As a meeting facilitator, I am on the planning team for most events that I attend. Last month I attended several conferences that were new to me and which I had no hand in planning – it was kind of fun to be in a different role! I learned a lot by noticing my reactions from a meeting participant point of view.
My pet peeve of the month? Overplanned meals.
I’m not talking about menus or decor. I’m talking about activities and presentations. There was not a single lunch or dinner where the participants could just eat and talk with the other folks at their table without having to listen to a speech, play a game, or participate in some kind of conversational activity.
I’m not against any of those things in general – I’m a big proponent of games – but I find it hard to enjoy either the food or the company when too many other activities are introduced into the meal time. Isn’t one of the reasons we go to conferences networking with colleagues? Yes, an ice-breaker question or two can help jumpstart things but do we need to have the entire meal scripted? At one table we finally just continued our conversation and ignored instructions from the facilitator, which felt sort of rude…yet allowed us to actually have the experience we came there for.
Breaks and unscripted social spaces are the white space of meeting design (see my previous post on this topic) and need to be crafted with the same care as your formal agenda items.