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Global Flipchart #9

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September 2017
| Issue #9

Meeting design

By Anja Ebers

I recently worked for an organisation that wanted to change the way it ran meetings. As part of their efforts, they invited Mike van der Vijver, co-author of Into the Heart of Meetings, to come along to their annual meeting and give his feedback.

Mike has almost 25 years’ experience in the meeting industry. He started as a conference interpreter and is now a meeting designer through Mindmeeting - the company he co-founded.

I met Mike at that annual meet, and shortly after I asked him if I could interview him to explore this neighboring discipline of meeting design. (He said yes.)

What is meeting design?

Meeting design is the art of matching the form or format of a meeting to its aims. So we’re exploring the triangle of experience, content and objectives:

Experience, content and objectives are three sides of a triangle that contains the meeting designer.

What does a meeting designer do?

A big part of our work is analysis:

  • talking to participants to learn about their expectations and needs
  • desk research into the content of previous meetings
  • content provider research.

As a result we propose formats and people they would never have thought of.

What are the differences between a meeting designer and a facilitator?

A facilitator is content neutral – I am expected to come up with content proposals. Also, my focus is on the design part, not on the interaction with participants during the meeting. Sometimes I even don’t carry out my own design. Another difference is the size of groups I’m designing for - I rarely design for smaller groups (below 50 participants).

You wrote a book about meeting design together with Eric de Groot - what made you write it?

I think there is a big culture of risk avoidance among conference hosts – everything except Powerpoint seems risky! So we wanted to show that meetings don’t have to be boring and ineffective and that one can achieve a lot more with carefully designed meetings. We explore meetings as a form of communication and encourage our readers to do it differently. It’s the first book ever about meeting design, a new profession that has taken shape over the past 10 years, but is still far from mature.

Why do you think many business conferences are still dominated by lengthy PowerPoint presentations?

One reason is the non-professionalism of the people involved: Often conference hosts involve a planning committee that curates content for a meeting. But whilst lung-surgeons are experts in their subject matter, they are not necessarily good at engagement - their work objectives wildly vary from those of a business conference.

Another reason is the tendency to focus on logistics. So once they have taken care of venue, registration and catering, they think they’re done.

And meeting owners underestimate their participants, assuming they’re simply not interested in the conference programme. But who can blame participants for extending the breaks if that’s their only opportunity to interact and network?

Meeting owners are often surprised by the positive response of participants to new formats and as a result they wonder how they ever thought it was risky to waiver from the lengthy PPT presentation. It’s really changing the industry one meeting at a time!


Want to contribute to that transition? Mike and Eric De Groot are doing a Meeting Design Practicum once a year. It’s a lab among peers, experimenting with colleagues on colleagues. Contact Eric to learn more.

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