“Our goal is always for attendees to come out of a meeting different from the way they came in,” says Kathleen Moore, global event manager, JP Morgan Treasury Services, part of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. in New York. To achieve this at the roughly 20she plans yearly for company clients, Moore applies adult-learning principles, theatrical techniques, and lessons learned from her 11 years of meeting management.
For example, Moore says, conventional room setups aren't usually conducive to learning. For a one-day seminar called “Moving at the Speed of E,” held at The Breakers in Palm Beach, Fla., she transformed a turn-of-the-century ballroom into a futuristic stage set. Fabric and screens created a circular space within which were three Lucite lecterns, padded swivel office chairs for the 120 attendees, brushed aluminum portfolios for note-taking at each seat, and three screens that appeared to be part of the fabric curtain. New-age music wafted through the space. “Everything supported the theme,” says Moore. “You couldn't tell from which direction anything was coming. It was new and flexible and a little unpredictable, just like the Internet.” And people didn't stay in their seats for more than an hour at a time before moving on to a break for exercise, lunch, or to play in an Internet café prior to the next presentation.
On the other hand, you don't have to get futuristic. At a recent week-long seminar in London for overseas bankers, Moore did away with rows of seats facing the speaker and broke up the group into small clusters of tables. After a presentation, each cluster discussed a specific question, then shared their conclusions with the larger group. “People who would never raise their hands in a large group will be active participants in a small group,” she says. Other tips:
Consider how adults learn: They have 92 things on their minds. Comfy chairs, moderate room temperatures, and meetings that end before 4 p.m. help them focus. So does natural light. “You don't need to lock people away in a windowless room so as not to get distracted,” Moore says. “It's the opposite. Natural light helps people to focus.”
Vary the types of presentations and media during long days of meetings.
Avoid handouts. Attendees will read them instead of paying attention.
If people hear something that changes their mindset, they will remember it. “Appeal to their emotions,” says Moore. “Tell them anecdotal stories about people instead of throwing out statistics.”