I was sitting in a large ballroom in Florida at a two-day business meeting sponsored by my employer, GE. As I sat there and listened to presentation after presentation, I thought to myself: Wow! Look at all of the smart, talented people in this room. It would really be great to meet them, learn what they know and make useful connections. But that never happened. We were fed information, along with a few meals, and then sent on our way.

Flying home, I thought to myself: What a waste—to bring us all together and not have us get to know one another? To bring us all together and not have us tackle something meaningful? Fifteen years ago I co-founded DillonMarcus, Executive Retreats. Part of what excited me was creating meetings that were super enjoyable and meaningful—with just the right balance of knowledge sharing, relationship building and interaction. My goal is to always create meetings that have real impact and don’t leave people feeling disappointed when they’re over. Here are some ways to create great meetings:

Start with Your Purpose

It is critical to be crystal clear on the outcomes you want to achieve. What do you want this meeting to accomplish? We always ask our clients: “Imagine it’s six months from now and you are sharing the positive ripple effects from this meeting. What happened?” This simple question will help you (or the meeting sponsor) clarify the intended meeting outcomes.

Crowdsource Agenda Items

Once the purpose of the meeting is established, invest the time to ask past or future participants for their ideas about what would make the meeting more valuable. Who would they like to hear speak? What would be the best use of their time? Be curious and open to their responses. It’s tempting to rely on email surveys if you’ve got a large audience, but definitely pick up the phone and talk with a few people. This gesture will not only give you great content, but it will also create awareness and support for the meeting.

Build in Time for Connection

Attendees come to meetings with their individual professional needs. Someone in the room knows what they need to know or knows someone who can help them. Satisfy those needs by dedicating 45 minutes of the meeting agenda time to purposeful, one-on-one attendee interaction. Conduct several rounds of paired interviews. Provide attendees with a list of suggested questions. The interviews can be conducted in one block segment or staggered throughout the day. Attendees love this time because often they not only get what they need, but their knowledge and experience can also be of value to others. It truly is a win-win.

These suggestions may seem like common sense, but they are not always common practice. If you follow them, we guaranteed you a better return from your meeting dollars.

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Retreats and off-site meetings present wonderful opportunities for groups to collaborate, strategize and build relationships away from their normal office environments. With proper planning, these sessions can be highly effective and even pivotal in setting a new direction. However, off-sites may present some unforeseen challenges that can quickly deflate the energy in the room if not anticipated and addressed in advance.


Landing a big-name keynote speaker can be a significant part of your conference budget. That person should add credibility to the event and hopefully boost attendance. But if your speakers just deliver canned presentations before making a quick exit for the airport, you and your attendees are missing the full value they can bring to an event. With some extra planning, you can help set up the speaker and your event for success.