The advice here is about designing an agenda for an all-day meeting to:

  • maximize participation
  • capture and hold people’s attention, and
  • make the event memorable.

Rather than provide a list of do’s and don’ts, I use a real example to illustrate what I think works and what does not.

Top tips

  1. Hold the meeting off site. This offers a change of scene.
  2. If possible, hold the event over two days, using the first day to get people involved in an activity. Breaking down barriers socially helps the main meeting to be a success.
  3. Create opportunities throughout for conversation.

In my experience

I recently attended a knowledge management community of practice meeting, a group which should know something about maximizing an opportunity to share knowledge. We like to practice what we preach.

The host organization was located in the countryside. Everyone travelled from across the country. It made a pleasant change from one’s own environment.

Day 1 – the prelude

We congregated mid-afternoon at a café in a local town, where we split into two groups.

Knowledge Café

Group 1 remained in the café to enjoy tea and cake, and to talk about knowledge management. The topics were selected at random from a list (in the form of a deck of cards).

The aim was to stimulate conversation between people who may never have met before and to share their experience.

Knowledge Walk

Group 2 put on their hiking boots and drove a little way out of town to go for a 3-hour hike. We spent most of the time watching our feet, avoiding nettles and climbing over stiles, chatting as we went.

It was only on our way back while walking along a lane that we focused on our reason for being there, knowledge management, using the same list of topics as our café colleagues. We had bonded by that point so as we swapped stories, there was a marked honesty in our conversation, accompanied by lots of laughter.

Later the two groups met up for dinner and more conversation took place.

Day 2 – the main event

At our host organization, we sat in a meeting room, in small groups at tables, and followed a structured agenda. My opinion is shown in italics below.

The Agenda

9:00 Gather, mingle, chat, wake up. The host covered housekeeping items, such as emergency exits.

9:30 Overview of the day, speed networking and introductions to new joiners

  • Three rounds of speed networking was a quick way to make three new acquaintances

10:00 A talk by the host organization on an aspect of their work was accompanied by a challenge to attendees. This was followed by a 20-minute conversation at our tables, responding to the challenge, wrapping up with a short summary of each conversation.

  • This was a success as we would have liked to have conversed longer
  • The conversations at each table differed, despite responding to the same challenge. It was fascinating to note the differences.

10:45 Coffee break

11:00 A talk by an invited academic; questions were welcomed

  • Slides proved to be a distraction, despite being primarily visual
  • Questions disrupted the speaker’s flow as it was apparent there was a lot of content to get through
  • We heard one person’s experience only, with no time allocated for conversation where we might have heard others’ experience of the topic

11:45 Offers and wants:

  • Share something that works in your organization
  • What experience/expertise do you have to offer?
  • Is there something that you need help with?

We sat in a big circle to allow everyone to participate. Limited to 30 seconds only, one after another we stated our offer/want.

  • This was a success as there was lots of eye contact and it was relatively easy to hear. 
  • The same issues came up and links were made instantly.

12:30 Lunch break

13:15 A talk by an invited consultant. A flip chart was used to illustrate a framework and questions were invited.

  • People who quickly grasped the concept asked questions. 
  • There was no time allocated for conversation at the tables to discuss how this framework might be used in practice.

14:00 Peer assists The group broke into three groups, each hosted by someone who wanted help on a topic (that had been identified in advance). Groups self-selected.

  • This was a success as it enabled the host to state their issue, for peers to ask questions to clarify the issue, then to offer ideas or suggestions, and for the host to identify what ideas they had taken note of.

15:00 Let’s have a heated debate. A panel of seven: three for the motion, three against, and a facilitator. This was a structured session, where the panel made their case, the audience asked questions and then voted on which side offered the most compelling argument.

  • This was a success. Despite debating a serious topic, it was great fun because the panel were passionate in their respective roles. 
  • It demanded everyone who was present to listen attentively and allowed us to hear from people with whom we might not yet have had a conversation. 

16:00 Close Feedback was requested there and then, on paper.

The results showed that, on a score out of ten, most gave a mark of between 8 and 10 which, by any measure, deems the agenda (and the event) to have been a success.

On reflection

A week after the meeting I reviewed my written notes. I had only made notes on the three talks: the introduction by the host organization, the talk by the academic and the talk by the consultant.

However the bits I recalled from memory were the conversations which took place over the two days. Only time will tell if at a later date I retain this clarity without the aid of notes.