Have you ever left a meeting feeling overwhelmed and a bit confused? The speakers all were good, and the information you received was useful, but you left with the sense that the meeting and the messages didn't hang together.

Tying together a meeting can be a challenge when multiple speakers and a variety of interests are competing for time on stage, according to Samuel Del Brocco, president of PCI Communications of Alexandria, Va. Del Brocco presented the tutorial “Tying It All Together” at the 2001 RCMA Conference. He said a successful meeting conveys one major idea, which in turn can give an organization a sense of clarity and can help it to achieve its objectives.

“One of the great challenges you have is how many messages you're communicating,” Del Brocco said. “What makes a meeting feel nonstrategic? Too many messages.”

Tying together a meeting thematically isn't difficult, however, if you follow the seven practical steps that Del Brocco has developed.

  1. Sweet Themes are Made of These

    Use a strong theme to drive the meeting's agenda.

    “People make themes too complex,” said Del Brocco, who believes a strong theme uses an economy of words and is like a memorable phrase from a pop song. For example, a meeting for the American Diabetes Association used the theme “Simply Indispensable,” and the meeting focused on aspects of the organization that are indispensable to its success: reaching more people, raising more money, and recruiting more volunteers.

    “Simply Indispensable” was made memorable through the use of the tune “Simply Irresistible,” made popular in the 1980s by Robert Palmer. But there's a fine line between choosing a theme that's recognizable and one that's recycled. “Don't make your theme too stock,” Del Brocco said. “For example, don't use a theme like ‘Rocky’ or ‘Star Trek’ that elicits a ‘been there, done that’ type of reaction.”

  2. Segue is the Only Way

    Use general-session introductions and transitions to reinforce the theme and central messages of your event. Remember your high school English teacher urging you to use transitions in writing? Transitions are needed in meetings, too.

    Make sure your emcee uses remarks that tie a meeting together. For example, write introductions to guest speakers that relate the speaker's background to your meeting's theme. This approach is more effective than just reading the speaker's bio, which may or may not have any connection to your meeting's theme.

  3. It's Theater

    Use creative modules — music, entertainment, video, business theater — to create a unified theatrical experience and pace. Even the simplest meeting can be creative, Del Brocco said.

  4. Rehearse the Cast

    Prepare and practice with your speakers. It's reasonable to request a conference call for the speakers who will appear, even if it's Colin Powell or Gen. Schwartzkopf. Prior to the conference call, which should include the meeting's key planners, send the speaker an executive briefing sheet that summarizes your theme.

    As an attendee at Del Brocco's tutorial pointed out, guest speakers won't be insulted when you give them this type of direction. In fact, giving guest speakers the theme is like giving a minister the texts for the day. They will appreciate the background information and will strive to be “in tune” with the rest of the meeting.

  5. You've Got the Look

    Make sure all graphic materials have a consistent look and feel. Logos, type, and colors all reinforce your theme and help make it memorable.

  6. Threads of Involvement

    Create activities, games, and teambuilding that extend throughout the conference. These activities are worthwhile because they break down barriers and give people an opportunity to get reacquainted. “Groups think they know each other, but you don't know everything about everyone. For example, you probably don't know what kind of mouthwash or toothpaste a colleague uses,” Del Brocco said. “You want these activities to force people to get up” and interact with each other.

  7. Meet Me at the Cyber Café

    Consider using an intranet or cyber café for your meeting. “It's not as complicated as it sounds. Nearly anybody can set it up, and it's a great way to give people an opportunity to network,” he said.

Samuel Del Brocco is president of PCI Communications, Alexandria, Va. This article is based on his tutorial at the 29th annual RCMA Conference in Milwaukee.