There’s nothing I hated more as an event professional than an exhausting and long-lasting event planning meeting.
I could have up to five meetings in one day.
I would interact with different clients and event suppliers, debating a multitude of challenges, issues, and new tasks, and having long hours of discussions, which often would translate into little to no action at all.
It got to the point where every time before I entered a new meeting room, I would cringe.
It was frustrating and infuriating to enter yet another event planning meeting when I had so many other things to do during the day.
It’s not easy to focus on the discussion at hand when you know you have a ton of work waiting for you back at your desk: tons of calls to make, emails to answer, and urgent problems to solve.
One of the most annoying experiences (which happened often) was to realize that after wrapping up a meeting, there was no clear list of action steps to take.
In other words, the meeting turned out to be pointless, since the participants didn’t agree on what needed to be done next to maintain a satisfactory workflow.
Timetable to plan an event
In most cases, I would find myself attending planning-related meetings that were useless. We would sit in a room to discuss matters that we could easily solve over the phone or through emails.
Just stop and think for a minute about how many hours a day you and your coworkers spend enclosed in a conference room discussing and debating unnecessary things.
According to a study from Bain & Company, employees of a large company will spend “300,000 hours a year just supporting the weekly executive committee meeting.”
From this, 210,000 hours a year will go to preparatory meetings.
Another survey conducted by Leslie A. Perlow, Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership at Harvard Business School and founder of the Better Work Institute, shows the following:
- 65% of those surveyed said “Meetings keep them from completing their own work.”
- 71% of the respondents highlighted “Meetings are unproductive and inefficient.”
- 64% argued, “Meetings come at the expense of deep thinking.”
Sounds familiar, isn’t?
As event professionals, we must schedule different types of meetings during the day:
- We meet our clients, to discuss their needs, event vision, tasks, etc.
- Schedule meetings with event suppliers, to analyze rates, discuss how the event will unfold, agree on the required services, etc.
- Have quick talks with our team members, to talk about the workflow and measure the event planning progress.
- Meet the (potential) sponsors, to discuss the terms of an eventual sponsorship.
- Engage in meetings with the representatives of the local administration, in case our events have an international character or may impact the local community and infrastructure.
Considering this, how many times a day do we all typically experience the frustration of attending a boring, useless, and/or inefficient meeting?
Moreover, we must face another harsh truth: when attending poorly designed meetings, we run the risk of sabotaging the success of the very same event we are working so hard to plan.
Here are the dangers:
No clear task delegation
You may be extremely enthusiastic during the meeting, listening to everyone’s ideas (clients, event providers, or team members, etc.). You decide to execute multiple actions and take the event planning to a different level.
Everyone leaves the meeting room feeling extremely satisfied and happy.
All of a sudden, after a few minutes of reflection, you realize that no tasks were delegated and no one compiled a list of next steps. You might as well have spent the past hour talking to air.
Or it’s possible that everyone left the meeting just assuming you were going to handle everything you just discussed.
Horizontal leadership and meeting “hijackers”
You’ll fail every time you try to make everybody happy. Letting everyone keep taking over the discussion or changing the subject may be damaging for the overall planning experience.
Moreover, you run the risk of encountering meeting “hijackers” (your clients, for example) who’ll try to control the meeting and its results.
When dealing with meeting “hijackers,” you may find it difficult to explain yourself or redirect the conversation toward the most troubling planning issues.
If you’re still running brainstorming sessions at your meetings, stop right now.
According to Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, professor of business psychology at University College London and Columbia University, “Brainstorming is particularly likely to harm productivity in large teams, when teams are closely supervised, and when performance is oral rather than written. Another problem is that teams tend to give up when they notice that their efforts aren’t producing very much.”
This technique is overused, yet less efficient than people think.
However, when planning an event, there’s no other way around meeting people face-to-face to discuss logistic and marketing-related topics.
That’s why, as a planner, you need to take over the meeting, transforming the ineffective encounter into a platform for action, clarity, and a goal-oriented approach.
If done right, this is what will guarantee the success of your event and remove all the meeting-related headaches.
Here are some effective ways to be in control of the planning meeting (be it with clients, event suppliers, or team members) and make the most out of it, eliminating all the annoyances and frustrations:
Step 1. Prepare a meeting document
Before the meeting starts, prepare a template with the most important topics you want to discuss. You can include headlines such as event communication and marketing, event program, speakers, audiovisuals, catering, etc.
Don’t forget to leave a space for notes on the sidebar or at the end of the document, so you can jot down any pertinent information that unfolds during the meeting.
If it’s the third or fourth event-related meeting, you may want to prepare a less-elaborated template that will just focus on the hot topics of the day.
