“Wasted time”, “Redundant”, “Nothing is accomplished” and “No clear purpose;” these phrases appeared on sticky notes after I’d asked participants to post a meeting complaint. The question was asked as a part of a facilitation training I conducted and by the end of the session, these issues were addressed in some fashion. Many common meeting complaints could be resolved with a good session plan which serves as an agreement, a contract of sorts, between the organizers and the attendees. It gives organizers an outline from which to create meeting objectives, agendas, and activities that lead to results. Planning a meeting is much like creating a lesson plan or project plan. Without good plans, meetings will flounder.
When I look back at the many meetings I’ve planned, I noticed that my two favorites are those when we spent the most time planning. Here are three approaches to session plans for your future meetings so that attendees look forward to working with you rather than complaining about your meetings.
Leading the meeting or session
The best meeting I ever facilitated was a meeting to fully evaluate a program which had been implemented for over two years. Attendees consisted of staff, program participants, and industry leaders. The program was working and simply needed a new round of focus and setting of future program priorities. This meeting was held over three days and I probably spent twice as much time, if not more, preparing.
Another staff member and I discussed what was essential to obtain from our contributors and prepared an agenda with outcomes for each item. Participants were leaving their own businesses to commit the time and travel to contribute, so the meeting had to be worth their investment. A “working” agenda with outcomes, materials needed, checklists of discussion points and potential questions was created to improve dialogue. It became the session plan and was shared with other staff involved to agree upon purpose, process, and roles. This careful planning resulted in the accomplishment of all major meeting objectives including a list of next steps in order of priority, a strategy for upgrading materials and well-drafted design for an education space we’d be hosting at an upcoming event. Participants expressed how much they looked forward to the next meeting; a meeting organizer’s dream.
When you are the meeting leader, it is your full responsibility to develop meetings with efficiency. Reputations proceed both those who do and do not take the time to plan and organize. A detailed session plan is a necessity.
Sharing meeting session leadership
A session plan is even more critical when meeting leadership is shared. Without one, meetings can very quickly appear disorganized and participants will be frustrated or even disengage.
Another favorite meeting was a partnership meeting that a coworker and I organized to bring together our two teams. We developed the overall agenda and clear objectives which was passed to attendees. The agenda was then broken down and each of us developed specific outcomes as well as how we would operate our sections for optimal efficiency. Several email exchanges took place as we refined the plan. Then we held a final discussion to determine materials needed and any other details to assure the meeting operated smoothly.
The two-day meeting fully met our objectives and our team walked away more cohesive while feeling respected for individual contributions. As a result, agreed upon tasks and next steps were met with energy and on time. This well-planned meeting had everyone excited to work together for the mutual benefit of both teams. I doubt we’d remember the meeting nor the extent of its achievements if it hadn’t gone well. Success can be directly attributed to the time spent planning.
When you are sharing the lead, prepare a plan for your session and then share it with your co-leader. Suggest they do the same so that the meeting is efficient and fluid. Your participants will appreciate taking their time (and expense) to attend seriously.
Speakers as part of a conference
Even as one speaker among many at a larger meeting or conference, it’s a good idea to ask for or discuss the conference plan. When a full meeting plan is communicated among presenters, there is an opportunity to address potential overlap and the possibility of conflicting messages is reduced. Finally, this kind of plan can be used to spot where additional breaks, activities or movement could be added to keep attendees engaged.
This kind of planning requires significant investment in time for meeting organizers and presenters but will result in greater effectiveness and productivity. I have been to countless meetings and conferences where I’m certain no plan was created and it didn’t take long for participants to start wandering.
What to include in a meeting session plan
- Session Title – Be brief and encapsulate the objective of the meeting
- Logistics – Date, time, location and other meeting details (maybe even room description)
- Participants – Number, skill level and any other participant details that would affect meeting planning
- Instructors/Speakers – List of meeting leaders and speakers for each section
- Description – A brief description of the meeting to be shared with all organizers and participants to aid in decisions to attend
- Objectives – A clear statement or statements about what the meeting is meant to accomplish or a list of outcomes to be achieved
- Agenda components
- What the agenda component is
- Activity or activities to be used (presentation, brainstorming, prioritizing, specific activity, etc.)
- Materials or other resources needed
- Estimated time
- Essential questions, information or understandings
- Who (if there is more than one leader/presenter)
- Closing – A description of what was accomplished and a final roundtable wrap-up to establish learning
In my next post, I’ll cover the importance of closing in more detail. Session plans aren’t complicated to create. If you want to see what I use, I’d be happy to share. Just contact me HERE.
If you have not done a session plan before, start with a small group meeting – especially one less likely to have conflict, like an ideation session. Even if you’ve planned meetings before, take a look back at your most successful meetings and reflect on how much planning was involved. Make note of ways you’d improve your planning efforts if you organized the meeting again. Just like any good lesson plan, project plan or strategic plan, effective meetings are well-planned. If you follow these steps, you’ll soon get to a place when participants don’t talk about your meetings as time-sucking, repetitive and purposeless.
Read Better Meetings Ahead for a rundown on a successful meeting model.
Read Harvard Business Review article on Checklist for planning your next big meeting.
Contact me for any of your meeting planning or facilitation needs.