Meetings are the engines of progress in any organization. But there is a huge difference between purposeless meetings that waste valuable time and meetings that move organizations and ignite team spirit. For those who don’t plan them for a living, orchestrating a successful meeting can seem like navigating a labyrinth of options.
We understand! That’s why we’re sharing these key questions any event planner - professional or not - should ask before booking their next meeting.
Our conference planners at Wingspread Retreat & Executive Conference Center have years of experience planning successful meetings and taking the mystery out of making an impact with your agenda. We are here to arm you with the essential know-how to turn any gathering into a triumph.
Whether you’re planning a corporate retreat, a non-profit board meeting, an executive planning session, or a casual brainstorming, a little preparation and professional guidance can go a long way.
Here are three key questions to ask when planning a retreat.
Understand the Purpose
Before diving into the logistical deep end, clarify the objective of your meeting.
Wingspread meetings are so successful because we encourage an outcome-driven approach. It's about making something meaningful out of the gathering. It's about delivering something impactful. Go into the planning experience knowing what you want to get out of it at the end.
Maybe the point of your meeting is to get everybody rejuvenated and recharged, share important information, and set the stage for personal and professional growth.
It takes more than a meeting room and a tray of crackers to do it. And not every planner knows where to start. Wingspread planners have a full "toolbox" of proven resources, tactics, and ideas to help even an inexperienced planner establish the right environment, build in the right activities, and energize the group with the right food and beverage so the group can focus on the content and goal of the meeting.
Know Your Audience
Tailor your meeting to the needs and expectations of the participants. Consider the diversity in job functions, seniority levels, and professional backgrounds, and plan accordingly. Our planners can even show you how to create a comfortable meeting environment for introverts, extroverts and every member of your team in between. When everyone feels comfortable sharing and participating, successful outcomes result.
Selecting the Right Venue
The setting can make or break your meeting.
Four beige walls and ballroom lighting won’t do. Look for spaces that align with your meeting’s tone and objectives. Look for spaces with plenty of natural light and windows with controllable sheers and blackout shades to make presentations pop. A serene retreat center can offer a refreshing change from the office’s hustle and bustle without the distraction of other unrelated groups and activities. Bonds form and camaraderie grows when attendees spend time together in a distraction-free environment.
Timing is Everything
Choose a date and time that considers the participants' schedules.
Be aware of busy work periods, holidays, and time zone changes if you’re coordinating with attendees from different regions. Can the food and beverage and staff service flex to accommodate your early morning sunrise activities or late evening fireside chats? Choose a location that caters specifically to your needs and your attendees bio-rhythms so important meetings happen at the best time of day, day of week and season of the year. We can help!
Technology and Amenities
Ensure that the venue is equipped with the necessary technology—audio/visual equipment, Wi-Fi, and conference tools. Comforts like ergonomic seating, hard, non-glare writing surfaces, controllable heating and air conditioning systems, lighting controls and ample natural lighting. A common planning mis-step is overlooking the aesthetics, functionality and technology of a space. Choosing smartly can greatly enhance the experience for everyone.
What has worked in your past meetings?
If you're new to meeting planning, ask your colleagues what has been successful before. Learning from past experiences can provide a solid foundation for your planning. Attendee feedback is an important consideration for subsequent meetings too. It’s why Wingspread endeavors to survey attendees post-meeting - and all feedback goes directly to the meeting planner. Knowing what ideas resonated; what components of the facility and portions of the meeting moved your attendees the most, is invaluable to planning follow-up meetings and furthering the growth that took place.
What are the must-have items?
Think about the participants as individuals and ask them what essential tools and resources they need during the meeting. Everything from specific dietary needs to presentation equipment to table-top fidget toys all come together to make an ordinary meeting unforgettable.
How do you plan to engage attendees?
Solicit ideas for activities or discussions that will engage the group. Interactive sessions often yield better results than one-sided presentations. Seating configurations and room set-ups can have a profound effect on engagement. And new teams, new team members and new work groups always benefit from carefully crafted team building activities. Our Wingspread planners have dozens to choose from and we are happy to facilitate.
What is the backup plan?
Ask about contingencies for common hiccups, such as technology failures, weather impacts, last-minute schedule changes, or surprise dietary needs. The meeting facility team should be well prepared and experienced in handling the curve balls - and you’ll feel better having asked!
Who are the on site decision-makers?
Identify who has the authority to make decisions during the meeting. Communicating this information in advance can streamline communications, improve experiences, and prevent bottlenecks - all the things that make you look great for having planned a memorable meeting.
Start Planning Early
Begin your preparations well in advance. This gives you a buffer for unexpected changes and the luxury of choice regarding venues and suppliers.
Consider Seasonality and Alternative Dates
Wise planners know that rates at top-rated facilities can fluctuate from season to season. If cost is an important component for you, ask for rates across different time periods to find the season and price that is right for your group. Likewise, be prepared with alternative dates which may help you find the most sought-after venues if your first choice of date is already committed.
Create a Clear Agenda
A well-structured agenda shared beforehand allows participants to prepare effectively and helps keep the meeting on track. One of the many tools our Wingspread planners employ is proven agenda-building guidance to be sure there is plenty of room for learning, bonding, contemplation and goal setting. Often the true magic of an impactful experience happens in the quiet, unplanned time, so the Wingspread team always encourages our groups to build some white space into their agendas.
Be Mindful of Time
Respect participants' time by starting and ending as scheduled. Adhering to an agenda helps participants manage their time and avoid the urge to check in with the office during their presentations. Time management during the meeting is equally crucial—avoid overrunning discussions and activities and use a follow-up board for ideas that take the group off-topic for too long. Lastly, avoid the trap of overloading the agenda, starting too early, or staying up too late. There is an ideal formula, and we can help you find it - just ask!
After the meeting, summarize key points discussed, decisions made, and actions to be taken. This reinforces the productivity of the session and keeps everyone aligned. Give your attendees time - before they return to the office, for action planning, connecting with new resources, and self-reflection. Too often, the valuable experiences gleaned from retreats are swept away and forgotten if attendees don’t have time to absorb the meeting contents before returning to the office.
Planning a meeting might seem daunting, but it’s all about the details. At Wingspread Retreat & Executive Conference Center, we believe in the power of well-executed meetings to inspire and drive progress. With these insights, you're well on your way to planning productive and enjoyable meetings for all involved. We know from over 60 years of experience planning remarkable meetings that if you bring the right people together in the right space, using the right processes, amazing things can happen. Remember, every great event was once just a plan; start designing your remarkable meeting today!