In 1992, I stood in the back of a hotel ballroom at a store managers meeting and heard the Vice President of Marketing of a leading drugstore chain exclaim, "If we always do what we've always done, we will always get what we've always got!" Don Beveridge, the brilliant sales management speaker who was about to follow this corporate executive on the program, turned and whispered to me, "Wrong! If you always do what you've always done, you will go out of business!" That drugstore chain no longer exists.
The same principle holds true for the eighth discipline of effective meetings: content. With a full 50 percent of the meeting's effectiveness riding on the quality of the content, you can't just do what's been done before and expect good results. You need to know what's state of the art in sales, marketing, management, and leadership trends, both inside your organization and in the business world at large. It's up to you to keep up if you want to keep your meeting content current.
Stay on Top of Trends Many meeting executives assemble a team of forward-thinking experts in each area to keep them abreast of the latest trends. If these experts truly are forward-thinking, great. If not, they can actually be counterproductive. For example, say your organization's vice president of sales researches trends only within your industry. But the trends outside of your segment of the business world impact your company's strategies, and the sales department needs to know more of what those in other companies are doing if they are to keep up to date. If the sales director is very powerful within your corporation, it may be hard to debate ideas with this person.
Ultimately, it's up to you to track the trends. Try to learn as much as you can from the greater business world. Adopt a steady diet of multidisciplinary input: everything from casual conversations and e-mail exchanges with specialists inside and outside your company, to industry conferences and university extension courses.
Read Everything You Can One of the best ways to ensure that your meeting's content is cutting-edge is also one of the most basic: reading. It's convenient--you can fit it in to small or large openings in your schedule, and take materials with you when you travel. You can also skip to the end, or refer back to the middle. You're free to pick and choose at your will.
The only problem is that there's more out there to absorb than there is time to fit it all in. It helps to divide your reading list into "primary" and "secondary" categories. The primary list includes periodicals or resources needed to stay up-to-date in your industry and profession, and the general world of business (my list includes The Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal, and Fortune magazine). The secondary list includes publications that you try to read or skim on a rotating basis. You can find them at the local library, a well-stocked magazine stand, and the Internet.
Don't be like the aforementioned sales director: Make it a practice to read at least one periodical a month outside of your main area of focus, or outside your immediate business segment. You will be amazed at how many relevant ideas you can find.
Go to the business shelves of your favorite bookstore--or the online equivalent--and read the jacket copy of best-selling business books. You may uncover a book that is worthy of your full attention, provided that it lives up to its promotional promise.
Once you're armed with all of this additional information, you have the knowledge database you need to ensure that your meeting content is smart enough to meet the desired objectives.