Keep Meetings Weird [Pink Text on Yellow Background]

Who wants the same-old, same-old in their meetings? From presentations and breakouts to teambuilding and networking events, attendees are shaking their fists at the heavens and wailing the plaintive cry “quit boring the hell out of me with your cookie-cutter meeting components!”

At Meetings Today LIVE! MidAmerica in St. Louis, KiKi L’Italien, CEO of Amplified Growth and host of Association Chat, broke the mold with her “Design Thinking for Better Engagement” presentation.

“People no longer need to meet face-to-face for the chance to network and learn,” L’Italien said. “There are plenty of places to find that kind of thing online.

“It is critical that meeting planners understand how to take even the most mundane meetings and create the experiences that people are looking for when they attend a meeting,” she added. “Design thinking uses the elements of function and emotion, mixing the two together to create experience.”

“This is a framework for meeting planners to use so that they can appeal to their attendees in a way that highlights the importance of face-to-face connections,” L’Italien said. “People are too busy, tired, and maybe even a little bit jaded these days when it comes to meetings. But if you create an experience for them, you are speaking directly to those things inside them that make them human.”

The meeting planners in attendance at Meetings Today LIVE! were charged with coming up with key ways to mix up their meetings. Following are highlights of the best ideas. Your attendees will thank you!

1. “Signature” Amenities: Why stuff amenity bags full of impersonal items? Tell attendees to pack them with the things they personally enjoy, and then give those bags to others. Great conversation starter!

2. Choose Your Experience: Get away from the one-size-fits-all syndrome. Give meeting attendees a host of options to choose from. Yoga? A hands-on culinary how-to? A flower arranging course with an expert that results in table centerpieces to be used later? Everyone wants to have a say in their activity options.

3. The Snowball Effect: Write an idea on a piece of paper, ball it up and throw it at each other. If it hits you, you read it and start a conversation. How’s that for attendee engagement?

4. The Democratic Way: Why force attendees to sit through a presentation with a subject they have no choice in? Select a few speakers, have them “pitch” the attendee audience, and then let them decide.

5. The Wide World of Cooking: Chances are that attendees at your meetings come from a variety of backgrounds, from different regions within the U.S. to points across the globe. Before the meeting begins, ask for volunteers to step up and share recipes that come from their regional and/or ethnic background.

Give these to the property’s chef—with some advance notice!—and/or have the chef lead groups to produce the recipe or meal.

6. Relaxation Surprise: Provide attendees with a welcome break in a stressful and/or mundane day of meetings by surprising them with a pop-up relaxation station offering soothing massages, wellness-inspired food and aromatherapy goodness. If you want to be really sneaky, put a fake item on the agenda requiring their mandatory participation for what sounds like a really tedious activity or lecture.

Boom!—massage time!

7. Break Outside the Box: Attendees may get overloaded with all the industry-specific information they’re being bombarded with. Offer a breakout session with topic(s) that are outside their industry, such as wellness, networking fun or a trivia contest. Give ’em a break!

8. Get Interactive: Studies show that giving attendees something to fiddle with while listening to a presentation can actually improve their retention of information.

Why not include a pile of materials in the center of the table for them to interact with together to construct a centerpiece for a following meal?

9. Bad Actor: If you really want to get frisky and take a little chance, hire a local actor or three to pretend to be an obnoxious or funny attendee, let them slide into their role for a while, and then present the grand “reveal” to get your real attendees in on the joke!

10. Talkin’ ‘bout My Generation: Fun-up your meeting environment by offering a variety of seating options, from beanbag chairs and inflatable couches to standard tables and chairs. Different generations want different seating options. Be the conduit to their comfort.

11. Make It Sensory: Who wants to sit in a boring meeting room where your senses are dulled by four soundwalls and stale air? Scent it up! Select scents that fulfill a purpose and let your attendees know why their nostrils are feeling young again [Editor's Note: Make sure to account for allergies/sensitivities!].

12. The Aw-Shucks Moment: Everyone loves having to travel for business and leave their loved ones at home, right? WRONG! Before the conference begins, innocently ask attendees to share digital photos of their friends, family and furry friends. Then, make a friend for life by room-dropping framed photos of their significant others in their hotel room. This one is so good it’s almost unfair!

Association Chat and Meetings Today also partnered up for a live broadcast from Meetings Today LIVE! in St. Louis. Stream the On Demand version of that broadcast via the embedded Crowdcast player below.

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For more information about upcoming Meetings Today LIVE! events, visit www.MeetingsToday.com/LIVE.

Read KiKi L'Italien's posts on the Meetings Today Blog here.

Explore the weirder side of meetings via Bob Calhoun's Shattering Conventions contributions.