November 11, 2010

Meeting Design: What would make the connections more concrete?

Too often meetings—be they department or all-staff—and workshops or conferences are simply crammed with content.  We raise a lot of awareness when we cover a lot of material … the what. But we aren't connecting the content and making it sufficiently concrete and actionable because we fail to answer the next two critical questions:  So what?  Now what?  

Converting increased awareness into increased action requires that we more explicitly connect the content of our conversations to how those participating can use the new information in their respective efforts.  Here are a few tips for making the connections more concrete:

Strengthen the visual recording of key information.

Infographics are becoming increasingly more sophisticated, offering innovative designs that are both visually appealing and content-rich.  Content connections can be strengthened and reinforced when more effectively recorded visually.  Resources like the Grove Graphic Guide Templates, mindmapping, and books such as The Back of a Napkin offer support for developing your capacity as a visual recorder. 

Divide participants into like-minded clusters and have them identify how to apply the information being discussed.

Staff from the same department might best support each other in connecting content to the work to be done.  Workshop participants with similar job responsibilities or from similar organizational profiles might benefit most from working with their peers to apply a presentation's ideas to their own roles and responsibilities.  If you are presenting to a very large group you could denote certain seating areas for different affinity groups, so that individuals can easily engage with others like them from the onset of your program.  After a general session speaker, conference planners should consider offering a track of application breakouts, each targeted for a specific affinity group.

Play it forward.

One of the easiest ways to make content more concrete is to imagine an idea or concept being introduced into the workplace and then brainstorm with all participants the micro and macro effects of that introduction, almost as if you could play it forward in a freeze-frame preview on a DVD player. Make this a group exercise by inviting individuals to note effects/next actions on post-It's and then working with others to form a cohesive timeline of implications/applications.

Three-steps analysis worksheet

Use a simple worksheet to enhance application of material.  Offer the following paragraph for each of the major ideas/concepts being considered:
  1. What (list the idea or concept here)
  2. So what?
  3. Now what?
Having this structure for note-taking and discussion helps remind participants of the need to drill down into the application of material being covered.

Before and after comparisons or stories

Particularly for more analytical thinkers, identifying tangible ways that their normal routines could change as a result of what is being discussed can make the information more real and understandable.  Create a two-column worksheet and have individuals list key habits/routines currently a part of their work, and then lead them in identifying the corresponding shift in behaviors that would result from what has been discussed.  Sharing stories of "the way it was" and "the way it will be" can be another simple way to help participants see the adjustments that will be required of them.

Use case studies and simulations to maximize hands-on engagement and application.

These two learning formats are among the best ways to engage individuals in roles and decision-making that closely parallel their real workplace situations.  The more specific the case study or simulation can be, the more participants can connect their insights and learning to their actual work efforts.

Share analogies or metaphors that will enhance retention and recall.

New ways of thinking can often be cemented in individuals' memory when their meaning is summarized and captured in an analogy or metaphor.  This condensed version acts as concentrated content that can be recalled easily and unbundled for application.

Coach external speakers on the specifics of your audience and the desired learning experience.

This last tip is obviously a post in and of itself.  But here's a PDF of the information I request from the event organizers who ask me to speak so that I can help make the best connections for their conference attendees. 

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