Reads

By Marilyn Suttle

Create breakthrough success after the meeting ends

You plan the perfect meeting. Evaluations are glowing and attendees leave feeling super excited. Yet, employers hesitate to send their people to the next event. Why? Because they just aren’t seeing any changes after their people attend an event. With never-ending to-do lists, attendees get swept back into their hectic routines. Promising new strategies get put on hold. Handouts get lost. Specifics get hazy. And, in the end, the meeting’s value is lost.

It doesn’t have to be that way. There are specific things you can do now to create breakthrough success long after a meeting ends. Like taking a 3-D approach to your meetings. By doing so, you can implement different ideas that disrupt the status quo and help you discover new ways to make your meeting valuable and memorable.

These seven strategies will help you extend the value of the meetings you plan. Of course, not every strategy will apply to every meeting, but if you choose the ones that best fit the type of event and find creative ways to modify or adapt each to fit your needs, you can ensure your meeting makes a lasting impact.

MEET, TEACH, REPEAT
When possible, replace the typical one-day set-and-get training event with a series of meetings that take place regularly over time. Between meetings, attendees get to “do their homework” by practicing in real-world situations. By bringing their challenges back to the meeting, solutions are discovered. And with the ongoing exposure to information from regular meetings, a stronger foundation for lasting change is created.

No matter how much value a meeting offers, some participants simply don’t want to be there. They’re required to attend, and sometimes rebel. For example, a woman who attended my six-week series on communication, sat with her arms crossed, wearing a frown during the first four sessions. She sat passively while others shared their struggles and successes. During the fifth session, she raised her hand for the first time, and said, “I love my daughter, but we argue all the time. I end up screaming at her. But after hearing some of you tell us how things have been working out for you, I tried some of this at home.” She paused, tearing up for a moment. “Last night, when I tucked my daughter in bed, she hugged me and said, ‘Mommy this was the best day of my life. You didn’t yell at me even once.’” A one-time meeting wouldn’t have produced a result like that. Multiple meetings allow messages to be reinforced and, without even realizing it, attendees can learn things to apply every day in the office…and at home.

BREAK DOWN THE BARRIERS
Perceived obstacles are the most notorious reason attendees fail to implement meeting objectives. Each participant has their own concerns that act as a barrier, such as “I don’t have time.” “My budget’s too stretched.” Or, “I don’t know how to get my staff to buy into this.” To help change this perception and help attendees actually put what they’ve learned at your meeting to use in the real world, include an activity that helps them overcome these obstacles.

This short activity can nip resistance in the bud: Give participants the following instructions, “Please identify one potential obstacle that might stop you from being successful at putting the value of this meeting into action back at work.” Once they’ve identified their obstacle, ask them to stand up, mill around the room, partnering up with someone long enough to ask each other for one suggestion that could help overcome their obstacle. Then, repeat with as many partners as they can before you ask them to stop.

The activity helps attendees become solution-focused, and work together as a team. Not only are they looking for solutions to their own obstacles, but helping others with theirs. As they seek to offer advice for overcoming each others’ obstacles, ideas are generated. Minds expand. New and different ways of approaching their problems are brought to light, and a stronger commitment to move forward is established in this short 15-minute activity.

UNPACK THE MEETING
Have you ever found an old event bag tucked away in a dark corner packed with meeting materials – handouts, business cards, and mementoes? By the time you get around to unpacking it, most of the content has lost its usefulness and ends up in the trash. Much like that event bag, attendees minds are packed (with strategies, facts and insights) during a meeting. We don’t want the learnings to get tucked away and forgotten — so start the unpacking process before the meeting ends.

One way to unpack is to allow time for attendees to brainstorm as a group specific ways they’d want to apply new concepts. Then, invite them to fill out an action plan page.

Meetings often include some form of action plan sheet designed to help attendees create tangible next steps to follow. The problem is, little to no time is built into meetings to properly use it. When participants are told to “Fill out your action plan when you get back to work,” the odds are it’s not going to happen.

For lasting value, offer less content and more time to unpack what they’ve learned. Include time to write their action plan and share it before they leave the meeting. On the action plan page, ask questions like:

  • What are three actions you plan to take as a result of attending this meeting?
  • What is the timeline for completing each action?
  • In what ways will these actions benefit you and your company (or association)?
  • What would be the consequences of not following through? To increase ownership, include a spot for participants to sign and date their action plan.

