Five Tips to a Successful Off-Site Meeting

By:  Deborah C. Scaringi

1.  Pick a creative location.

The physical surroundings of your off-site meeting can determine your level of success. Hotels and conference centers can be great locations, but don’t discount other locations. Try alternative spots such as sports arenas, museums, aquariums, restaurants, schools, and theatres.  Be sure to tour your location ahead of time to see the possibilities and limitations before planning your meeting agenda and approach.  Be sure to check the space for creative seating arrangement potential, technology requirements, break-out space, and catering options.  Consider where most of your attendees are coming from and select a location that is convenient but far enough from the office to discourage people “running to the office” during breaks or over lunch.  The goal is to minimize distractions and maximize group participation.

2.  Plan, plan, plan… to succeed.

Think through your agenda carefully and build in time for networking, brainstorming and problem solving. Select your vision for the day—is it supposed to be an intense working meeting, a laid-back retreat, or a balanced program combining a little of each. Don’t create an overly ambitious plan that proves impossible to cover in your allotted time. Determine what needs to be done beforehand and prepare adequate lead-time for writing documents or arranging details.

3.  Plan a budget and stick to it.

Budget your costs ahead of time and be sure to account for all potential expenses.  Include travel expenses, food and beverage needs, supplies, technology needs and space rentals among other items.

4.  Give plenty of advanced warning to attendees.

Be sure to clear the date in advance with the desired attendees. When choosing a date for your off-site meeting, consider offering two choices— a preferred date and an alternate one. You should plan an off-site meeting at least 4 weeks in advance, and preferably during a ‘down time’ to avoid creating undue stress with a heavy case load.  Make the meeting mandatory so that all constituents are present and decisions made that day include universal buy-in.  Let participants know the important details, but keep some fun surprises for them. Circulate a preliminary agenda outlining your objectives and ask for preparation ahead of time in certain topic areas.  Build excitement but don’t overwhelm.

5.  Don’t forget to include some fun.

The first priority of the day is business, however, give your participants some time to enjoy themselves. Build time into your schedule to allow them to take advantage of any extras available at the meeting site.  Include fun team-building or brainstorming activities that lead you to the desired outcome of the day.