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What Makes Meetings Matter

Posted on December 15, 2006

By Jeffrey Cufaude

Years ago I had the chance to speak with an actor I admire after his performance in a long-running Broadway musical.  Tedious as the question may have been for him, I asked how he managed to get himself engaged for every performance of a show he had been doing for months, eight times a week, over and over again.

He quickly acknowledged that some days it was a tremendous challenge.  But before walking on stage for his first scene, he said he always reminded himself of one thing.  He wanted to give a performance for the person in the theatre who had never been to a musical before and might never attend one again, the type of person who maybe got dragged along by a friend.  For that person (and everyone else in the theatre) he wanted to give the kind of performance that makes life come alive on stage for a few short hours, the kind of performance that could help make someone understand what the fuss about live theatre is all about.

It is that sound advice that helps keep me inspired when I am about to do a workshop on a topic I’ve addressed dozens of times.  It is the sound advice that helped keep me challenged as a meeting planner when I was designing an event I had already reimagined several times.

It is all too easy to focus conversations about designing better learning experiences on tools, techniques, and logistics. We will never eliminate the need to do the fundamentals better or to do them with greater imagination.  And I hope my observations this week have indeed stimulated some new thinking about some of the critical elements for any successful meeting or conference.

But what should really engage us in the design of meetings and conferences is the wonderful gift and opportunity we are given, the gift of people’s time, attention, needs, and aspirations.  People come to meetings hoping to find something, some with greater aspirations than others, some with greater intentions than their peers. 

They come to find new insights or ideas that might help them do their work better. 

They come to hear about the next great thing that might help them better serve their customers or members. 

They come to learn processes that will prevent crises from occurring or help those in need when disaster does strike. 

They come to revel in what it means to be a member of their industry or professional and be surrounded by tens or thousands of like-minded individuals. 

They come to connect, to make friends, to feel a part of something bigger than themselves. 

They come to learn, to laugh, to share, to challenge, to have fun.

We owe it to them—and to ourselves and the meetings industry—to design each and every meeting and each and every aspect of that meeting as if it is the only one a person might attend in their life.  To pour the power of our ideas, and knowledge, and passion, and capabilities into every nook and cranny of every meeting room, into every last square foot of the exhibit hall, and into every minute of the program no matter how long or short. 

That awards banquet that you’ve planned for more years than you would care to admit isn’t just about getting the menu right, the count correct, or the script timed perfectly.  Yes, that matters.  But what matters more is that you create an environment that allows people to truly engage with each other, to enjoy the company of their peers, to make a meaningful connection that might one day later lead to a new job or getting a helpful piece of advice at just the right time, to celebrate the accomplishments of leaders in their industry in an authentic and meaningful way.

Our ultimate definition of success has to expand beyond attendee satisfaction and the bottom line, though they both are critical indicators to guide our efforts.  We are only truly successful when the people attending our events, meetings, workshops, and conference become more successful.  Our efforts are worthwhile if their subsequent efforts are more meaningful.    Making that happen, meeting after meeting, time and time again, needs to be in the soul of every meeting planner.  All the rest is just window dressing.


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What a wonderful reminder to us who plan, and sometimes carry out, training session after training session. Thinking back to all the orientation programs for teen-agers I've done. This may be their first job and the start of their long-term career in our industry.

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