The Kiss of Death

What NOT to do when planning meetings.

There's a flip side: It's worth considering what to AVOID in meetings and meeting planning. The following tips would not only further the bad rap that meetings convey in the minds of employees, they also could sink you, the planner, in the minds of your superiors. Here's list of what NOT to do in meetings:

"¢ Run out of things: Agendas, name tags, pens, folders, food and drink must always be in full supply. Plan for the unregistered attendee or 20 to drop in, all needing extra folders or plates of shrimp.

"¢ Have no contingency plan: If outdoors, plan for shelter; if indoors, plan for generators, backup microphones and fire officials to be on hand for that pyrotechnical display you've devised.

"¢ Make your boss look bad: Common sense protects you from doing this daily, but you'll need better insurance than that in meetings. For instance, proper lighting can ensure the CEO doesn't age 30 years in appearance on the meeting's big screen.

"¢ Don't check out the venue first: No meeting site should go unseen. Acoustics, layout and access to facilities are among the details that planners should have firsthand knowledge about when booking venues. Be sure to ask what kind of meeting will be going on in neighboring conference rooms to forecast if there will be loud presentations competing with yours. If the site is in a vacation spot, schedule time and group breaks for recreation.

"¢ Don't shop around: The meeting will have a budget, so it's worth the time to check out multiple venues and vendors for meeting supplies.

"¢ Don't know your purpose: Will the meeting include attendees the company hopes to impress? Will it include employees who need to be motivated or senior leadership that needs to relax?

"¢ Don't consult the calendar: Mother's Day weekend is not a good one for the big sales meeting. Ditto Father's Day ... and, well, you get the idea.

Employees can describe their companies' meetings many ways: Weekly, daily, dreaded. Less often, meetings are characterized as productive and, even less so, energizing.

This doesn't have to be. To combat employee resentment of meetings, Cincy Business asked meeting planners from companies around the Tristate to share 10 ways they create excitement.

Assuming the basic criteria are met, such as having a legitimate reason to meet and a clear agenda of what's to be accomplished, the following tips should keep employees engaged enough to hear the meeting's message:

1. Allot less time: Can you hear your employees cheering already? Sometimes hour meetings are just too long for the subject matter and meeting leaders end up struggling to fill the time. Try half-hour meetings, says Mike Mitchell, director of corporate communications for Chiquita. By necessity, the shorter time will add excitement and keep attendees on task.

2. Standing room only: For daily, update-style meetings, keep them standing. Sit-down meetings imply less urgency and obviously invite attendees to settle in.

3. Theme the meeting: For larger, corporate meetings, tie the whole event together in a theme, from the design and decor of the meeting place to the business result discussed in the content of the meeting. This builds excitement and momentum, notes Holly Hehemann, executive event planner for the CEO and other top brass at the Procter & Gamble Co. Involve top management in the meeting to illustrate their backing of the business initiative and underscore their status as real people and fellow employees of the same company.

4. Interact, interact, interact: Interest lags when action lags, so engage attendees in icebreaker activities, team-building events, business testimonials and even contest challenges. "You would be surprised how hard I have seen adults work to win a simple prize like a candy bar or a little stuffed animal," says one meeting planner.

5. Make them laugh, make them move: Hire a speaker to motivate or a Jazzercise instructor to warm them up and get the juices flowing. An hour of their time is not a costly investment if you get energized employees in return.

6. Think amenities: Have as much natural lighting as possible, refreshments, nearby restrooms, comfortable temperatures (not too warm, though) and seating that is conducive to interaction.

7. Be outrageous: Keep it engaging any way you can. Have someone in a gorilla suit toss bananas for a fresh-fruit break. Have employees team-build by writing and performing business-related songs, karaoke-style. When attendees enter the meeting, hire a clown to dust their shoulders (or heads) with a feather duster. They should get the idea.

8. Have people come and go: At Holland Communications, an advertising and public relations company in Cincinnati, employees only have to attend the part of the weekly staff meeting that pertains to them.

9. Recognize employees: While gathered, have employees recount noteworthy performances or help given to them by colleagues. "A few minutes of 'way to go's' ends the meeting on a high note," observes Brian MacConnell, a partner with Holland Communications.

10. Toy with them: If brainstorming is the object, give them toys to fiddle with during the meeting, simultaneously revving up creative thinking, says Laurie Flanagan, senior human resources manager with P&G. Set out the Play-Doh and Legos and see what develops.

Other ideas that deserve consideration for meetings, big and small:

"¢ Give them something exciting to do as teams. If the company manufactures automobiles, have groups build a car out of provided materials and then make presentations on why they built it as they did.

"¢ Make the best use of resources. If you're hiring an eight-piece band for a meeting event, have a trio from that band play at cocktail hour, or a guitarist play during dinner. As long as they're there, get the most for your money.

"¢ To save money on centerpieces, use a part of the meal as a centerpiece, such as a tiered tray of decorative desserts.

"¢ Color your world. Use colored Post-it notes and markers. Simple as it is, color adds interest.