Passing our 20th anniversary has been a cause for celebration for sure. Not many small businesses make it to age 20. Even fewer are still thriving and growing after that much time. We want to be around for at least another 20, so lately we’ve been taking time to reflect on what we’ve learned during our first two decades as a creative meeting space for teams. We thought it might be helpful to share some of our insights with others, too. This is the first in a series on what we’ve learned about hosting meetings, customer service, and running a successful business.
It makes sense to start our series with a look at what we’ve learned about hosting effective meetings. Every one of these could be its own blog post (and probably will be eventually). For now, here’s a quick summary of:
10 Things We’ve Learned in 20 Years About: Hosting Effective Meetings
1. Great Meetings Never Happen Without a Great Agenda
Spoiler alert: it’s not really the agenda that makes or breaks a meeting. Yes, it helps to have an agenda, send it out in advance, and stick to it during the meeting. But it’s the thought, consideration, and planning that goes into creating an agenda that makes all the difference. Meetings are simply more successful if you are intentional and detailed about what you’re trying to accomplish.
2. “Broken” Meetings Are Better Meetings
Meetings that last more than 45 minutes need — scratch that — REQUIRE a break. Breaks improve energy and focus by allowing people to process what you’ve been talking about, check their devices, take a “bio break”, and move their bodies a bit. When you plow through a long agenda without a break, fatigue and distraction will actually diminish your productivity. Our rule of thumb: a 10 minute break every hour works wonders.
3. Never Underestimate the Power of Candy
Sugar may be the devil when it comes to your health. Yet when it comes to meetings, a little candy makes a big positive difference. Our theory is that it feels like a reward for what many perceive as pain or drudgery. WE don’t look at meetings that way, mind you, but we understand not everyone feels the same way about meetings that we do. We have always provided an abundance of candy for meeting participants and we always will. Honestly, we would fear a revolt if we ever stopped.
4. Nothing Sets You up for Success More Than the Right Setup
This tip could also be called “Just because you’ve always done it that way doesn’t mean you should do it that way.” The way you set up a meeting space should be matched to the activity you’re planning and the outcome you desire. For instance, if you want collaboration, set up the room in small tables or “pods”. Presentations are best suited for a classroom or theater-style setup. Don’t just default to a “u-shape” (or any shape, really)_ because that’s the way all of your meetings are set up. Make setup part of planning out your agenda and think it through ahead of time.
5. Good Food Is Almost as Important as Great Content
If your meeting includes a mealtime, don’t skimp on the food. It’s not that great food is so much more beneficial to a meeting. Rather, it’s that bad food is extremely detrimental to a meeting. Bad food is distracting. Bad food gives participants reason to complain. Bad food doesn’t sit well with participants physically or emotionally. Great food, on the other hand, energizes and nourishes. Great food tells participants their comfort and well-being are important. Great food makes people happy. Period. Happy people are generally more open, more collaborative, and more creative. You know, the kind of people you want in your meeting.
6. Strong Support Moves Meetings From Good to Great
Many meetings aren’t as powerful or smooth or effective as they could be simply because the leader or facilitator has to do everything (or worries about everything). When someone takes care of setting up the room, arranging the catering, cleaning up afterward, etc. — and the leader can focus completely on the content — that’s when meetings go from good to great.
7. Privacy Matters. A lot.
Privacy — it’s not just for matters of national security. Every meeting needs a certain amount of privacy. Privacy helps people feel safe emotionally and physically. Privacy helps people relax, knowing their information is secure. Privacy helps people let their hair down, especially when privacy = a “what happens here, stays here” mentality. And, maybe most importantly, privacy creates an environment free of outside distraction, which is one of the top reasons to take a meeting offsite in the first place.
8. Comfort is Critical
It doesn’t take an expert in ergonomics to realize that an uncomfortable chair is annoying and possibly even painful. In other words, discomfort draws a meeting participant’s attention away from the important business topic at hand and focuses it on the topic of “holy crap this chair sucks.” Comfort extends far beyond furniture, and an environment doesn’t have to be luxurious to be comfortable. Simple adjustments to lighting, decor, temperature, noise, hydration, food, etc. can vastly improve the comfort and contribution of your participants.
9. High-Tech is Rarely Required
When we first started sparkspace, we couldn’t afford the latest and greatest whiz bang meeting room technology. The funny thing is, 20 years later we still don’t have much of it. Great meetings happen because of three things: good planning, good practices, and good people. Sometimes technology can help people communicate or collaborate, but more often than not technology actually gets in the way. Even technology as simple and common as Powerpoint has been the downfall of far too many meetings. When it comes to people solving problems, we’ve found that high-touch beats high-tech every time.
10. Going Offsite Is More Important Than Ever
sparkspace was founded on the idea that teams would benefit from getting away from their normal work environment and day-to-day distractions. What we didn’t know was HOW beneficial that would become. Then we started hearing things like, “We got more done in one day at sparkspace than we would have in a month in our office” or “We could have never had this kind of conversation in our own conference room.” And as offices have shifted to more and more open workspaces, the need for space to focus, create, and collaborate as teams has grown exponentially. And not just any space, but space designed to help teams do those very things together.
These lessons are just some of the many lessons we’ve learned in our first twenty years, and they are just a tip of the iceberg. We hope you find them helpful as you think about your own meetings, wherever you hold them.