Meeting designer Dianne Budion Devitt has a surprising answer when she’s asked, “What’s the largest meeting you have ever planned?”
“I say it is the meeting for 12 board members because 12 board members is like 12 meetings at one time,” said Devitt, founder of the New York-based DND Group.
Devitt’s response indicates the attention to detail required by a meeting of top leaders. Board members often have higher expectations than the average meeting attendee, which should inspire meeting planners to create events unlike anything these people have experienced before, said Devitt. Such events bring boards together to mix and mingle. Done well, they make the meeting more effective.
Devitt can cite examples from her own experience, such as a board meeting she planned in the charming Berkshires region of Massachusetts. Igniting creative ideas was a goal, so the company bought out a small inn. Devitt knew all the board members, and she chose their rooms based on that knowledge. She asked the hotel’s chef to describe his dream meal, then had him prepare it: a seven-course chocolate-tasting menu with wines to complement each course. She added local culture by hiring a theater troupe to perform. After dinner, port wine, the lead executive’s favorite, and cheese were served in a salon as one of the actors recited sonnets. “You need to dig into what makes something unique and the talents of local people,” Devitt said.
Granted, a generous budget is needed for some of those ideas. And yet, Devitt said, some of her biggest hits have been the least expensive. For example, to tie a board meeting to a local art museum, Devitt placed a coloring book and watercolors at place settings. Attendees loved the gifts; it gave them something to take home to their grandchildren. “Don’t be afraid to take risks with fun like $1 coloring books and $1 watercolor kits,” she said.
Here are a few other things to keep in mind as you plan board meetings.
The Stage Must Sparkle
“It all starts with the venue — creating that stage, the theater of the meeting,” Devitt said. “How is that environment going to physically affect the attendees?” Make sure the venue measures up to board members’ lifestyles and expectations. “I’m going to presume that most live in a nice house, appreciate art, good wine and good food. They appreciate a good night’s rest and quality linens,” said Devitt. Keep in mind, she said, that those with good taste have heightened senses. “Your senses are enhanced by the experiences you have had in cultivating them,” she said.
Venues also must support the meeting’s purpose. An unorthodox setting might be a good choice to inspire innovation; a traditional setting better suits a meeting where business is more routine.
Consider Generational Differences
Different generations have different tastes, so consider the age of your board members. A board of baby boomers won’t mind sitting at a boardroom table, but a group of millennials or members of Generation X would likely prefer a more relaxed setting, like a circle of upholstered chairs.
Give Attention to the Smallest Details
Plan physical aspects to the smallest detail. Red pencils that echo the color of the company’s logo are a subtle way to reinforce the company’s identity.
Promote Good Health
Food and drink must be energizing and good for brain health. Ask the chef to come up with ideas. And instead of a group yoga class, offer individual personal trainers or instructors so board members can work out where and when it best suits them. Fitness options should also be available for spouses and significant others.
Take Local Touches Up Several Notches
Instead of a tour of Elvis’ Graceland, for example, offer both a tour and a talk with someone who knew or worked with the legendary singer. (Got Priscilla’s number?) If necessary, you could even do the talk by Skype. Include a gift that is tied to the event, like a CD or a book. For a meeting at a 1920s hotel, Devitt had period cocktails on the lawn and a local historian who talked about the hotel’s history. Each board member received a signed copy of the historian’s book.