Posted by: Walid Salem, VP Information Technology, SilverBirch Hotels & Resorts
The right environment = productive meetings
“That was a productive meeting!” If you’re a meeting planner, these words are music to your ears. There are many reasons to hold a meeting – a project update, creative brainstorming session or annual meeting – but whatever the reason for holding it, ultimately you want to maximize your investment, meaning you want it to be efficient and productive. A productive meeting will keep your participants engaged and leave them understanding their next steps.
But what if the purpose of the meeting is to harness creativity and generate ideas? I argue that a meeting can be both productive and creative. As an I.T. professional, I value efficiency, but as a manager I’ve learned that the most productive meetings are often those that foster a spirit of collaboration or creativity.
There are obvious contributors to productive meetings: a clear purpose, an organized agenda, the appropriate participants, and a suitable time and duration. But what about the overall environment where you hold the meeting? To me, where the meeting is held is just as important as what the meeting is about and who attends. I offer for you here four things to consider as you’re choosing the environment for your next meeting:
1. Location, location, location
Pick a space your team or group is not familiar with. If you hold your status update meeting in the same room week after week, you’ll likely get the same meeting outcome week after week. Try shaking it up, and you’ll see what a difference a simple change in locale can make.
Ensure the meeting space has visible screens, whiteboards, easels or whatever other projection or collaboration tools you need. The last thing you want is to have to carry your own flip chart and easel to an off-site meeting.
Consider different room configurations. Often meeting rooms can be configured for different sizes, shapes and orientations. Ideally you’ll be able to customize the environment for the purpose of your meeting. And look at options for break-out rooms or even a dedicated room for breaks – like the Connections Café at the Radisson Hotel Edmonton South – which offer participants a chance to interact outside of the formal meeting.
Select a venue designed for meetings, one where service personnel recognize the value of off-site meetings and where they help to ensure the needs of your meeting are taken care of. This will allow you and your group to focus on the tasks at hand. SilverBirch Hotels & Resorts prides itself on offering a full meeting planning service, including on-site conference planners and a useful planning kit.
2. Food matters
Choose food that feeds the brain. Healthful meals and snacks help keep meeting participants focussed. Sure, we all like the sweets, but your venue should offer options such as fruits, vegetables, and protein-packed foods as well.
Talk to the meeting planner at the venue to discuss accommodating special diets. You often won’t hear about participants’ dietary restrictions until the day of the meeting, so it’s good to have options.
If you’re planning a day-long meeting, it’s best to have small meals and snacks available throughout the day. Ideally, participants can eat and drink on their own time, rather than having to wait three hours until the next break.
3. The right facilitator can make a good meeting great
A good meeting facilitator keeps your meeting focussed and productive. Whether you choose a facilitator from inside your group or hire an external contractor, having a person in charge skilled at keeping a meeting on track is crucial. In my opinion, the best facilitators are those who:
- Guide the meeting in a purposeful direction
- Have good listening skills and group awareness
- Help people express their ideas and everyone to participate
- Achieve the right balance of creativity and efficiency
- Get participants moving around the room if they’re losing focus
- Eliminate negative team dynamics
- Foster collaboration and trust among the group
Although perhaps overused as a corporate buzzword, “collaboration” really does lead to results. Meetings should foster collaboration among participants, and the right facilitator will do this.
4. Don’t underestimate technology
Technology can assist in your meeting planning, as well as help participants collaborate and stay focussed. Whether you’re including remote participants or just keeping track of the ideas generated through a brainstorm, there are powerful technological tools that create a productive meeting.
To help you plan your meeting, check out Hilton’s planning tools and resources, such as: e-planning, a personalized group web page, a space calculator, and online booking tools.
For the meeting itself, it’s worth considering the following technology:
- Projectors, copy boards or electronic whiteboards to display and capture the ideas
- High-speed internet access
- Videoconferencing equipment to incorporate participants not on site
- Social media such as blogs and wikis to share group responses and meeting activities
Finding a way to control the use of mobile devices in a meeting is a challenge. In a future blog entry, I’ll offer more tips how to handle our new definition of a work/life balance, but for now I’ll advise that if you’re going to allow mobile devices in your meeting, you’d better find a way to integrate them. For example, you may want to use a polling app to get participant responses in real time to carry on a discussion.
Pulling it all together
At the end of it all, it’s best to find an environment for your meeting that is conducive to productivity, but that also fosters collaboration and creativity. You want your planning to be as smooth as possible, and locations you’re considering should have a meeting planner on staff to help you. Use them.
And look for money back guarantees and all-inclusive meeting packages – the location, food and technology are all provided at one price. SilverBirch Hotels & Resorts recently rolled out the signature SilverBirch Conference Centre® concept which offers such meeting packages at specially designed conference centres, soon to be all across Canada. Being described as “distraction free and ergonomically advanced conference facilities,” I think they’re worth checking into and best of all there is a money back guarantee to ensure every detail is exactly as you intended.