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Bring more creativity to your working sessions for a successful conference

Hire Jeffrey G.   Meetings, Meeting Planning   Comments   5 min
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The most favorable conditions for creative problem-solving are usually present at a company-wide meeting. In one location is the vast majority of your organization's best thinkers. Being results-oriented, most want to make things happen...
The showpiece of most management meetings or other large corporate conferences is the full-group plenary session that usually takes place the first morning. This is when the CEO and other top leaders are likely to address the assemblage about the company's mission and strategies, recent achievements, and future expectations.

After the large session, though, audience members typically move on to breakout groups, where the real work of the conference is supposed to take place. Unfortunately, at many corporate meetings these breakouts are conducted like mini-versions of the plenary session, with participants listening to reports from their divisions as facts and figures are displayed in PowerPoint.

Rarely is anything done to elicit new ideas and solutions for the company's toughest challenges. Many consider the corporate conference a time for informing and reviewing rather than active problem-solving.

The most favorable conditions for creative problem-solving are usually present at a company-wide meeting. In one location is the vast majority of your organization's best thinkers. Being results-oriented, most want to make things happen.

In addition, because they're removed from the everyday routines of the workplace, they're likely to feel freer offering ideas they wouldn't ordinarily come up with under the weight of daily work demands.

Here then are seven guidelines for designing and conducting your working sessions for maximum creativity in dealing with the tasks of your conference:


1. Exploit the diversity at large meetings. A company-wide meeting presents an opportunity to put together new combinations of employees - people who don't ordinarily interact, and therefore haven't established routine patterns of response to one another. Each of these combinations represents a new chemistry that has the potential for coming up with innovative solutions for your company's major challenges.


2. Have a clearly stated task and set of deliverables at each session. Too often, conference attendees go into breakouts with only a vague sense of what they are supposed to be working on or what is expected as the output. Some may argue that this encourages creativity, but that is not the case. People are much more willing to take mental risks when their thinking is anchored in tangible objectives and they understand the rationale for each one. These should be prominently displayed and referred to often throughout the session.

3. Encourage speculative, wishful thinking when brainstorming ideas, free from early judgments or evaluation. This is easier said than done, since most of us are well-trained to zero in on what's wrong with a new idea. Jumping on it right away is a sure way to kill it, and to discourage people from engaging in further creative ideation. Instead, let all ideas offered stand and encourage participants to build upon them. Later on, they can choose the most promising ones for further focus and development, without judging each one along the way.


4. Take advantage of new surroundings. Most corporate conferences are held offsite, in pleasant, interesting settings. Often, though, the schedule of activities is so crammed that attendees never leave the facility's meeting rooms. Taking in new sights and sounds enhances creativity by activating different areas of the brain. This, in turn, stimulates fresh thinking and new ideas. So get up, move around, and go outside to enhance the quality of output at your working sessions.


5. Provide neutral facilitators to keep sessions on track. Creative ideation is a process and should be conducted by someone skilled at leading groups. Relying on someone from within the group to take this role is risky because he or she may not have the skills to keep the process going and may have a personal agenda. Likewise, leaderless groups - particularly those newly formed at the conference - are not likely to achieve their objectives either. A skilled facilitator will not only keep the process moving along but also preserve new ideas and support the people who offer them.


6. Plan enough time to develop and refine new ideas. A well-facilitated brainstorm should yield many beginning ideas, but left in their raw state, they are of limited usefulness. Fleshing these out is as much a part of the innovation process as coming up with creative ideas in the first place. So it's important to take several of the more promising ones and work them a bit - teasing out the positive elements and problem-solving around the negatives - to see if there is a potential working concept there. These developed concepts constitute the real deliverables of such a session.


7. Conclude with a set of action items or recommendations. Even a well-developed, innovative concept is not likely to go anywhere without some clearly stated next steps, along with who is responsible for them and when. Results-driven people want something to show for their efforts; articulating the steps needed for implementing a new idea is absolutely essential for making that happen.

Try instituting these guidelines and you'll see more creative output from the people who know your business best: your own employees

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