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Is Your Meeting Welcome Mat Out?

Posted on December 12, 2006

By Jeffrey Cufaude

One of the most interesting conversations I have been part of this year brainstormed ways in which typical meetings can be more welcoming.  A group of us literally walked through a conference in slow motion looking at every single detail and determining any enhancements that could make it Welcome_matmore welcoming, more inclusive, more person-friendly.  In a very short period of time, we had filled pages and pages of flipcharts with ideas both big and small.

Do your meetings put out the welcome mat?  How, and for whom?  As industries and professions increasingly become more fragmented or specialized and organizational composition becomes more diverse in all aspects, we need to be more vigilant about assessing the welcoming nature of the learning experiences we provide.  And I’m talking about much more than meeting a few special dietary needs.

Are your meetings welcome to people trying to live healthy lifestyles?  Do you make sure your schedule allows time for people to exercise and that the hotels for your event have fitness center hours that will support people’s desire to do so?  Is protein available at all your meals and breaks and have you ensured reasonable portion sizes?  Yes, we all like a little guilty pleasure on our meeting menus, but the emphasis should be on little.

Are your meetings friendly to introverted learners? So much of our world reflects an extroverted bias.  Honoring introverts means allowing ample time for reflection and recharging one’s batteries away form group activity.  Sessions need to honor all learning styles as best they can, but many presenters don’t know what that would include from a session design perspective.  You can support their efforts by providing them practical tips and pointers.

Are your meetings friendly to people of differing religious faiths? I’m amazed how frequently a conference or even conference call gets scheduled for a major religious holiday or how many faith-specific references I hear from the podium.  While some think of this issue as political correctness, I’d like to think of it as morally and socially appropriate.  It has much less to do with politics and much more to do with etiquette and respect.

Are your meetings friendly to people not represented in the majority population for your events?
  I’m talking both in terms of typical demographic considerations (age, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.), as well as professional position or interest area?  I attend a lot of meetings and conferences, and I can tell you that in 2006 I can count on both hands the number of general session keynoters who have not been middle-age white males.  That strikes me as ridiculously inconsistent with today’s world.  The bottom-line litmus test is whether or not people can ‘see themselves” or their various “selves” in what your conference is offering.

I encourage you to take one of your meetings, gather a small brain trust, and examine where you’re rolling out the welcome mat and who might feel like they won’t get past the bouncer at your door.  I think you’d be surprised at what opportunities exist for you to make your events more inviting and more inclusive.


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Joan Eisenstodt

Jeffrey - this column was superb. It takes more thought and delving to determine if one's meeting is open to all. People forget that not everyone is like them. One of the best meetings I ever attended that made me feel welcome was an IAF (Intl. Assn. of Facilitators) meeting some years ago - my first. I walked into a room of 1200 people I didn't know. As an introvert, it was intimidating and my first thought was "find the seat far far away from others." I braved walking up to a table of 4 people who immediately looked up, smiled and invited me to join them. They brought me into the conversation and I felt instantly at home. It's a practice I try to teach clients for their meetings. What a difference it makes. This time of year is esp. tricky in making people feel welcome and accepted. For those who do not observe holidays or celebrations at all or those whose holidays are not recognized by 'mainstream' religions, it is a tough time. Everyone who reads this should copy it and take to their organizations. Thanks for being such a mensch and sharing this.

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