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Smart Meeting Design
Meeting & Event Planning

Meetings Made to Stick: How to Design Meetings For Maximum Learning

Posted October 24, 2019 By Andrea Doyle

Co-authors and brothers, Chip and Dan Heath, have spent decades figuring out what makes certain ideas succeed while others flounder. Much of what they have learned can be applied to meetings.

It seemed like an easy task. Research psychologist Gary Klein was asked by a meeting planner to write a synopsis after attending an upcoming conference. Klein, famous for his work on how people make decisions, assembled a team, and assigned one person to monitor each of the conference’s five parallel tracks. Each time someone told a story during a panel discussion, the monitors jotted it down. At the end of the conference, the monitors compared notes and found they had compiled a set of stories that were “funny, tragic, and exciting,” according to Klein. They structured and organized the stories and sent the packet to the conference organizer.

She was ecstatic with what they uncovered, finding the compilation much more useful and vivid than the typical conference takeaway (a set of dry abstracts). As a courtesy, she sent the compilation to the conference presenters.

They were furious as they didn’t feel stories represented their conclusions that they shared with PowerPoint documents. The story appears in Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by the Heaths.

It illustrates what stays in the collective memories of attendees. Not slogans or bullet-point slides, not generic and abstract advice. It’s the concrete, rich stories, they say. Stories have an amazing power to inspire. Effective stories get passed along—they “stick.”

The most successful meetings do just that, according to the Heath brothers: They stimulate conversation. The best meeting planners are “conversation producers.” They pay strict attention to how conversation is cultivated.

As conference organizers and attendees know, PowerPoint presentations have become a crutch for many presenters. They share data but not stories. The Heaths refer to the “Curse of Knowledge.” This is when a subject matter expert understands a concept so well that she has a hard time explaining it to those who don’t. The solution is to simplify—without oversimplifying—your message.

It’s not easy to get a thought out of our heads and into the heads of others. The Heath brothers’ advice: Create a plain-speech statement specifying a plan’s ultimate goal.

In the Army, it’s called Commander’s Intent (CI). This is a crisp, plain-talk statement that appears on the top of every order, specifying the plan’s goal, the desired end-state of an operation. The CI never specifies so much detail that it risks being rendered obsolete by unpredictable events. 

From urban legends to high school history lessons, successful ideas have certain traits in common. According to the Heath brothers, successful ideas have six principles that they have organized with the acronym SUCCESs.


Say one thing, not 10. The ultimate model of simplicity is a one-sentence statement so profound that an individual could spend a lifetime learning to follow it.


For an idea to endure, it must generate interest and curiosity.


Mission statements, synergies, strategies, visions—they are often ambiguous to the point of being meaningless. Naturally sticky ideas are full of concrete images.


Sticky ideas have to carry their own credentials.


How do we get people to care about our ideas? We make them feel something.


How do we get people to act on our ideas? We tell stories. Similarly, hearing stories acts as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively.

In their newest book, The Power of Moments, the Heath brothers say the moments we remember the most are dominated by four elements: elevation, insight, pride and connection. If the meetings you plan have these elements, they are sure to be remembered.

“If we embrace these elements, we can conjure more moments that matter,” they say.


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