For example, if you’re holding a meeting about the catering, your document could include topics like the event schedule, type of catering, number of attendees, etc. This will allow you to structure the meeting and exclusively tackle the subject at hand without forgetting anything.
To speed up the process, you can email this document to people who’ll be attending the meeting in advance. That gives them enough time to prepare better and to have the event information you need ready.
Step 2. Note all the questions you have
How many times has it happened that after you wrapped up an event planning meeting, you realized that you forgot to ask something important?
Then you had to track down the person you just met with so you could ask that question?
To avoid this from happening, while preparing your meeting document with the most important topics, write down all your questions and concerns.
Step 3. Differentiate the status of your meetings
During an event planning meeting, you’ll discover two main approaches: important and urgent.
There are important meetings, during which you’ll have to discuss the vision of the event or redesign of those aspects that won’t work.
For example, you may set up a certain strategy for attracting high-quality attendees. Yet, after a while you may realize that you haven’t sold many tickets. In this case, you’ll have to plan a meeting focused on rethinking a new strategy of gaining more attendees.
On the other hand, there are meetings where you need to discuss urgent topics, mainly focused on immediate actions and concrete logistics. The closer the event date, the more often these meetings will occur.
By differentiating the urgent meetings from the important ones, you’ll be able to install a specific mindset. The important meetings will be more reflective and goal-oriented, and the urgent meetings will be more technical and action-oriented.
Step 4. Collect data wisely
Take notes like a pro.
Be ready before the event. If you prepare a meeting template with the most important subjects, make sure to leave space for notes. This way, you’ll structure the new information better.
Apart from that, here are some effective ways to approach your note-taking:
- Don’t just transcribe what others said. Be aware of what you are writing down. Make your own symbols and distinctive remarks. When making the notes, process the information and put it in your own words.
- During the meeting, review your notes several times, clarifying all additional questions or doubts.
- Keep your notes simple. Use keywords and short sentences. Don’t record the entire conversation; you just need sufficient keywords that will help you unlock the meeting memories and make the necessary connections.
Step 5. Set an agile plan for event
Never leave an event planning meeting until you distribute assignments. Whether you have a meeting with your clients, your boss, or your team members, make sure the tasks are well distributed and everyone knows what he or she has to do.
Apart from that, establish concrete deadlines and ways of measuring the progress. This will help you keep track of the planning process and determine the role of each event stakeholder.
Step 6. Plan the meetings for the second half of the day
Let’s face it: an event planning meeting can be tiring and long-lasting. You can lose precious working hours holed up in one room, debating multiple subjects.
This can make you feel anxious and unable to concentrate on the meeting, since you’ll be preoccupied thinking about all the tasks that await you at your desk.
To take good advantage of your productive hours and avoid the apprehension of a constantly growing to-do list, it’s a good idea to plan your meetings in the afternoon.
This way, you’ll have the time to work in the morning, and then, when you may not feel extremely productive, you can attend the meetings and discuss the event planning process.
Step 7. Leave space for questions and doubts
Before wrapping up the meetings, always provide space for a quick Q&A session.
People may have some questions or doubts they didn’t express while a specific topic was being discussed, so the end of the meeting can be a great opportunity to bring those thoughts up.
Also, by doing so, you can make sure there are no misunderstandings or ambiguous topics.
Step 8. Gently redirect the discussion when it drifts away
During meetings, you may notice that people get carried away by changing the subject to something irrelevant.
If this happens, make sure to gently redirect the conversation.
You can do it by making a joke or politely reminding everyone that it would be better to focus first on the important matters, and then talk about other subjects.
Step 9. Discuss the next steps
You should never leave a meeting room without a quick conclusion. Reiterate what the next actions are, who’s in charge of each action step, and each deadline. This way, you’ll make sure everybody is aware of their assignments, and you can clarify any misunderstandings before starting the work.
The first thing you should do after the meeting is send a brief email with the discussed topics, the conclusions, and the next steps you agreed upon with those who were present.
Before entering a new event planning meeting, restructure your mindset and use simple, yet efficient tips that will skyrockets the quality of your dialogue with your clients, event suppliers, or team members.
For a successful event planning meeting you should:
- Prepare a meeting document with the topics you want to discuss.
- Write down all the questions you have.
- Mark a clear distinction between important and urgent meetings.
- Take notes like a pro.
- Delegate the event planning assignments.
- Plan your meetings during the second part of the day.
- Block a few minutes to discuss the questions or doubts people may have.
- Gently redirect the conversation if it drifts away.
- When wrapping up the meeting, announce the next steps.