Murphy’s Law and the things to avoid when organizing a meeting

As a facilitator I normally spend quite some time preparing for a meeting. As mentioned in one of my previous articles, 10 steps to a successful meeting, my experience is that the success of a meeting depends more than 60% on its preparation. A well prepared, and facilitated, meeting most likely will be a successful one.

When you’re organizing a meeting the last things you’re waiting for is someone or something screwing up your meeting. However, you can do the best preparation in the world, but occasionally things will go wrong. It’s inevitable. It’s like Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

People and circumstances may changes, and it is impossible to have control over everything. You can be the best facilitator there is, but that doesn’t guarantee success. Sometimes things are out of your control.

Here’s my top 10 of things to avoid when organizing a meeting. Everything happened at least once while facilitating or attending. Enjoy, I sincerely hope you can avoid them:

  1. Fire drill during a conference call. This one occurred during an international conference call I facilitated. Suddenly, in the middle of the call, the fire alarm went off and everyone in the building had to leave the office. As I hosted the call I had to explain to all participants that we couldn’t continue with the call as I had to leave too.
  2. Losing control of the virtual meeting room. This happened to me once, but the incident showed why it is so important to send out all relevant documents (including the slides to the participants). When facilitating a call I always use a virtual meeting room to show slides or relevant documents. This is a great method to keep participants focused on the agenda item that is being discussed as they can see what is going on.
  3. Noise during a conference call due to people not having their phones on mute. Sometimes people dial in using their cell phones or while they are in a noisy environment. Make sure to send out instructions so people know they have to set their phones on mute. Also know how to mute everyone as noise can disrupt the call.
  4. 4 day meeting and no daylight in the meeting room. I once attended a 4 day meeting in New York City. The meeting was held in a 5 star hotel but the meeting room itself had no windows. We were on the 4th floor, but without any daylight it felt as if we were locked in the basement. People will not function 100% if there is no daylight available. Always make sure you have book a meeting room with a window.
  5. Important documents or slide deck file missing or corrupt. Always make sure you have backup documents available of the files you need for the meeting.
  6. Key people not showing up because they missed their flights and are now trapped at an airport. This one is out of your control, or isn’t it? When you organizing a meeting and you have the luxury of choosing the location make sure you avoid locations which can be snowed in or only can be reach using a hub which is famous for delayed flights.
  7. People who haven’t prepared for the meeting. This is the reason why I always send out pre-work or organize a conference call before the meeting.
  8. No agenda available or an agenda that is not well prepared. In my career I attended numerous meetings that didn’t have an agenda or used one that wasn’t agreed with the participants. The success of your meeting relies on an agenda that is well prepared and agreed on.
  9. Meeting invitation is not clear. This one happened recently. I organized a meeting in Brussels. The meeting was held near the airport in a town called Diegem. The meeting invitation referred to two addresses on the same street: one for the hotel, one for the meeting location but for some reason one of them said the address was in Brussels and not in Diegem. For most participants this was no problem as they arrived by plain and took a taxi directly to the hotel. All, except for one, who drove directly to the meeting location using his navigation system. To make it even worse this person was supposed to do the kick-off and because I didn’t check the addresses (which I normally do) he arrived late.
  10. Lack of sleep. Feeling tired will impact your effectiveness and that of the participants. Always get plenty of sleep. Especially if you are facilitating. Your level of enthusiasm and energy is contagious. If you are energetic, the participants be will too.

I learned my lessons, will you too? Prepare well and be prepared to face all kinds of disasters. Always have a backup plan. Keep smiling, I survived, so will you.

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