Last month I wrote about the importance of compelling ice-breaker questions to set a playful and welcoming tone to a meeting, specifically when welcoming new hires into your company. This is a great way to kick off an on-boarding program or long meeting/conference where a group of people will be spending hours, if not days, together in one room.
However, ice breakers are only one piece of the pie. Another key to a successful meeting structure is giving each attendee context and the tools for success as soon as they sit down. As I put together each participant’s seating setup, I layer foundational ingredients, additional toppings and delightful seasonings to create a flavorful, pleasant concoction I hope each person witll enjoy and benefit from before diving into the full course.
(I’ve already made two strong food metaphors in this post. I must be hungry.)
Every good sandwich has a base. Typically, it’s made with bread, but you might also enjoy lighter variety such as tortilla. Whatever your preference, a foundation should be laid down upon which all other accoutrements can be added.
I begin each person’s place setting with a large print-out of our company’s Org Chart. Since the three-day session will involve deep-dives into every department within our organization, it’s a good reference to have a full layout of the company’s framework to refer back to throughout the meeting.
Since this changes fairly often, I will usually print this the day before so it’s the most up-to-date version. People also enjoy seeing themselves on the chart on their first day!
I’m really killing it with the puns today.
As a central component to the attendee’s welcome package, I place a T-shirt in their size at their seat. Branded swag is always something people look forward to when joining a new company, and having something waiting for you as you enter a long training program or meeting (which can often be nerve-wracking) makes the experience more enjoyable.
I designed the shirt image in Photoshop and had it printed with CustomInk, a company I’ve used for years that always delivers on-time and ensures my design looks exactly how I want it before ordering.
Of course, name tags are necessary – at least on the first day, when everyone is getting to know each other. Instead of the age-old ‘Hello, My Name Is’ stickers, I print out custom badges with each person’s first name, location and title. I include our logo and use our colors to keep this on-brand.
I also prefer not to use stickers or pins, as I’m not sure what people will be wearing and if these methods will harm their clothing. I opt instead for magnetic badges (about $30 on Amazon for 20), which look nicer and are easier on fabric than the former options. Also, they’re just cooler. Who doesn’t love magnets?
Once your condiments are added, it’s time to add the protein. For the sake of this analogy, this is the guide to what everyone will be attending throughout the session – the agenda. While this is already on their calendars and sent to them prior to the event, it’s good to have a tangible, easily accessible reference to look at throughout the meeting.
These not only include each individual session, its time and presenter, but also meals (and which ones are catered so guests can plan ahead), breaks and happy hours. This way, each participant knows exactly how to plan their day, e-mail check-in, bathroom breaks, etc.
I always print out a few more and place by the computer so presenters can see who is coming up as well.
I recently started adding an additional element to the agendas – participant names & bios. This is helpful not only for participants to further connect with their “classmates” and possibly glean a few talking points with each other, but also as a reference for presenters.
We quickly learned that, even with small classes, most session hosts begin by going around the room and having each person introduce themselves. A good way to start a small meeting, but since the attendees will already have done this at the beginning , this gets old REALLY fast.
The topping on the whole spread is yet another way for people to identify themselves: a place card. I added this in addition to the nametag because these are not viewable to everyone, so it’s mostly for presenters to easily see people’s names when addressing attendees.
I also make this a free-form way for people to show their personality by allowing each participant to fill this out themselves. I encourage each one to “be as creative as they want.”
There you have it – a delicious recipe for an appetizing welcome package your meeting attendees will rave about. Next stop – Top Chef. What’s up, Padma?