Tips for organizing effective meetings

How do you ensure that people come to the meeting you organize? Do you know in advance exactly what the purpose of your meeting should be? What do you want people to take away from it? The use of behavioral science research into the way people make decisions can then be useful. People make many decisions at any given time. Some of it is conscious, some of it is unconscious. How can you best respond to this? By using insights from neuroscience into influencing behavior, you can take into account the conscious choices that people make.

  • Who are you organizing a meeting for and what is your goal?
  • Choose your arguments
  • What kind of meeting are you organizing?
  • Physical layout of the meeting
  • How do you keep people involved?
  • The structure of an effective meeting
  • Get a good start
  • Take into account the ‘Peak-end rule’
  • Evaluate not only the conscious judgment, but also the unconscious judgment
  • In short: how do you ensure that your results have an effect?


Who are you organizing a meeting for and what is your goal?

Determine your target group. The more specific you are about this, the better you can connect with your participants. Reason from your target group. What is their level and goal and what decision do you want your participants to make? What is it about? How can you influence this? Do participants need to be convinced or just given information? If you want to get people on board with a certain strategy, you will have to consciously address them. If you want people to gain information and take the brochures with additional information with them afterwards, then it is a decision at an automatic level (and with a good design of the space you have already come a long way, but more about that later).

When people make conscious decisions, for example to purchase a car or house, they use conscious thought processes, they set priorities, make connections, list the pros and cons, and so on. With automatic decisions this is often done unconsciously. What route do you take on your way to work? You often use rules of thumb for these types of decisions: during rush hour you may default to taking a different route than in the middle of the day.

If you want to influence this behavior, it is important to distinguish whether it is a conscious or unconscious decision on which the behavior is based. You can tailor your intervention technique accordingly. If it concerns a mixture of conscious and unconscious decisions, determine which is dominant and focus on that.

Choose your arguments

What is your strategic goal? How do you want to achieve this? What arguments will you use to convince people? For a participant who is involved and decides at a conscious level: provide few arguments, but convincing. For a participant who is not involved and decides automatically: go for many arguments.

What kind of meeting are you organizing?

Depending on your goal and your target group, you choose the type of meeting or event. If you have to give people bad news, a large information meeting is usually not the most suitable means. Large meetings are not intended to discuss difficult topics that people feel deeply concerned about. Then you may only provoke resistance due to the perceived distance between the audience and the stage. This makes people in the room feel increasingly connected to each other. A drop-in meeting provides more exercise and makes it possible to really talk to each other. But conveying the message in smaller groups or individually may also work better. If you want to strategically influence people or transfer knowledge (with or without resulting in behavioral change), a larger meeting may work. Also take the group dynamics into account. Are there people in the room who keep making objections, but are these ‘outliers’ or is there no time to go into it in depth? Then repeat what is said by summarizing it briefly and promising to come back to it later. This way people feel heard and you can ‘park’ it for a while so that the meeting is not disrupted.

Physical layout of the meeting

Which customer journey do you want participants to make? This means that you arrange the space in such a way that participants follow a planned route, so that they pass certain stands and see certain information. What experiences do you want them to have? How can you influence this? By consciously thinking about this, you empathize with the participant. This allows you to optimize the participant experience, depending on your goals.

How do you keep people involved?

Be aware that the average person’s attention span is not that long. Concentration starts with motivation, so make sure people want to know and understand what you have to say. But even then, the average time to concentrate is on average about forty-five minutes at most. And that does not apply to everyone! An audience that sits quietly and listens for a long time does not always mean an attentive audience. So provide short blocks of information. Regular breaks allow the brain to absorb more information.

By consciously building in moments of exercise, you can help people to relax every now and then. This also ensures that people can understand and remember the information better. For example, organize multiple workshops that people can attend in a carousel, take regular short breaks or let people walk past flaps or stands.

Let people adopt an active listening attitude. Make the meeting interactive, invite participants to ask questions, inquire about their opinions; everything to ensure that people consciously think about what they think of what they are told.

If you want people to think hard with you or make difficult decisions, it is better to organize the meeting in the morning. Then people are often cognitively stronger than later in the day.

The structure of an effective meeting

When organizing your event, you ensure that the structure matches what people want.

Get a good start

A good start helps the meeting get going. This sets the tone. For example, by having people from the organization stand at the door and personally welcome people. By showing people the ropes so that they quickly feel at home. But a good start is also important in terms of content. If you want to get people involved, think of the principle of the slide and the stairs by Karin de Galan (2015). By first consciously considering how you can tempt people to want to learn new behavior (or a new attitude or opinion that results in a change in behavior). Your approach to getting people on board with the purpose of your meeting forms the slide, so that you can, as it were, let people slide into your meeting or workshop. Upon entering, people can sit in different places on the slide. People who are ready to learn are at the bottom, while at the top are the people who are resistant or do not (yet) see the problem. Depending on this, you will have to adopt a different attitude towards your participants at the start, respectively: introduce, discuss, confront. They can then take the stairs to what you want to teach them or let them experience.

Take into account the ‘Peak-end rule’

How do you want people to remember your meeting? People cannot take the total experience home with them. They often mainly remember the climax (the peak) and the end. The rest has not disappeared, but it is not used for the experience and appreciation of it. This always applies, whether a meeting lasts short or long. So consciously plan peak times that match what you want to convey to participants. This may be certain information that is surprising and interesting. But also a pastry with coffee during the break where people can get in touch with each other. Depending on your goal, consciously bring some emotion into play during the event. People remember intense emotions and strong feelings better. During an evening about autism you can also show a video about the experience of the world by the child with autism. This evokes a lot of feelings, for those involved and not involved, and can work as an eye-opener that will stick with people.
Preferably provide different experiences and not more of the same. Two very different presentations perform better than two approximately the same presentations. Regardless of the subject or subjects. Our memory works in such a way that we cannot store much of the same thing (then repression takes place, such as which chip was the tastiest is an – almost – impossible question to answer).

People can often remember the ending well and attach their appreciation for the meeting to it. So make sure you have a good seal. This can be substantive, for example by giving people a message of hope. But also pragmatic: giving participants a gift at the end, for example, can work well. Or standing at the door and shaking everyone’s hands as they say goodbye can be a positive experience. It’s not about the quantity, the price or the quality per se, but about the gesture.

Evaluate not only the conscious judgment, but also the unconscious judgment

Do you really want to know what people thought of your meeting? Then you not only ask about the conscious judgment, but you also include the unconscious judgment in your evaluation. You do this by including not only closed/multiple choice questions, but also open questions in your evaluation form. For example, you can ask what people thought of the event. The first thing they will mention is probably the most important to them. If possible, you can continue with this. By asking what participants liked most, you help them remember the positive aspects of your meeting.

For example, after a week you can send people an email thanking them for their presence. You can possibly link your evaluation to this. This can also positively influence the feeling they have at the meeting and the message you wanted to convey.

In short: how do you ensure that your results have an effect?

By tailoring the goal to the target group and basing the form and content of the meeting on this, you can best meet the wishes of the participants and what you want to achieve with your event. People prefer to sail according to their own compass, but they can be guided. Whether they know it or not.

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