Guest post: How to plan a better planning meeting

Photo by Jeremy Lim

This is a guest post written by Corwin Hiebert, an entrepreneur from Vancouver, Canada, who specializes in strategic event design, marketing, and creative talent management. His company, Red Wagon Management, produces and hosts CREATIVEMIX – Vancouver’s Ideation Conference. You can read Corwin’s blog or download his ebooks at CorwinHiebert.com.

Planning an event can be a lot of fun, but it can also be stressful. Event organizers repeatedly tell me that they love the feeling of a successful event but that the pre-event preparations are overwhelming and nearly kill them. I’d venture a guess that most event planners, if granted one wish for their next event, would wish for more time to plan (a bigger budget might compete for that wish, but they’d be wrong—a sermon for another time). Planners are passionate people and they want their events to be wildly successful—the idea of dedicating more time to their projects is compelling because quality always pays off. Unfortunately, the demands of simultaneous events (or a day job), client/volunteer demands, and a personal life puts a serious squeeze on the precious hours, days, and weeks required to knock the event out of the park.

So, if adding time isn’t a reality, what about making the time you DO have more effective? I’d like to propose you start by overhauling the way you look at your planning meetings.

Here’s my beef with meetings: They steal valuable time from you being able to organize people and accomplish tasks. Now, it’s the nature of the beast that you need to have face-to-face sessions but the event planner does have opportunities to exert some control over the preparation process. Meetings with clients and stakeholders are necessary in the preparation leading up to, and sometimes following up, an event. But so often all that time spent on the phone, in conference calls, and face-to-face sessions is a liability.

Why do I have such a hate-on for planning meetings? Well, there’s just so many erroneous justifications that bug me—they can look something like this:

  • Most meetings take place because someone wants to give or receive an update on tasks. That’s not a great justification for a meeting because the flow of information is unidirectional. Send an email instead.
  • The meeting is called because there are some slackers in the group and the boss wants to get everyone back on track. Don’t be a slacker and don’t subject yourself to working with slackers if you can help it. Besides, embarrassing people in front of their peers doesn’t improve motivation, and it wastes everyone else’s time.
  • Meetings seem like a good place to clear up a disagreement—but that’s bogus. If there’s a difference of opinion about a project, stakeholders should approach each other individually and find ways to move forward. In a group setting there’s a bit of a gang mentality.
  • Meeting to build excitement is stupid. Motivation is a daily management challenge, not a one-time fix. Private conversations are better, but something social is ideal. A pint after work, a spontaneous coffee run, a small gift, or quick encouraging phone call are better than a meeting.

Most meetings simply end up producing more work than their worth—period. They take up precious time, can drain creativity, and steal passion for the project. So let me unpack a bit of helpful advice.

Take control of the meetings you participate in, at least as far as your part is concerned. If events are your day job then the biggest concern from a business perspective is that you’re likely only associating billable hours to the major planning efforts (and the event itself) and therefore many of the smaller elements that take up your prep time are basically freebies; meetings fall into this category. The more meetings you have the less money you make. If you’re running events on the side then you’ve got even less time and though you may think a meeting is the best way to pull people in to help it could very likely be doing the opposite. The way to win back time for yourself is to setup some parameters and expectations of the planning meetings you’re involved with.

Here are a few ways you can take take charge of your meeting environment:

1. Before agreeing to a project, include a request for a meeting schedule or provide your own schedule, one that fits your calendar. Pre-scheduled meetings are very successful at limiting the emergency or the single-issue meetings.

2. Schedule something immediately following the scheduled meeting so that you have a hard-stop, and make sure everyone knows it before the meeting starts. This also has a tendency to push the important items up to the beginning of the meeting. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of urgency.

3. Work at being the best meeting attendee or leader. Whether in person or on the phone, rock every meeting with a great attitude and be solutions-oriented. And be early or at least on time. When you’re late you’re not entering the meeting from a position of strength.

4. End each meeting with a summary of YOUR action items. Don’t worry about everyone else—just make sure everyone knows that you’ve got things covered.

There are so many inefficiencies and liabilities that can stem from meetings, and event planners would be well served by having as few of them as possible. When that’s not possible, do everything you can to ensure they’re productive, valuable, and engaging. A meeting should have a clear goal and be an open dialogue, otherwise I call foul and so should you.

Be sure to sign up for the November 4th Creativemix conference, and check out Corwin Hiebert’s previous posts on promoting the ‘WHY’ and the problem with free events.