Meeting Format and Major Session Agendas

The Meeting Pattern

Communications is the core purpose of all meeting and this must be kept in mind when developing the meeting pattern.  Whether the meeting is set up for interaction amongst participants or involves a lot of lectures by an industry expert, the design of the meeting MUST ensure the at information is being received and understood.

There are 4 main barriers to communication that need to be kept in mind when developing the meeting pattern:

  1. Numbers:  The larger the group – the more people in a session the more difficult it is to communicate information to everyone.  Just like a student who is not interested in classroom activities sits at the back of the room, those sitting at the back of the room during a session feel less connected to what is going on.  This is why you often see a speaker projected onto a large screen when (s)he is speaking to a large group and that is why you often see motivational speaker moving out into the audience during their program.
  1. Distance:  This reflects the same comments as above.  There is a direct proportional reduction in interaction for each 2 feet of distance.  Someone sitting 10’ from the speaker will feel more involved in the session than someone sitting 50’ away.  If you want to run an interactive workshop, you may need to limit the number of participants to ensure everyone participating feels engaged in the conversations and activities.
  1. Objects:  Objects are not just pillars and posts in a meeting room.  Things such as tables desks and lecterns are barriers as well.  A speaker who is not totally confident speaking likes to use a lectern as a crutch.  (S)He will feel less vulnerable and exposed.  In a group discussion people usually sit around a table – ever wonder why they don’t just sit in an open circle?  Again it is a comfort factor… with the table between the members of the discussion group they feel less exposed.
  1. Positioning:  The greatest interaction is produced in face to face situations.  In many meeting this is not possible and for the most part (in theatre and classroom set ups) people are looking at the back of someone else’s head.  This is not at all conducive to interaction within the group.

Keep these in mind as you create the sessions that make up the meeting pattern or outline.  Consider the session’s objectives – what needs to be accomplished in that particular session or type of session and try to set the room(s) accordingly.  If you are doing a number of concurrent sessions, where someone is lecturing on a topic, classroom or theatre might be fine.  However, if you want a lot of group discussion, interaction amongst the participants, another type of set up, such as a hollow rectangle,  T or U set up may be required.

There are many other things that must be kept in mind when you develop the meeting pattern if you want to create the basis for a successful meeting.

  • Determine the arrival and departure pattern of your attendees:  This information is gathered from the attendee profile.  It is important to ensure the attendees can arrive, check into their hotel, get settled and registered before the program begins
  • Ensure your registration is open and available to attendees
  • Provide a casual first event:  This allows participants to ease into the program as well as meet and mingle with friends and associates prior to the start of business
  • Provide time for breakfast each morning, whether for a scheduled group breakfast or on their own
  • Refreshment Breaks should provide enough time to mix and mingle, take a break and rejuvenate themselves:  20 to 30 minutes works well whenever possible.
  • People will take the time to do what they need to do anyway, so it is easier in the long run to provide sufficient time that to have them rushing and fussing or having the session get behind schedule
  • Provide time for movement between sessions:  If there is likely to be a change of floors, the time must be extended
  • Allow 90 minutes for lunch – minimum
  • Provide time for group relaxation after the presentation of difficult material:  This permits attendees to digest and discuss the material or problems informally if the wish
  • Plan the morning’s start time with the previous evening’s events in mind;  No matter how good the program of an early morning session, people won’t attend if they have been out partying the night before.  This is unfair to both the presenter(s) and the participants
  • Schedule an exciting last session to discourage early departure by attendees
  • Consider the agenda requirements for the major sessions to ensure enough time has been slotted for their content requirements
  • Put it in writing!

There are a couple of ways to lay out the Meeting Pattern for easy viewing.

See a couple of samples in this resources section of this website

The meeting pattern/program outlines a blow by blow description of everything included in the convention or meeting from the arrival of the participants to their departure

The Session Agenda

To help you anticipate the correct timing for your pattern, it is important to create a basic outline of what needs to be included in the major sessions and event.  Here meeting history information comes in handy.  Note that down the road this will evolve into a full session agenda or script.

For example:  Use the opening general session as outlined below has some specific components… In this example,the opening, based on past history, usually runs around 10 minutes;  President speaks about 15 minutes;  awards are given out at this events and video on achievements of organization is shown.  This show and tell usually takes around 30 minutes.  Based on these facts… you need an hour for the program and that is what you would slot into the pattern for this event….

Critical Path Chart.png

Depending on which scenario applies, you will schedule you morning break at either 10:00 am or 10:30 am…

In Conclusion:

Lay out the overall meeting outline, estimate time requirements for the major (plenary) sessions and events based on the creation of a basic session agenda and then slot time for each element of the program pattern.