How to Host Better Meetings and Events

three people gathered around a table discussing color palettes

If you’ve worked in an office, chances are you’ve attended a fair number of boring meetings or conferences.

The ones that seem to drone on and on, and no one ever really remembers what’s been said or what they’re supposed to get out of it.

And when it comes to planning a meeting, we tend to think that as long as we just book a conference room, and send a calendar invite, then we’re good to go.

But with a little more thought and intention, we can start planning meetings and events that are more than just about powerpoint presentations. We can actually host events that are meaningful and impactful. The kind of events that people can leave feeling good about attending. 

Here are some tips to help you plan your events more effectively and thoughtfully. So whether you're hosting a conference, a dinner party, or a one-on-one meeting, you can ensure more meaningful interactions and deeper connection with your guests. 

What is the purpose

When it comes to planning with more intention, it’s always a good idea to articulate the purpose of your event

In this interview, Priya Parker, the author of The Art of Gathering, recommends asking yourself the following questions: “what is this event for, who is this event for, and who is it not for.”

For example, do you want this to be a networking event? Or an event for participants to learn new things? Do you want it to be a festive party? Or a low-key gathering for people to get to know each other?

Purposeful planning also means giving your meeting an agenda. What do you want to cover? What do you want to discuss? What are you hoping to gain or resolve by the end of the meeting? A little prep beforehand can go a long way towards a successful, productive meeting. 

Being clear about your purpose will also help in other areas of event planning. For example, you’ll have an easier time creating a marketing strategy when you have a specific audience in mind. Or, you’ll know how to structure your office retreat when you know what you want people to walk away with. 

Having a clear purpose also helps ensure that your participants will be satisfied and are getting what they signed up for.

Create a social environment

Another way to make your events more meaningful is to make sure that your environment is conducive to socializing and forming connections. 

A successful conference or dinner party is less about the details like stunning floral arrangements or fancy gift bags. And more about the people. The environment of your event plays a big role in helping people connect and communicate. 

Even Ina Garten recommends keeping things simple. If you’re hosting a dinner party, forego the fussy foods and decor. Instead, focus on the people and their comfort. She suggests seating guests at a round table since it’s easier for people to see and talk to each other.  She also likes to have people serve themselves and to use round serving platters and boards because “it’s more inviting and encourages folks to interact.”

You’ll also want to consider elements like sound and lighting. For example, you don’t want the music to be so loud that guests can’t hear each other. But at the same time, you don’t want an uncomfortable silence pervading the room. 

If you’re hosting an event at a venue, make sure that the layout allows people to mingle and socialize. Sitting everyone at a long table can make it hard to meet new people and make conversation. But perhaps you can have standing tables or a circular seating arrangement to make it more sociable. 

Think back to events and gatherings you’ve been to in the past and make note of things that added to your enjoyment and comfort. 

Add a ritual 

It doesn’t matter if you’re hosting a zoom event or an in-person conference for a thousand people, adding a ritual to your event will set the tone and foster connection among your guests.

There’s a reason that ritual and ceremony is a big part of significant events in our lives. 

From the exchanging of vows in a wedding ceremony to singing happy birthday at a birthday party. Rituals help ground us in the present moment and unite us. It can also make the participants feel like they’re a part of something special.

A ritual is also a great way to mark the opening and closing of an event.  Like the drawing of curtains at a theatrical play, a ritual conveys to the guest that the event is starting and that they should focus their attention. Or it denotes that the event is concluding and that they can transition to the next part of their day. 

You can incorporate a ritual to your event and have it be as formal or as silly and informal as you like. 

If you’re hosting a zoom gathering, perhaps start with an icebreaker prompt and have everyone go around and say what they had for breakfast that morning. And then end the event with another prompt. 

If you’re hosting a work meeting, you can go around and ask your colleagues what they did over the weekend. And then close it by asking what they look forward to doing this week.

Have some unstructured time

It’s important to make time for unstructured time. This is the unscheduled time that allows your guests to make chit chat and get to know each other in a low-pressure way. 

For instance, if you’re hosting a Zoom gathering or workshop, allow time for participants to make small talk at the beginning. Or set up break out rooms so that they can converse with each other. During a one-on-one meeting, allow for time to ask your colleague about their day. This unstructured period is also important for online classrooms, so that students can interact with their peers. 

When it comes to hosting a successful event, you don’t have to drive yourself crazy trying to wow or impress your guests. Instead, try to be thoughtful about putting people at ease and encouraging people to get to know each other. A successful event is similar to giving a gift. It’s less about the gift and how fancy or expensive it is, and more about how it makes the other person feel. 

What are ways that you like to make your events feel more meaningful?

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