“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 20 global events she 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.”