SUM IT UP
To maximize lasting meeting value, give attendees a summary sheet with key points that they can take with them. A summary sheet helps in several ways:

  • It’s used as a teaching tool to share knowledge with colleagues;
  • It helps as an at-a-glance refresher and checklist for implementation; and
  • It offers attendees a succinct meeting snapshot to show employers the value gained.

Unless you assure your speakers that you won’t pass out the summary sheet until after the meeting, they may be reluctant to provide one. Speakers use learning techniques to create curiosity, discovery and emotional connection to the material. The fastest way to kill the impact of a presentation is to pass out summary sheets at the beginning of a meeting. People read ahead, make assumptions, and instantly disengage with the presentation. When you request a summary sheet, assure your presenter that it will be made available after the event, and not before or during. You could even offer attendees access to the information online afterwards via an email or privately designated web page.

Another option is to let the group create the event summary. Give attendees sticky notes. Ask them to put a key learning on each note and stick it to a summary board. At the end of the meeting, compile all their sticky notes into a summary sheet, and send it out after the meeting.

PLAY MATCHMAKER
Invite meeting participants to pair up and share the goals they commit to implement as a result of attending the meeting. This will increase accountability and encourage people to put learnings into action. Give buddies time to coordinate their calendars with a specific day and time by which they will contact each other to celebrate the completion of their next-step goals. The buddy system works well for a variety of personality styles. Some will focus on having a success to report because they’re competitive, others because they’re collaborative. Some do it to avoid looking bad, while others follow through because they enjoy the fun of comradery. Regardless of the motivation, having the support of a buddy system creates an added level of commitment and follow through.

SPEAK TO YOUR SPEAKER
One way to keep momentum going after the event is to partner with your speaker before it even begins. Like a coaching staff getting ready for a big game, it’s all about planning and strategizing your moves to make the meeting a winner. High caliber speakers develop a list of questions to help them prepare outstanding customized presentations. Team up with your speaker to answer their questions, and ask questions of your own focused on post-meeting value.

The clearer you make your expectations, the easier it is for a speaker to be successful. Here are some questions to add to your list:

  • What will attendees walk away from the meeting being able to do?
  • How do you prepare participants to put meeting objectives into action back at work?
  • How will key points be practiced and reinforced at the meeting?
  • How much time will be given to ask questions?
  • Will attendees create plans of action for implementing what they’ve learned?
  • In what ways will you build in metrics, commitment, and accountability to take action?
  • Will you supply a summary sheet with key points covered in the meeting?
  • Can you provide examples of successes participants have experienced after attending your presentation? What did you do to make that happen?
  • What ideas do you have to support us in producing maximum post-meeting value?

GET SOCIAL
After the meeting, harness the power of social networking, and create a community that encourages post-event collaboration. From private Facebook pages to one of the many online platforms available – you can keep attendees focused and engaged long after the meeting has ended. For example, Moodle, is a free learning management system with chat, forums, and the ability to share documents. Attendees can post questions, take assessments, and collaborate with others in the community. Extending engagement gives meeting attendees a resource to draw on in times of doubt, or challenge, and gives them a place to contribute their knowledge to support others.

BONUS TIP: COACH EMPLOYERS TO CELEBRATE WINS
In addition to the seven strategies, sometimes it helps to coach employers who sent their staff to meetings. Employers don’t always realize that a small action on their part can produce breakthrough successes. Give employers summary sheets so they know what was covered in the meeting. And encourage them to schedule three or more reinforcement calls after the meeting to focus on their people’s success with specific skills or objectives.

The purpose of the call is to allow a small group to share successes they’ve experienced using one particular meeting skill or objective. Make sure everyone knows ahead of time what area they’re expected to talk about. For example, “Next week, our reinforcement call will celebrate one success you’ve each experienced when attempting to calm an upset customer.”

Give each person two minutes to share a success. Knowing that the call is coming, attendees will feel the urgency to put their new skills into practice so they’re ready to report on the call. It’s empowering to share a success with a company leader in front of peers. And hearing from peers can reinforce different ways of producing successful results.

You can’t force meeting participants to take action after an event. What you can do is create an environment filled with the elements that make it easy for attendees to grab the objectives and go with it. When your agenda is designed with post meeting value in mind, it becomes more feasible and desirable for attendees to take immediate action after the meeting, and keep the momentum going long after the event is over.

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