Doctor Who is a Time Lord. He wanders all of space and time righting wrongs and doing his best to keep various civilizations from vaporizing themselves. Let’s use some of his ideas and make meeting agendas more flexible and results-driven. Here are new ways to organize your meetings that audiences will love.
If you keep up with sci-fi, you know Doctor Who is a renowned BBC TV series that celebrates its 50 anniversary in 2013. The Johnstons are serious fans. I was watching an episode and realized that one of the biggest challenges of every event, meeting and trade show is mastering time. Even if you aren’t a Doctor Who fan, come along – this is going to be fantastic!
Be a Time Master
Event agendas are all about time – time-based, time-oriented, time-limited and time-specific. But like so many things, you have to master time and not let it master you. Agendas should only exist to help manage the audience experience. They serve your content and shouldn’t dominate it. Do them right and the audience isn’t aware of them. Do them wrong and they can actually endanger people’s health. That’s what we discovered in Does This Meeting Make My Butt Look Big?
Ride The TARDIS – Time Boxing
The TARDIS is a combination space ship and time machine. It looks like a big blue box. Doctor Who uses his time box to help manage time. So that’s where we start. There’s a technique in time management called time boxing. I bet you do it without knowing it has an official name. A time box is a fixed period of time. If you look at most meeting agendas, you’ll see that they’re made up of regimented blocks of time.
8:00 – 8:45 Speaker #1
8:45 – 9:15 Speaker #2
9:15 – 9:45 Speaker #3
9:45 – 10:00 Coffee Break
See? Time boxes are just like the TARDIS.
The Calculator Approach
Time boxing uses the very, very traditional way to design an agenda. I call it the calculator approach.
Length of meeting or session
Minus coffee breaks and lunch times
Divide remaining time by number of speakers
= Time Boxes that are all equal and manageable
Time boxing works best for formal meetings that require a fixed structure. The emphasis is on the speakers and less on their content. The good thing about time boxing is everything is orderly, consistent and divided equally. The bad thing is it assumes that everything has the same importance and value.
How to Master Time Boxes
A time box agenda isn’t bad; you just need to know when to use one. Here are the key requirements.
• The audience has an equal interest and investment in each section.
• The audience perceives the topics as being equal in importance.
• Each speaker has approximately the same amount of content. No one has to stretch or cram content.
• There is a logical path, story or process that lets each section lead logically into the next.
The trick is to make sure everything starts and ends on time. If anything goes under or over, there’s no practical way to adjust.
The Sonic Screwdriver Approach
Doctor Who carries a handy, all-purpose tool called the Sonic Screwdriver. It’s so flexible that he can adapt it to almost every situation. That’s what this approach gives you – maximum flexibility. You start by forgetting all the rules, structure and regimentation of time boxing. You are going to use slide time.
Use Slide Time
Instead of a rigid structure, you have content organization. The times are approximate, and you can slide them around as you go. This type of agenda works best for less formal meetings where the emphasis is much more on the content and less on the speakers. This is very results-driven and gives you maximum flexibility. Here’s what you do.
Don’t worry about speakers or times at the beginning. Ask:
What are the most important topics or results from the audience’s perspective?
What are the topic or actions that will accomplish the objectives of the meeting or directly generate the desired results?
Then organize the meeting around the key topics, actions or results.
Cluster the information into 3-4 segments.
Determine how much time each topic deserves.
Determine the approximate time for each segment.
Arrange the segments in a logical order.
During the event, adjust the times based on the audience’s responses.
Make sure speakers build flexibility into their presentations, so they can add or cut a few minutes, if required.
You expand or reduce the time of segments based on audience interest. If the audience gets very involved in a topic, you have the flexibility to adjust the agenda. If they “get it” quickly, why keep talking just because you have to fill up 30 minutes?
You Become The Time Lord
Hold on, we are shattering tradition here. Let’s say you’d like a coffee break at 9:45. Forget the math and just look for a logical place to take a break about that time. If you’re in the middle of a topic – no problem. The audience will not be stricken with amnesia over a decaf and a cookie. Take a break and pick up where you left off. Same thing with lunch. The information and the experience drive the agenda and not the other way around.
Wibbley, Wobbley, Timey, Wimey
It doesn’t matter if you time box or slide time – do not distribute agendas with the times listed. It’s a meeting for transferring information and not a NASA launch. You want the audience to listen, understand, personalize and act … not check their watches to see if you are on schedule.
Make the word “approximately” your new BFF. Coffee break is at approximately 9:45. Lunch is at approximately noon. The meeting ends around 5:30. Even the most Type A, obsessive-compulsive member of the audience or the executive team can handle it.
Remember, the function of an agenda is to organize the meeting and focus the content. Whichever way you create an agenda, you need to draw the line on things that make it clumsy and boring. Get rid of them. As the Daleks say in Doctor Who, “Exterminate! Exterminate!” This means:
• No fake “face time,” where you have to give Executive 2 the same time as Executive 3
• No sales pitches disguised as presentations
• No 50,000-foot overviews that don’t have a direct link to the audience’s priorities
• No presentations that only recap everything the audience already knows
Here’s something you should try. Instead of having the most senior people make long, 30- or 45-minute presentations, break them up into three shorter ones. Keep them short, focused and scatter them throughout the day.
You’ll Be Brilliant
For a 906-year-old alien, Doctor Who has a total devotion to people. He wants them to learn, progress and develop. That’s what you can do when you become the Time Lord of your meeting and event agendas. You can take the personalities, egos and politics out and focus on providing the critical information, understanding and motivation the audience needs to do what you want them to do. You may be surprised to find that your meeting is better, more interesting, more productive and shorter than you expected – and SUCCESSFUL.
Okay, make it happen.
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