I Recently Attended a meeting that should have been run by the attendees. It was intended to roll out a piece of research to the constituents, who happened to be a group of very knowledgeable meeting planners. In fact, it was immediately apparent that the planners knew more than the people who were making the presentation. They started asking some very sharp questions and pointing out things that could have been done differently.

As I sat there, I thought: Why hadn't the organizers consulted with a group like this before they created their survey? And why hadn't they used the chance they had — with all these smart minds in the room — to craft the next piece of research?

So many meetings are missed opportunities for exactly this reason, says futurist Elliott Masie in our cover story interview by Bob Andelman, contributing editor. (See page 14.) “What if you left a meeting having written a book?” Masie suggests. “There's value in finding a way to collectivize the thinking of a larger group of people. It doesn't mean that it's better than the thinking of one expert, but it certainly has a richness to it that increasingly appeals to us.”

A terrific example of a meeting that did this well was an open-space meeting moderated by Lisa Heft, a San Francisco-based facilitator, during Meeting Professionals International's Professional Education Conference in January. People were able to choose topics that mattered to them and sit with people who had a shared interest in those issues, and Heft made sure that the dialogue continued via e-mail after the meeting was over. Masie identified all three of these characteristics as essential for meetings of the future.

“Let's unrandomize the extent to which people find jewels at events,” was how Masie put it — and I couldn't agree more. That should be a key goal of meeting organizers.

So start finding ways to turn your meetings into creative, collaborative events focused on a project that benefits your company or your industry. Put flip charts by the coffee pots, so people can record their discussions during breaks. (After all, says Masie, that's often when some of the most meaningful interaction happens!) Try a new technology such as an open-space format or an unconference (the subject of next month's cover story) to allow people with like issues and agendas to connect. Set up a conference wiki or a virtual community to get attendees collaborating before and after the meeting.

Tap into the wisdom of your attendees, and you're sure to have a richer meeting experience.
Barbara Scofidio
Editor

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