I recently received this note from a friend:

 I am organizing my company’s annual Fall off-site meeting. It’s a 2-day gig. First day we’re driving there and doing a volunteer project. Second day we’re going on a 3-hour safari [don’t ask, it’s California] and then meeting for 4 hours in the afternoon. What should we do with our meeting time? Your thoughts appreciated. PS: Should we do team building?

Here, Collective Nexters share pro tips for making your next big meeting a huge success:

First, Understand Why You Need This Big Meeting At All
“Begin by talking to folks who are specifically NOT the most senior folks in your department or organization. There are many worlds of perspective that exist in your organization, and the quieter voices that may not be heard on a daily basis will certainly have some insightful design ideas. Talk to them, and ask them questions such as: What’s on your mind? What do you think we need to work on for this year? For 10 years into the future? Choose 3 or 4 colleagues and knight them your sponsor team to help you think about and plan for your big meeting.

“Then, based on what you learn from your selected knights, craft a set of 3-4 objectives for your session. Re-engage your sponsor team weekly and refine the objectives into a set of topics that you can reasonably tackle over the allotted timeframe you have for your all-hands. Begin this process 3-4 months ahead of your meeting.” John Colaruotolo, Solution Designer

With Your Objectives in Mind, Design Your Agenda
“An agenda is a plan for the use of a limited resource, people’s time. In order to make that use skillful, efficient, and productive, you must have a clear understanding of the objectives for your big meeting. Objectives can be straightforward, or they can be complex and nuanced. Does the group need to understand something better? Do they need to agree upon something? Do they need to build something? Do they need to solve a problem? Often what a group needs to do is understand something together so they can agree on what they need to build to solve a problem.

“Designing your big meeting agenda is like planning a field trip. Only when you know where you want to go and why, can you determine everything else about how you’ll get there and what you’ll need along the way: How much time you will need overall? What are the various stops (activities) along the way? How much time do you need for each stop?  Who needs to be there? What are you bringing with you, i.e., what inputs (data, information, inspiration) will be required along the way. And when’s lunch! Answer these questions, and you are well on your way to crafting a great agenda.” Geoff Amidei, Solution Designer

With Your Objectives and Agenda in Mind, Gather and Design Your Inputs
“We have all had the experience of sitting down at a big meeting and seeing that we have an afternoon of Powerpoint presentations ahead – and then seeing that said presentations use 6 point font. When you’re in charge of the world, or at least your big meeting, put some parameters around the visuals that will be presented. Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 rule of PowerPoint is a good place to start. And hey, challenge yourself to go beyond PowerPoint. Consider the information and the audience, and design for engagement. Your best tools might be a short video or a set of Voice of the Customer audio clips. You might try a single frame poster to sum up a timeline, project or process.” Erin King, Creative Director

Invite the Right Participants
“One of the biggest things to get right for a big meeting is the attendee list. It can be hard to get the right mix of job levels, functions, perspectives and personalities involved. But with the right balance you can really improve the acceleration, alignment, and durability of the decisions made. It can feel like a risk to include people who will challenge your views or direction, but making room for those voices and ideas to be heard means that the meeting output cannot be written off because the decision were made in a vacuum.” Gordon Eby, Solution Design Partner

Plan… and Be Flexible
“The importance of planning can’t be overstated. Abe Lincoln said, ‘Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.’ But just because you have a great plan doesn’t mean it’s set in stone. You have to be flexible in the execution.” Evan Wondolowski, Art Director

It’s Not Just a Meeting, It’s an Experience
“With any event that I plan, whether it is for a client, Collective Next, or a family event, I approach it as though I am planning an experience. I think end-to-end, minute to minute, about what the time will look and feel like. The holistic experience of those attending is always the centerpiece of planning for me.” Kelly Nealon, Strategic Project Manager

