Come Together

It's clear now. The downsizingseems to be over and the future looks more promising than the recent past. The next big challenge we face is how to bring people together and provide them with an experience they'll never forget. Sounds like a tall order, but here are three simple guidelines I've seen work first hand.

Change Your Attitude

Today's business environment requires you to look at meetings in a different light. Now, you must focus on content, provide lots of interaction (way beyond the traditional Q and A), and get demonstrable results. All this requires a shift in thinking from logistics to strategies. You have to build in "shared" space, where your people have meaningful experiences together that let them come up with real results. If that's not your mindset going in, your meeting will be underwhelming at best.

Example: At Boeing Capital, we created a shared-space environment where participants, shaken by the abrupt departure of top executives, could give voice to their feelings. The strategic goal? To agree on interim methods to keep their morale up until the changes at the top settled down.

Create Experiences

From marketing to follow-up, the key to effective meetings today is experiences. I'm not talking about high-tech extravaganzas where the audience sits back and marvels at the production. By experiences, I mean mental and emotional exercises that get people out of their seats and into one another's space. Your people both want and deserve to participate in stimulating events. This is the only way you can change their attitudes and feelings.

Example: At Engelhard, a Fortune 500 materials company, we had executives bring with them written stories about how they personally implemented the company's new strategy over the past year. This was their ticket to the event. No ticket—that is, no story—no entrance! We shared the stories throughout the meeting.

Guarantee Results

Arguably, this is the trickiest part. While we're waiting for valid and reliable methods to measure ROI, there are several good ways to make sure you get real business results from your meetings. The best is to build in follow-through mechanisms. Most meetings end when the event closes. But if you create an agenda so that there are post-event objectives, transition teams to carry them out, and reporting channels to keep everyone abreast of progress, you're getting a real return on your investment.

Example: At Solutia, a leading fiber manufacturing company, we set up three transition teams to carry out the three initiatives all the participants agreed on. And at the recent LaCosta Insurance Education Forum, a post-event Web site was set up so that all participants could be kept up-to-date on initiatives of interest and discuss the results among themselves over time.

Put these recommendations into practice and you'll really make things happen. And after all, isn't that what meeting participants have been waiting for?