Six Steps to Sizzling Meetings

You have been trapped in too many boring meetings. They don't start on time, the leader drags things out, and you leave wondering what was accomplished. Instead of planning the next meeting of your own in fear of creating the same result, here's how to make things fresh and memorable:

Keep a firm agenda

At your program planning session, have everyone who needs to make an announcement at the meeting submit it to you in writing. Then set up a detailed agenda, down to the minute, to distribute to everyone involved in the presentation of the meeting. Audience members should also receive a general agenda so they can anticipate the order of the program.

Using several people to make announcements can be energizing to the group if you follow a few rules. When making an announcement, the person must keep it snappy, talking between 30 seconds and one minute. Since the announcers know their positions on the program from the detailed agenda, they should be waiting to step on stage immediately when the person preceding them is finished. Have no dead air time. This keeps the meeting moving and keeps energy in the room.

Assess traffic flow

Remember, traffic flow should be by design. Keep the room inviting and design the tables on the outer perimeter for registration, food, products, membership, etc. Think of the room as a whole and how the flow comes from the sum of its parts.

The registration table should be divided into alphabetized sections to keep things moving. Give plenty of space for registration. You don't want to start the meeting off with irritated people who have waited in a crowd.

Food placement should be near the registration table. A simple snack and beverage can work. Food should be available 30 minutes before the meeting starts and while registration is open. Always have ample water for your guests with someone to service the water containers during the breaks.

If you're trying to attract new members, keep your membership service table accessible and staffed by friendly folks. Have membership packets ready to present to potential new members. Each packet should contain a letter from the leader of your group to give an instant connection.

What is your organization known for? Develop products as an added source of revenue. People come to meetings ready to take home something of value and are willing to buy products to reinforce their experience.

Stage your speaker near the audience. Avoid stages that are too distant or too tall, unless you have large video monitors so everyone can feel connected. One of the most difficult stages I ever spoke on was at a plush country club. A four-foot stage, with a floor-to-ceiling window behind it, separated me from the audience. I stepped onstage as the sun set with a golfer swinging on the course behind me. My face was shadowed by the sun glare, and all you could see was my silhouette. Do your speaker a favor: Check out each meeting room that has windows at the time of day the meeting will take place.

Spice up recurring meetings

Program variety is vital. Session titles draw people to attend. Humor sells. Poll your membership regularly to find out which programs they enjoyed most and which they need more of, and build the content and style of your next several sessions around the findings.

Create an icebreaker

Start the program with a 10-minute segment called "Moments of Excellence," in which the audience can participate by sharing brief anecdotes of their professional awards, achievements, or accomplishments. Encourage applause after each one. Conduct these mini-interviews out in the audience to foster interaction. But never turn over the microphone to the people you interview, or you may have a microphone hog to contend with. Let everyone know they have 30 seconds to talk -- actually, there is a built-in excitement about knowing you have a limited time to say something. And it keeps this segment of the program fast-paced.

Find the right speaker

How can your speaker help you accomplish your goals for the meeting? Determine if your speaker should entertain, inform, or persuade. If you have heard a good speaker at a convention lately, perhaps this person has a style that fits your group. Search through professional speakers' firms and associations, or select a well-known individual who is unique, successful, or both, and who has spoken before.

Ask the speaker to give his or her introducer a written introduction at least a couple of days ahead of the meeting. Experienced speakers prefer this method, as it relieves the introducer to not have to struggle with an impromptu introduction. Have the introducer practice reading the introduction aloud, with enthusiasm, until he or she is comfortable.

As a professional speaker, I have rescued myself several times by bringing my introduction to the meeting, even though I sent it days before to the introducer. Help out your speaker by ensuring an energetic introduction that sets the tone of the speech.

Perfect the networking time

If you expect guests to network with ease, the names on their badges must be easy to read. So center the first name in large letters on one line and the full name in smaller letters on the line beneath it. Have your leaders introduce themselves by calling guests by their first names as they approach them.

Allow 15 to 20 minutes for each break. People need time to express their thoughts about the meeting to that point, stretch, or use the bathroom or phone. "Moments of Excellence" and personal introductions improve the quality of this time. Make an announcement before breaks about the membership table to guide people in the right direction.

Give your audience substance, entertainment, energy, and connect them with your mission. You will leave them wanting more, every time.