Space Matters
“Have you ever had a cluttered desk or dining room table and said, ‘I just can’t think until I clean this up?’ The space you create for your meeting is going to have an impact on how people feel and act. At a minimum, you want people to be comfortable and encouraged to participate. But you have a great opportunity to take it even further and inspire, open minds, make people think and feel differently, and engage more effectively. Think about how you want the participants to feel when they walk in the room. Think about how the group will need to move in the space throughout the meeting. Hoping for creativity? Put some artwork in the space. Expecting people to focus and express themselves freely? Make every effort to wall off the outside world so that participants can concentrate on the issue at hand in a safe environment. Do you want people to think big and generate new ideas? Consider giving them a big wall and colorful markers to draw and share ideas. Worried that people will come in late and congregate in the back? Create easy access to seats by creating an aisle and station someone in the back to ask people to please take a seat. Whatever you do, don’t let the space be an afterthought.” Kristen Bailey, Solution Designer

Someone Should Own the Important Details
“I am a crazy list maker and routinely think through every little detail. When I come up with an idea for an event, I think through how it will work from beginning to end. Will this aspect fit into the time I have planned? What supplies do I need to make this go off flawlessly? Whose expertise do I need to tap into so that I know what is really required to do this well? From arrival to departure, each moment is thought through in detail. There are always surprises along the way and departures from the plan, but when you have spent the time thinking through possible scenarios, it makes it easier to be flexible and nimble when those moments arrive.” Kelly Nealon, Strategic Project Manager

Don’t Let Them Go Hangry
“You’re starving, your stomach seems to be screaming into the abyss, and the meeting isn’t going to end for another hour. There are no snacks in sight. You are so focused on silencing your rumbling tummy that you aren’t listening anymore. You are ready to go full-on Man vs. Wild and grab a fish from the decorative tank in the lobby. When people get hungry and angry (or, hangry), they don’t want to participate or focus. The leader asks, ‘Are there any questions?’ and the likely retort is, ‘When’s lunch?’ If you are having a meeting that is near any of the major meal times (meaning: if you are having a meeting at all) provide more than enough sustenance for folks to do their best work!” Rachael Maggiani, Associate

Be Authentic
“If you are in charge of a meeting or the one standing at the front of the room, be yourself. Be your true self. Don’t try and pretend to be someone you are not. The audience will never let you fail if you are honest with them and allow them to connect with you in an authentic way. Involve them in your intentions, share with them your concerns or your doubts, show vulnerability, and engage them in your hopes for the event. If you are reserved or, even worse, acting like someone you are not, the audience will sense that immediately and they won’t be invested in your success. They want YOU to succeed; not someone to whom they can’t relate. This authenticity will be your safety net. If all else goes wrong (and a lot can go wrong) if you are authentic throughout, the audience will make sure you are successful.” Hamilton Ray, Solution Designer

And Try to Remain Calm
“Nothing ever goes exactly as planned, that’s why it’s a plan and not a certainty. When things go off track, adapt, and more importantly stay calm. Our emotions are contagious (seriously, its science), if you’re stressed out and frantic, your participants are going to see that and be affected by it. Keep calm and carry on.” Evan Wondolowski, Art Director

On Team Building
“Building team cohesion, which some think of as team building, is a worthy objective. And we’ll be the first to suggest that you have fun with a problem. But remember: you’re using time and budget, and you have a huge opportunity. Build team cohesion by giving people opportunities to be authentic and to articulate their ideas and hopes, combined with tools and structures for aligning and executing on those. The best team building is achieved by collaborating on meaningful work.” John Colaruotolo, Solution Designer

Don’t Forget the Last Piece: Follow Up
“Following up your meeting with a clear, concise, and consistent pitch outlining the journey taken during the off-site and decisions made is vital. Off-sites can be distracting for those left back in the office and who might be affected by the outcomes. The manner in which they hear about the meeting and the message need to be carefully considered, in terms of both content and consistency.” Gordon Eby, Solution Design Partner

“Most importantly, communicate – communicate – communicate – before, during and after the event. Keeping everyone in the know will create trust and motivation to do good work. And in the end, your attendees may even look forward to your next big meeting!” Jen Seppanen, Solution Design Partner