People outside of the meeting planning profession are likely to underestimate the strategic significance of meeting design. While a layperson might assume that a meeting is simply food, tables and chairs for everyone, it is so much more than that. Professional meeting planners align every aspect of program design with strategic objectives and ultimately have a major influence over the success of the collaborations that they orchestrate.
At Convene our research team is focused on studying the elements of successful collaboration. Using a Human Centered Design methodology we’ve observed countless meetings, conducted in-depth research, and engaged the brightest in the field through focus groups, rapid prototyping and discussion. Our intention was to decode the elements of successful meetings so that we could increase the potential of reproducing them.
One of our most pertinent discoveries is that there are three distinct meeting types that require specialized resources and space in order to be most effective. Understanding and identifying meeting types informs every aspect of strategic meeting planning including venue selection, seating configuration, agenda, format, and technology allocation. We’ve built on research conducted by Steelcase Inc., the global leader in office furniture and workspace design, which has discerned three major meeting types: Informative, Generative and Evaluative.
Informative Meetings are about the sharing or broadcasting of predetermined information. Examples include new product launches, training seminars and stockholder meetings. Any gathering where large numbers of people (50-300 or more) gather to hear and learn together can be termed an informative meeting. They should be hosted in large rooms, with ergonomic seating, and will likely require microphones, projectors, polling devices and other mass communication resources. Multiple projectors or displays should allow every seat to be the best one in the house. If the meeting is expected to last for an entire day — or longer — it’s important to allow attendees to adopt alternative postures, stand or put their feet up.
Generative Meetings are about creating new content together. They usually occur in small groups of 2-8 people. The work can go on for long periods of time or be a short breakout from a larger informative meeting. The work requires strong focus from the participants and the ability to capture, manipulate, retrieve and preserve the content they have created. Resource allocation for this meeting type includes lots of whiteboards and flip charts, mobile chairs and tables, and intimate/private space. In addition to collaborative technologies, it is important to provide a generous supply of paper-based tools such as Post-it® Notes, tape, pins and markers.
Evaluative Meetings are about making decisions, setting direction and long-term planning. These are usually small and have fewer than 20 participants. These meetings require intense engagement and benefit from governance and protocols. Large, information-rich displays are helpful to these meetings. Projectors, flip charts and conference lines should also be provided. As the content of these meetings is often highly confidential, special care should be taken to provide acoustical and visual privacy and a minimum of disruptions.
Providing the right tools, furniture and space design for a specific meeting type are key elements in achieving your meeting goals. Paying attention to every detail can make a meaningful difference to the end result. The great architect Mies van der Rohe once said, “God is in the details.” We couldn’t agree more.
Does your organization host one type of meeting more than another? Is meeting type something you consider when selecting a location? What things are most important to you in the selection of a meeting locale?
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VP of Strategy and Research
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