Kelly Connolly has been with Global Planners almost since the beginning. As head meeting planner, she has supervised countless meetings over the years, for anywhere from 10 to 1,500 people. Here’s what Connolly thinks makes a good meeting:
The Wow Factor: After going through the trouble and expense of setting up a meeting, getting a location, and paying the costs of travel, it only makes sense to make the occasion worthwhile for those in attendance. That’s where Connolly believes the “Wow Factor” comes into play.
“You need to do something to provide people with an experience they haven’t had before,” she says. “So many of these meeting attendees are professional meeting attendees. The meeting is about providing people with a unique experience.”
Connolly says the food and beverage part of meetings provides the best opportunity to knock people’s socks off. For example, a recent insurance company meeting had a “human chandelier” serving champagne. The server was an acrobat who descended from the ceiling, twirling on wires, like a Cirque du Soleil performer, pouring champagne for guests while hanging in the air.
“It certainly had an element of surprise,” Connolly recalls.
On another occasion, dinner tables descended from the ceiling already laden with the first course of the meal.
Other food-related spectacles include Top Chef-style cooking contests.
The Key Is the Keynote: Great speakers can add a lot to a meeting, though they can come at a price. Connolly hired Bill Clinton to give a speech at one company meeting — he charges around $750,000 to make an appearance.
“We want to make sure they are providing attendees with impactful guest speakers,” Connolly says. “When we have big training events, we make sure to have at least one speaker with a human interest story — somebody who maybe was an underdog and won an Olympic medal, or a wounded warrior who has come back home. People like something that makes them feel good about themselves.”
Content Is King: Spectacles and tear jerking speeches are all well and good, but never forget the point of the meeting is the point of the meeting. There has to be a balance between presentations related to the purpose of the meeting, be it education or sales seminars, and the bells and whistles.
“Content is obviously really important,” Connolly says. “Start with the basics. Figure out what the budget is, then you can start adding in bells and whistles and fun elements”
Simple Can Be Good, Too: Despite the undeniable appeal of a human chandelier pouring champagne or a former president giving a speech, not everything has to be over-the-top to be worthwhile. “There’s something about simple elegance that can make a big impact,” she says.
Meetings Need Downtime: Connolly says that clients often want to over-schedule the meetings so that attendees are always busy with icebreakers, seminars, meals, or other activities. But she says many people go to conferences just to spend time with their peers and don’t want to have a full schedule.
“People appreciate time they can spend with their peers,” she says. “It doesn’t need to have all this stuff that keeps them from having one-on-one networking time.”
Not as Easy as it Looks: If you are planning an entire meeting, it’s easy to think it’s as simple as booking a room, picking out entertainment and speakers, and making sure the staff set up the room the way you want it. However, there are countless details that are easy to overlook. “Does the room have adequate power? What will the stage look like? Who is going to run the show? What kind of production company are we going to here? What kind of lighting?” Connolly says.