The Key to Successful Meetings

We've all been there: department-wide, all-hands on annual strategy meetings with big aspirations. Yet, despite the big titles in attendance, the day fails to deliver out-of-the-box thinking, important strategies, and an execution plan by the end of the day.

What went wrong? It isn't necessarily that the goals were too lofty, or the thinking too soft. Simple pitfalls can have a big impact, but not to worry. Follow these simple tips and rules to get the most out of planning, executing, and following up on your next big session.


A strategy session needs to be thoughtfully framed through realistic objectives. Set you and your team up for success by picturing what you want done at the end of the day. Not every problem can be solved, or every idea explored in a single meeting.

Clearly define your purpose and meeting objectives when you send out the meeting invitation. This will set expectations about what is and isn’t in scope. Open the meeting by reviewing these.


Your agenda is more than just a list: it's a map to your goals. It connects your purpose to the specific outcomes you hope to achieve during the meeting with the step by step activities that will get you there. Prior to the big day, set time to review your purpose and map out the steps the group will go through to get there.

Once the purpose has been stated, walk everyone through the design for the day. Stay on track throughout the day to make sure you’re accomplishing what you set out to do.

Feed Your Brain, Not Your Cravings

Donuts and danishes are tasty, but your participants will have a sugar crash around11 am. Pass up the pastry trays for protein, fresh fruit and veggies to optimize the cognitive power of all the brains in the room.

Because you'll be working your minds, be sure coffee, water and healthy snacks are available throughout the day.

Circle up

The classic U shape boardroom configuration puts barriers between attendees in the room. What’s more, tables and desks encourage people to check out by using their laptops, so the barriers become both physical and virtual. Eliminate the problem by removing the tables and arranging chairs in a semi-circle instead to encourage discourse and engagement. Encouraging face to face interaction and movement is directly tied to increased performance, so designing your space to encourage these moments will inspire and motivate your attendees.

Get on Your Feet

We all know that sitting is the new smoking. Aside from being hard on your back, being physically sedentary can lead to being mentally sluggish. If you want your attendees to approach problems differently, move the chairs. Encourage standing up, as people work more creatively when they’re thinking on their feet, literally!

Appoint a Facilitator

After attending thousands of meetings, we can attest to the value of having an outside facilitator. While you’re still the expert at the topic at hand, these folks specialize in collaboration, decision making and group dynamics. They will focus on the process and strategy, encouraging full participation, keeping the group on-task, and moving forward.

If bringing in an expert is out of budget, appoint someone from your team as the facilitator for the day. Their task will be to keep an eye on the agenda, watch the time and steer the group back on course if they get lost in the weeds.

Get Visual with a

Looking to reinvent the way you think and take a radically fresh approach to meeting your goals and solving your business problems? Consider bring a graphic facilitator on board. A Graphic facilitator, or graphic recorder listens to the discussion to identify key insights and capture them in words and pictures that tell the story of your discussion.

A skilled graphic recorder will help your group cut to the heart of the challenge, and get deeper understanding and faster decisions.

Let it Shine

Sunlight provides vitamin D3 and B12, which keep you alert, improves productivity, and keeps people happy. Sunlight also controls our circadian rhythms, serotonin and cortisol levels. Whenever possible, choose a meeting room with natural light.

Is your conference room walled off to the outside world? Not to worry, follow the tip below to ensure your team gets some rays.

Take a Walk Around the Block

We probably don’t have to tell you to schedule some breaks through out your day. Encourage your participants to refresh and rejuvenate by stretching their legs, getting a change of scenery, and oxygenating their blood and brain with a little stroll around the block.Movement throughout the day benefits you in the short term and the long term – keeps you healthier and keeps your brain functioning optimally. A study at Stanford University showed that 80% of participants increased their creativity while on a treadmill.

Work in Groups

If your meeting has more than 8 people, find areas in your agenda where groups of 3 to 6 can work in teams. This will encourage more interaction, collaboration and productivity. It also harnesses the power of group genius, which breaks down barriers and allows creative solutions to come to fruition. Working in parallel has the added benefit of helping you get more out of your agenda, when teams can divide and conquer. Be sure to allocate time for each group to share their outcomes.

Have a Parking Lot

If your team discussions have a tendency to swerve and veer into the woods, make a parking lot. Not for cars, but for ideas, concerns, and anything else that is outside of the meeting objectives. This could include questions and issues that cannot immediately be answered or resolved, or completely unrelated topics that keep popping up. Dedicate a flipchart or whiteboard so as tangential ideas come up, they can quickly be identified and recorded and the group steered back on topic.

Think Ahead

Congratulations, the meeting is almost done. And because you planned, fed the team well and got them up and working in groups, the output has been insightful and innovative. Remember, the real work begins tomorrow when all those ideas about launching new products and getting into new markets has to turn into actions.

Don’t let the great ideas and plans die on the flipchart. Be sure you allot a minimum of 30 minutes at the end of the day to work backwards from your big ideas. Break those initiatives down into actions and tactics, and assign owners- only people in the room! Have the owners choose deadlines.

Nora Herting is a co-founder of , a graphic facilitation firm based in NY and San Francisco which helps Fortune 50 clients solve their toughest problems and ignite audiences by picturing the big ideas that help them innovate and thrive. One of her proudest moments as a graphic recorder was learning that Google CEO Larry Page hung her visual summary over his desk. When she is not wielding markers, Nora is behind her camera, exhibiting her photography and dreaming new visions for ImageThink.


I am interested in writing on varied topics.

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