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What’s Your Meeting Intelligence

One of the biggest workplace buzzwords of the past few years is “emotional intelligence.” It’s being used in hiring, assessing leadership skills, and as a qualifier of someone’s potential. Made famous by Daniel Goleman, it is the result of many years of research and theories from many people that boils down into the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions, as well as the emotions of others. It’s usually identified in three skills:

 

  1. The ability to be highly aware of your own emotions.
  2. The self-awareness needed to connect those emotions to productive tasks like problem solving.
  3. Having a sensitivity to other’s emotional states and creating conditions to influence them.

 

If you google, you’ll find hundreds of lists and quizzes and tips for how to assess and improve your “EQ.”

 

I think we should create MQ – a meeting intelligence assessment. I’ve spoken many times about the responsibility that event planners have to our audiences. If you are going to bring people together, you should do it in a way that advances a person and sets them up to be better than they were when they arrived. Here is a proposed assessment scale to see how your event measures up:

 

  1. You meet the base needs of your attendees.

We all know Maslow’s hierarchy by this point – food, shelter, safety. People will never absorb the learnings of your event if they are always thinking about how hungry they are, how cold they are, or where they can sit. I would add to this some new base needs – wifi, charging ports, a quiet place to make a phone call. We all know that work doesn’t stop when we are on the road. If you can afford buffets and quiet pods, excellent. If that’s not in your budget, do you provide instructions for how they can easily find what they are looking for?

 

2. You have a sense of empathy for your audience.

Empathy is the next level of base needs. You go beyond thinking about if you have chairs and instead think about how the audience will feel when they sit in those chairs. You actually put on their shoes and remember what it is like to sit in a dark room; early in the morning; after a cup of slightly burnt hotel coffee; missing your spouse, kids, pets; with a report due in three days; a conference call at noon; and dreading the reception because it will just be two hours of small talk. How is anyone supposed to arrive at their next big idea with all of that weighing on them? When I work on creating new experiences, I focus on all of the things I hate about events, and address them one by one. It’s amazing the difference a little sunshine and facilitated networking can make.

 

3. You create curiosity at your event.

Why do we come to conferences if not to discover something? Are you creating the conditions for your community to learn effectively? Are you following the principles of adult learning: outcome-driven, active learning; crowdsourced design; short sessions with interactive discussion? Is your event about someone else’s answers, or is it about the community discovering and discussing the big questions?

 

4. Your event conveys an authentic feeling of optimism and inspiration, towards specific outcomes.

Your event is more than the annual gathering of the so-and-so profession. It is a chance for the community to come together to advance the goals of your organization and further the industry you represent. And everything about the event should trace back to this. (Let’s be real – the name “Annual Meeting” never inspired anyone.) Every decision you make for the event should be framed through the lens of how it furthers the goals of your organization. The welcome reception is not just a place to see old friends. You can be intentional by introducing table topics for discussion. The general session isn’t just an inspirational speaker, it’s a call to action for the community to move things forward and deliver specific outcomes by the end of the event. Sometimes it can be hard to convey this sense of purpose. I’ve planned my share of finance committee meetings. But there should be a strong thread back to your mission for every meeting and event you spend money on. If you truly can’t find that, should you even be holding the event?

 

5. You frame challenges as opportunities.

Most people are at events to face some challenge. Present where they are in their research. Sell more widgets. Educate people on the cause. Raise money. We have a lot of work to do in this world and events are a great place to get it done. There is so much influence in the collective brainpower of our attendees, and we waste it by not creating ways for them to leverage and liberate it. Oftentimes, our events are gatherings of leaders in our industries. And we let these people just sit next to each other in sessions and don’t even let them talk! Imagine if your event laid out one big question for your industry, and there was dedicated time at the beginning and end of each session for the attendees to talk to each other about the question. Just this simple addition would increase the opportunities for change significantly. And if you had a place for people to share those aha moments, and then group together to further them, that would lead to grand ideas.

 

6. You create intentional pauses.

Pause practice comes from Buddhism, where you simply pause at different moments in the day and take conscious breaths and be present. There are places where a bell is rung to signal it. I have an app on my phone that nudges me to breathe at different times during the day. By taking the time to call people back to the moment, we increase their mindfulness and appreciation. You could go as big as playing a chime over the house sound system, or it could be as simple as an app notification. You could event just ask your speakers to pause for a moment at the beginning or end of their presentations, to allow the audience to breathe. And of course, you should create white space in your event so people have the opportunity to create their own intentional pauses.

 

7. You celebrate the community.

For many people, the association serves as their professional home. It is the place that certifies them, keeps them current, and allows them to connect with people who are interested in the same things they are. Many of us have awards ceremonies, fellows recognition, and student receptions, but the ones that are doing this the best do the work of tying the individual back to the community at whole. Humans are moved by stories, and I love seeing when organizations share the stories of how an individual advances the profession and the community is better for it. But it is way more than just reading someone’s bio as they walk across the stage. We need to create a feeling that when we celebrate one of us, we are also celebrating what is the best within us.

 

8. You ask how you can make it better.

A large part of my job is talking to audiences about how they feel about the events they attend. And almost always, someone comments on how appreciative they are that the organization is taking the time and resources to listen to them. Audience surveys are a start, but they don’t provide enough. They are only as good as the people who answer them, which is typically people who love or hate your event. Qualitative research is also needed. Spend time talking to attendees and exhibitors about their experience, and what can make it better. It can be good to use volunteers for this task, because people might be more honest than they are to the staff. Do this onsite in a small facilitated session. Have a team of 10 people make 5 phone calls after the event. Word your survey questions to get at what people are trying to accomplish, instead of how they rated the lunchtime speaker, and provide incentives for answering so you pull from a broader set.

 

If you are looking for more ways to up your MQ, check out our limepaper on The Four Dimensions.