“Meeting Design is not about getting attendees to the right location. It’s about getting in their minds.” That’s the approach Mike van der Vijver and Eric de Groot take to their work at their Netherlands-based meeting design company, MindMeeting, and it sums up the message of their new book, Into the Heart of Meetings.

The 300-page paperback (and e-book) eschews many of the classic meeting planning priorities—sourcing, contracting, technology—to focus on the design of the meeting environment in terms of how it can promote interaction and communication, and ultimately, achieve its objectives.

MeetingsNet/corporate&incentives:What will readers find surprising about your new book?
Van der Vijver: One thing that might be surprising is that we really start with the basics, indentifying how meetings actually work as a means of communication. Strangely enough, that is not the sort of question most meeting planners ask themselves because it seems too obvious—put people in room and stuff will happen.

That’s true, but what sort of stuff will happen and how can you influence it? If you don’t know how you can influence that behavior then you’re groping in the dark as to how effective your meeting can be.

Readers will also find that we put a lot of stress on the need to combine content into the overall picture. What you often see is a committee that works on the event’s content but has nothing to do with what the meeting looks like. We take a very strong stance that that is going to lead to poor programming. Somebody who understands meeting design, who understands meetings as a form of communication, should help the people who provide the content in order to get the content across in the most effective way. Content, participants, and objectives—that’s the triangle. You need to combine everything from that triangle to get a good program.

Who is the book aimed at?
Van der Vijver:It’s mostly for planners but I also think suppliers will find a lot of interesting information. If you’re going to change the paradigm on how meetings work as a form of communication, the relationship between planners and suppliers is going to change as a result. If you do meetings where people sit, watch a PowerPoint, and maybe have questions and answers at the end (about 95 percent of meetings today), nothing changes. You won’t have different setups, you won’t have different dynamics, you won’t have different kinds of communication. But with a meeting design approach, planners need to have a different kind of conversation with their suppliers, saying, “This is what I want to achieve, this is my objective, what have you got to help me?”

What’s misunderstood about the meeting design approach?
Van der Vijver:Some think that meeting design is only for complex or big meetings. I disagree. Every participant deserves a well-designed program. I believe even small meetings with relatively small design interventions can be vastly improved.