Are you making the right impression?

What kind of impression are you really making at your meetings?

Yesterday, I had a business meeting at the Institute of Directors (IOD) office in Pall Mall, London. I have been to this building several times before, either to attend meetings or run events myself. This venue is impressive, the fantastic West End of London location, it’s grand surroundings with it’s regency splendour or just as a “landmark of London’s great Georgian Heritage”. It is certainly a popular business and function venues in the Capital.

This got me thinking. Typically event organisers (except professional event organisers) care very little about the perception of event attendees; specifically the accommodation the attendees are forced to endure during the event and the message this portrays.

As leaders of projects and programmes we frequently have the honour of arranging events, such as key meetings, workshops, strategic planning sessions.

Such events provide a special opportunity to achieve project, programme or organisational outcomes. They also help the attendees in a variety of ways, whether it is to provide input, obtain buy-in, dispel fears, etc.

One thing we all know and that is ALL meetings are expensive! We do our utmost to ensure they are run efficiently and effectively. Poor meetings are even more expensive, in time, money, lost productivity and diminished morale (often considered more detrimental than not running the meeting).

As leaders we endeavour to ensure that (at a minimum):

  • The right people invited, but no others.
  • Every meeting has a clearly defined purpose; it accomplishes that purpose; then finishes.
  • The meeting start right on time.
  • The flow of information, logistics, etc. is managed in a timely and effective manner.

I know many leaders get so focused on the content of the event, that he/she has little consideration about the actual venue. Certainly not until the very last minute. Typically the only factor is on whether it was physically suitable for the attendees (size, location, etc.).

I for one believe that the “devil is in the detail”. Choosing the right venue for the specific purpose of the events is paramount.

Some might say that does it really matter. But think about it. It does…

Have you ever been to an event where there has been poor acoustics, or the room is ice cold, or there are workmen drilling in an adjacent room, or the refreshments are so dire that you escape the venue to grab a coffee and snack. How did you feel during the event and what about afterwards. In such situations much of the audience will either misses key messages (assuming they stay) or walk out and probably stay out.

The IOD property in Pall Mall portrays grandeur and importance. The venue has played host to politicians, celebrities and royalty and has been the backdrop of many films and television programmes. Whatever the event you attend there, the venue impresses and seemingly raises the bar above lesser venues.

The right venue portrays an important message. Maybe it’s as simple as you care!

Select the wrong venue and the attendees may have reasons to be distracted, so wasting everyone’s time. The wrong venue can even lead to lost productivity and diminished morale from the moment the event is announced. It may just give the wrong impression that the organisation is not interested in the welfare of the attendees. The list is endless.

Selecting the right venue is a certainly step in the right direction for giving the right impression (assuming the content is relevant, that is another issue altogether). A good venue may be viewed by employee as positive, allowing their motivation, morale and participation to increase.

For example, it is well known across employees in the UK pharmaceutical industry that if their company arranges a “special event” at one of the global hotel chain conference venues adjacent to Heathrow airport (you know the ones, those that promote the right ambience, capacity and facilities for large corporate events!). The pharmaceutical employees have come to appreciate that events at such venues signify unwelcome news. In the past it has typically been the announcement of organisational restructures with ensuing staff impact and redundancies. So today, when such announcements are made, speculation runs rife across the employee population, obviously with resulting drops in morale and productivity in the run up to the event.

So learn a lesson from others experiences.

Once you have selected the right attendees, ensure that they know that their attendance is both important and mandatory. In such cases, there is a risk that they may be unmotivated. After all not all attendees are going to be enthusiastic about what you will be addressing at the event. Certainly when it comes to addressing organisational change, the lack of enthusiasm and lacklustre attitude can be disheartening to the change leads. So one has to get creative. Set the event off with the right start.

Find a way to gain the attendees interest, therefore increasing attendance and enthusiasm. One way is to improve the way the event is perceived. Select a venue that inspires (like the IOD properties in Pall Mall) or if you are limited to what you can do (budget, time, etc.) then ensure your attendees are well looked after (it goes someway to making them feel appreciated and shows you care about them).

In 2008 I worked for Capital One, an international financial services company, as one of the programme manager on a massive business transformation programme (a $100 million investment according to the UK press) with complex and wide-ranging workstreams across all aspects of the business. The entire programme needed to implemented successfully in a two year period (experts from the “Big Four” accountancy firms said it couldn’t be done in less than three years). You get the picture. After several months the programme director decided to set up weekly “progress” review meetings for all key participants in order to ensure that progress on the programme was maintained at the speed necessary to implement within the two years (effectively one year early). All key participants were required to attend this one hour briefing. Obviously time constraints across 300+ people made such a weekly meeting impossible to schedule. So it was arranged for very early morning, certainly before most people usually started work. This typically would have resulted in quiet poor attendance. But not this time. Why?

Although the venue was not ideal (an underground storage room large enough to accommodate 300+ people, retrofitted as a conference room), the attendees were rewarded with a superb buffet breakfast. As much as you could eat, from tables laden with grilled back bacon or sausage rolls, fresh toast and jams, breakfast pastries (fruit pastries, pain au chocolats, croissants & pain au raisins), fresh fruit, selection of fresh juices, decent fresh-brewed coffee and tea, and more. Amazingly attendees did not mind getting into the office a couple of hours early to attend. Indeed most would skip breakfast at home and eat at the meeting. The result was one very well attended and highly productive event. Most people missed the “breakfast meeting” when the programme finished.

It is all about being professional. Make attendees feel appreciated for their time and show them that you care about them. You give your attendees a reason to be impressed. You benefit too, you increase the delivery power (and effectiveness) of the message and/or contribution that the attendees make!

So, with that in mind, what do you think? What has worked for you?

2 responses to “Are you making the right impression?

  1. Neil,

    Thank you for the interesting post.

    I think that all too often we overlook the less tangible elements of projects, focussing too rigidly on our governance, milestones and the like but you are right as sometimes paying attention to the seemingly little things is what contributes towards the big things being achieved.

    I’ve not worked on a project where we’ve needed to gather a large number of people together very early in the day, necessitating breakfast, but I have always found that bringing cake, sweets etc to a large meeting personally (not just ordering some coffee and biscuits from the faceless catering team) can often be the difference between people attending a meeting and not…I’m not sure I’ve reflected enough on whether that is a good or bad thing yet but at least it gives me the opportunity to gradually bring them round.

    On my last project the team began volunteering to bring in the treats (without prompting from me) which served as an indicator to me that I had some sort of buy in to the attendance.

    Anyway, thanks again for sharing.


    • Chris,

      Thank you for your comment. Very much appreciated.

      I wholeheartedly agree with your approach “but I have always found that bringing cake, sweets etc to a large meeting personally (not just ordering some coffee and biscuits from the faceless catering team) can often be the difference between people attending a meeting and not…I’m not sure I’ve reflected enough on whether that is a good or bad thing yet but at least it gives me the opportunity to gradually bring them round.”

      I worked at Royal Bank of Scotland in Edinburgh a few years back and would take my PMs and Team Leaders out of the office for a fortnightly briefing. Taking them off-site (nowhere special, just the local Starbucks as it had a suitable area for less than a dozen people), proved more productive, despite the extra time away. The brisk walk to the venue enabled us to have time out of the office, in the fresh air, and the informal chat to and from the venue helped build rapport between the group.

      I truly believe it’s the thought that counts when working with people. Whether you have a small or large gathering, treat them as you would want to be treated. It certainly appears to reflect your comment “On my last project the team began volunteering to bring in the treats (without prompting from me) which served as an indicator to me that I had some sort of buy in to the attendance”.


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