If you attended kindergarten and paid close attention, then you already know everything there is to know about running an effective meeting:
1. Attendance in kindergarten was mandatory. This was mostly owing to the fact that I was five and had not yet established myself in my speaking career. But still, mandatory attendance seemed to ensure a full house in the windowless basement of the school where my kindergarten (which, incidentally, is German for “windowless dungeon in which small helpless children are imprisoned”) held its daily meetings. If not for the fact that there was play time, nap time, free food, puppets and, yes, the mandatory attendance requirement, I am certain those meetings would have been rather sparsely attended, as surely we all had better things to do with our time when we were five.
So the upshot is this. If you want people to attend meetings, make the attendance mandatory, wherein people clearly understand that if they do not attend the meeting, their parents will receive a phone call. And no one wants that.
2. My fellow classmates and I were kept under control and firmly in our seats by the intimidating and rather massive presence of Mrs. Brody, a cross between an angry den mother and an ornery den mother and a mother grizzly bear who is in her den and not at all pleased.
The lesson for meetings: Forget hiring comedic, eloquent or charming emcees for your event. Hire a cruel, surly ogre to emcee your meetings, and I guarantee you that not only will attendees return to their seats on time, they will also sit up straight, nod their heads gently with quiet subservience, and rarely, if ever, spitball the presenters.
3. Show and tell (or “S n’ T” as the cool kids called it) rocked the house in kindergarten, day in and day out. Show and tell was the premier event, the Oscars of the kindergarten class wherein with nothing more than a toilet plunger and Batman figurine, future scholars wowed their meeting mates with tales of things so inane everybody was glued to their seats. (In our case, literally. Did I mention Mrs. Brody was an ogre?)
Fast forward to today’s meetings, where show and tell remains the preeminent vehicle for disseminating information: presenters show a PowerPoint slide, then they tell the audience what the PowerPoint slide said. Then they show another slide, and tell the audience what that one said. And they show another slide…okay, so you get the pattern.
4. Refreshments and plenty of pee breaks make for a successful day at kindergarten class. Refreshments without the pee breaks, not so much.
This one is so obvious that even Ralph, my kindergarten pal who once brought his parole officer to class for his show and tell project, could figure it out. Free food, plenty of washroom breaks, and enough washrooms to go around are truly the keys to a successful meeting. This is why the food budget at meetings is typically 1 to 2 million times more expensive than the speaker budget. And why you need to plan for breaks every fifteen minutes (or every fifteen and a half minutes in Newfoundland*). And why conference facilities need to immediately address the imbalance between men’s and women’s washroom facilities. The formula, first developed by the early Greek mathematician Urinal, is simply this: multiply the number of men’s facilities by a factor of 6.75 to derive the appropriate number of stalls for women.
5. Our kindergarten had 30 minutes of nap time.
Today’s meetings incorporate this time honored tradition by hiring a speaker for the after lunch slot.
6. Kindergarten was only half a day in length, because clearly that was all we needed, plus we all had busy lives outside of kindergarten. In the late 60s, when I was in kindergarten, this comprised of many, many hours playing with dirt. Today’s kindergarten kids might, however, be busy with: gymnastics; learning a fourth language – most likely Latin; spear-fishing; yoga; cello lessons; SCUBA diving; talking to their investment adviser; and creating a charitable foundation to save the starfish (because making a difference to only one at a time is clearly not getting us anywhere).
The lesson is clear. Half day meetings would rock, and leave enough time that participants could network with each other more effectively, explore the city where the meeting is being held, or most likely, go to the bar.
But it is a lesson worth embracing, because, let’s be honest here, everything we need to learn in our meetings we probably could learn in half the time.
Especially if we hire an ogre as our emcee.
Michael Kerr is an international business speaker, very funny motivational speaker, business trainer and the author of six books including, The Humor Advantage: Why Some Businesses Are Laughing All the Way to the Bank. www.mikekerr.com; email@example.com
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