array of seats: straight chairs, hard-back, couches, bean bags, pillows, etc.Encouraging people to get up and move around is equally important. One option is a form of “musical chairs” in which attendees must sit in a different place when they return from breaks or breakouts, to stimulate a change in perspective. That also gets people who already know each other mixing with others, rather than clinging together junior-high cafeteria style.
4. Play music.
Whatever your music taste may be, it is important for you to play music to set the mood of the meeting, give inspirations, and change the energy inside the room. However, you must remember to use the music wisely. Choose the kind of music that suits the activity. Likewise, choose strategically choose the time when you will play the music like before starting and during lunch breaks.It’s important to use music with a purpose in mind, not just have monotonous elevator music in the background. Tema-Lyn uses it to set the tone as people enter the work area, or to enhance a specific topic with themed music. You can also use music to change the energy in a room, by taking it up-tempo. “That livens up the mid-afternoon energy drop,” she says. Alternatively, try Bach or Mozart for brainstorming sessions.
5. Use colors or visuals.
Often, you have to play the cards you are dealt, of course. Once at a meeting of engineers in a stuffy room with white walls, Tema-Lyn grabbed the flip chart and drew windows with billowing curtains and taped them to the walls. “I literally wanted the engineers to think they were outdoors,” she said, “and to dream big.”Like music, visuals can also ignite ideas. Visuals can liven up a seemingly boring meeting and transform it to one that is filled with energy that can improve the mental and physical environment. One way to do this by providing colored pens, crayons, and other coloring materials that the participants can use whenever they like.
6. Accommodate the “fiddle factor.”
Just as some people like to doodle, others find that their creative juices start to flow when they have things to play around with toys. Tema-Lyn has found that even the most buttoned-up executive types will loosen up and let their ideas come out to play, when they have things to fiddle with. Examples include pipe cleaners, squishy balls, hand puppets and even stuffed toys. Like the music mentioned earlier, it’s important to make this kind of play purposeful, perhaps as part of a team-building exercise or brainstorming session.
7. Engage the senses.
Some meeting attendees get all the jolt they need from the smell of fresh roasted coffee or hot chocolate. In other cases, aromatherapy may be appropriate to enhance the meeting environment. Sliced oranges and peppermint are both scents proven to stimulate energy and creativity.
8. Provide “brain-food”.
Food and beverage is another way to engage the senses. Just make sure that it is brain food not things loaded with sugar or fat. To avoid downtime after lunch, you could provide apple juice as the beverage during lunch time. It is a proven way to keep the participants alive more than coffee does.
9. Go on an out-of-office meeting.
Having your meeting outside the office provides you tremendous benefit, for one this can save you from the typical office distractions. Likewise, this can also provide you with the new perspective in viewing your business tasks.
10. Great meeting space need not be expensive.
Incorporating the previous tips does not mean you have to check in an expensive hotel or resort. One alternative you could try is bed & breakfast. You just need to inform them of the facilities you will need.
11. Prepare ahead.
Like in any venture, preparation is a key to success. Hence, you need to arrive earlier than the rest of the participants and see to it that all their needs are taken care of. This could spell a difference between meeting success and failure. The payoff in terms of enthusiastic participation and positive comments is well worth the extra effort required to get the room setup just right.
Laurie Tema-Lyn is a recognized leader in the field of innovation, who’s worked with Fortune 500 companies, smaller organizations and nonprofits. Her company, Practical Imagination Enterprises, helps individuals and teams “dream big dreams” and develop the strategies needed to realize them.