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by By Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM | July 01, 2009

Although many meetings survived cancel­lation this year, a number of groups have trimmed a day or more from their events' traditional duration. Downsizing an agenda is no easy feat, especially when the content, goals and objectives remain the same. Following are tips for making the most out of a reduced schedule.

 

Start virtual
Prior to your live meeting, make some noninteractive topics that were to be covered (e.g., policy changes, research results) available via a web-based meeting system. If your organization does not have a proprietary system, you can leverage services such as Webex.com. Such web-based meetings, most effective when limited to 50 or fewer participants, will put you way ahead of the game by the time you are on-site.

 

Prep participants
Send detailed information in advance (not just the agenda, but anything that will facilitate and expedite the meeting's content and message, such as graphs, grids, short bios/photos of key participants). Most importantly, prepare attendees for a tight schedule -- perhaps letting them know they won't be able to run out between sessions -- so they know what to expect and can make the proper adjustments to their own time management.  

 

Rethink locale
It could be worthwhile to move your meeting to a more convenient location, which can shave hours off your flights and transfer time. If you must move your meeting, even if you are in the same city, stay within the same hotel family to negotiate a break on fees. 

Yes, you might have to move from your resort location to an airport venue. Short meeting/big agenda circumstances like these make convenient airport locations a truly wondrous thing. Most importantly, while you might be lamenting the move from a beautiful resort, many airport options really are gorgeous, such as the stunning and cutting-edge Fairmont Vancouver Airport or the Hilton Rome Airport.

 

Leverage breaks
Working lunches are a given, but consider working dinners and receptions, too. Just make sure you work in some super-short power breaks during the day to allow attendees to recharge and re-energize. Create 10-minute (instead of 15- or 20-minute) breaks for them to use the restrooms or just stretch a bit. Tired attendees will not be efficient.

 

Adjust F&B
We have known for years that carbohydrates raise serotonin levels and make attendees sleepy. Get serious with your food and beverage choices. Opt for light, high-protein, easy-to-eat options. Avoid simple carbohydrates. Spend more for a hot breakfast with eggs, and cut back on bread and pastries. Make water more prevalent and easy to grab than soft drinks.

 
 
More trimming tips
• Start on time. Attendees are used to breakfast being optional, so schedule it a half hour earlier than usual and keep the food in the back of the room. Or fake the actual start time if you need to.

• Be scrupulously organized and have contingency plans for your contingency plans. Don't let anything delay the meeting, such as an uncooperative A/V system. There is no margin for error, so test everything meticulously in advance.

• Be disciplined, focused and stick to the agenda. Ban phones, BlackBerrys and computers from the meeting. Successful organizations have the self-control to regulate this behavior. Open laptops (unless you are running the presentation from one) tempt attendees into instant messaging, e-mail or tweeting, which can sabotage a short, content-intensive event.