Start by Picking the Right Purpose—Take Our Quiz to Find Yours

By plotting out your meeting’s purpose in advance, you can identify the best plan for achieving your goals. This quiz will help.

No more wasted meetings or events. Is that possible? It is, if purpose and outcome drive your planning. But what is your purpose? Pick the closest answer to these seven questions to find out:

Of course, many meetings and events have more than a single purpose. If your answers are evenly or just about evenly distributed among two to three purposes, look back to the quiz and answer key, then rank those two or three meeting types based on the takeaways you want for your attendees.

Next Stop: Planning Central

Now that you know your meeting type, it’s time to get some pointers from a few experts to help use that purpose to drive your desired outcomes.

“You want people to feel the experience was beneficial and contributed to their knowledge, perspective, and ultimately, to bottom-line growth,” says Dorie Clark, adjunct professor of business administration at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future. “If they leave scratching their heads as to the meeting’s purpose, it’s a wasted opportunity.”

If you haven’t properly articulated the meeting purpose and communicated that to participants, she says, you’re wasting time and money.

Clark is not alone in this thinking. Collin Lyons, a director at London-based corporate coaching firm Flowmotion, points to an all-too-common meeting planning mistake: failing to focus on the desired outcome and then setting a meeting type best suited to achieve it.

The best planners define the end result long before the first attendee steps foot in the conference room, both Clark and Lyons say.

It’s largely a matter of changing learned habits, Lyons says. “People are very busy and often don’t have time to adequately craft a meeting to be most effective.”

But taking the time and then planning around the goal—yields countless benefits—from ensuring the right people take part to increased productivity.

Know Your Leader

So what’s a planner to do? For those who are serious about altering their learned habits, it’s critical to consider leadership. Multiple leaders might be involved in various facets of the meeting, yet they may have conflicting ideas about goals.

“Consider who is the ultimate decision-maker,” Clark says. “It’s great to take everyone’s opinion into account, but be sure you understand who is ultimately responsible.”

Second, she advises clarifying methodology. Saying, for example, that “we want our executives to be better leaders,” is far too broad to be helpful. On the other hand, a statement such as, “We will know they’re better leaders because their public speaking skills will improve, and they can motivate their employees,” lends itself to defining what happens in the meeting.

For instance, in the above example, an Educate meeting makes sense because there are specified outcomes that training can help accomplish.

Ask Questions First

The tendency for many planners is to drive meetings with activities rather than outcomes, Lyons says. Instead, try defining a meeting in terms of something the group is doing, deciding or generating.

It helps to frame meetings and events based on purpose and driven by activities to achieve the goal, he says. Lyons recommends articulating outcomes as problems to be solved.

“Express a problem as a question, and if you can answer, ‘yes,’ then you know you’ve achieved the outcome,” he says. Some questions to ask might include:

  • Do we have a basic understanding of how we’ll be working together?
  • Do we have action plans for addressing the most important risks?
  • Do we have agreement on a new team structure?
  • Do we have a list of ideas to streamline the registration process?

“In most cases, you’ll want to inform people of the outcome beforehand,” Lyons says, “giving them time to prepare.” He also recommends posting the outcome in the room, so it’s clear and can be referenced throughout the meeting; and coming up with interactive activities that support the goals.

Sometimes it’s helpful for the planner to do some pre-meeting research, he adds. That extra planning step can provide valuable insight about who should participate, what types of activities will help achieve the outcome and whether a meeting is even necessary.

Asking questions ahead of time and drilling down in a particular area–whether it’s marketing, finance or human resources–allows for more comprehensive understanding of the problem, and the best voices to help solve it. It also helps planners justify their decisions, Clark says.

“If you can explain how a session or a speaker fits into the overall purpose, you’re golden,” she says. “If not, you risk looking capricious.”

She points out that it can sometimes feel risky to ask too many questions. “We fear we might annoy the executives we’re asking, or look less than competent,” Clark says. “But on the contrary, asking smart questions shows that you’re aware of the nuances of what can go wrong, and that you understand how to maximize the value of the meeting” — and everyone’s time.