In my previous blogposts I had the pleasure to interview Mike van der Vijver, meeting designer and co-author of the recently published book Into the Heart of Meetings. We learned about the flaws of classical meeting formats and the opportunities provided by smart meeting design. We also discussed the problem of conflicting interests between the meeting owner, the designer and participants. Time for the hard facts – how is the good design for a meeting actually made? Three more questions for our expert:
Mike, you said that you, as a meeting designer, could help create the right atmosphere at a meeting to promote the optimal outcome. But to which degree is it really possible to predict and influence human behaviour?
Yes, that’s a tough question. It’s hard to imagine that you can have a real impact on that. Certainly, all human interactions are largely determined by people’s character and emotions, their mood and random incidents like a bad hair day, a traffic jam or unexpected good news. These are things you cannot influence. But what you can do is steer the dynamics of a meeting. I compare myself to a skipper on board of a ship on the ocean: I can’t do anything about the direction and force of the wind, the currents and the waves. Yet I control the ship’s course, the trimming of the sails, the waypoints and position.
If I would ask you to design my next meeting, how would you start working?
The first step is to get clarity on the objectives for the meeting. It may sound strange, but often the meeting objectives are quite vague and formulated in terms that do not relate to the experiences of the participants. We talked about participant experiences last week, too, remember?
Then we do some qualitative participant interviews to obtain their views on the content. Next is an in-depth analysis of the content and how to make it ‘hot’, as we call it: gripping the participants. We end up with a script, a description of what content, providers and participants need to be doing, including the order and duration of each single programme item.
It is important that we make this sketch with your goal in mind. Each activity should be planned in such a way that it has the desired impact on your participants – an impact that supports your goals.
But how can I predict the impact of certain activity?
This is an almost philosophical question. I believe that the answer lies in the theoretical approach of receptivity – the ability or willingness to change your own state in response to a stimulus. Every change in state creates a new situation with new receptivity conditions. As events unfold, this process of stimulus, response and change repeats itself countless times and many of these stimulus – response reactions are predictable. This is the domain of the meeting designer: to notice and predict changes in receptivity and steer them. And then design a programme that guides participants through the process in such a way that the objectives are achieved.
Do you have more questions on meeting design?
Would you like to learn more about meeting design? I will continue this interview with Mike in the next 2 weeks. But you can also ask the expert himself. Mike will accompany me to IMEX in Frankfurt to answer all your questions. There will be an online scheduling tool to make an appointment with him.
Will you come and visit the two of us at IMEX?