Setting the stage for important meetings does not necessarily mean investing huge amounts of time and money to stage high-end, luxury off sites. It does mean understanding that everything communicates and the stage you set has a meaningful impact on meeting attendees’ perception, engagement and results. Invest appropriately to set the stage physically, intellectually and emotionally.
Set the stage physically
Think through how you want your meeting space to look, sound, feel, smell and even taste. Different looks spark different reactions. Different sounds, or the lack thereof, signal different types of meetings. Different feels prompt different reactions. (People sitting on hard stools are going to behave differently than people plopped in beanbag chairs.) Smells make a huge difference. And never, ever, underestimate the power of food.
As HATCH Founder (and Montana native) Yarrow Kraner told me, “Nature makes us happier, healthier, and more creative. And there is something palpable in the heights of Big Sky, Montana that lights up the brains of the disparate thought leaders that attend HATCH at Moonlight Basin to collaborate in confronting global challenges. The mountain horizons tell us that anything is possible.”
Sometimes high-end, elegant special destinations with luxury ambiance and food communicate the right message of appreciation or celebration. Sometimes all you need is a clean, safe, business-like setting with hot dogs, hamburgers and salad to communicate a frugal approach to getting the job done. Different settings, different messages.
Sometimes that physical location should be off site. Sometimes onsite. The Grand Connection’s Holly Froumis did a nice job of laying out the case for off site.
1. Productivity and focus. There are less work distractions at off sites than in the office. Of course, there may be other distractions – planned or unplanned. (Though staying onsite saves travel time and expense and minimizes these ”other” distractions.)
2. Face-to-face interactions. 10% of communication is words. 35% is tone. 55% is body language. Email gets you tone-deaf words. The phone gets you invisible words and tone. Video conferencing gets you part of the way, especially one-on-one. But for large groups, you need to be in the same space. (Though you can often do this in a well-designed office.)
3. When people travel somewhere different to be with each other, they spend more time being with each other. The work matters. Relationships matter even more. (Though some people are more comfortable in their own, normal, space.)
4. Tech boost (and infrastructure). Many offsite facilities can give you access to different or new technologies. Most facilities have a meeting support infrastructure in place so you can focus on your meeting and not logistics. (Though you may not need “different or new” technologies, just your own technology that works for you.)
5. Encourage creativity. A new environment can provide new stimuli. (Though so should a well-designed office.)
Set the stage intellectually
Make sure everyone’s brain is set up for success. Introverts need pre-reads so they can mull them over and prepare themselves to contribute. Extroverts care less. They’ll react in the moment. The point is to set the stage so all can contribute to their best abilities.
Set the stage emotionally
Set the stage by making everyone feel welcome and appreciated. This starts with how people are invited. Individual live invitations beat written invitations. Hand-written beat typed. Written of any sort beat email. Individually addressed and personal emails beat group emails. Decide how much you care about your attendees and then choose how to invite them.
Then follow through to set the stage emotionally during pre-planning, transportation, arrival, greeting, the meeting itself, activities around the meeting, the meeting close, immediate follow through and follow through over time. The same principles apply to follow through (and everything else) that apply to invitations. You’re going to make a bigger emotional impact on someone with a personally delivered bottle of champagne and thank you hug than you are with a mass email.