Meeting design— the fundamentals of doing meetings at Odyssey
We are Odyssey and we are building Momentum. Momentum is an online public space to meet, connect, create and to have fun. To build Momentum we are meeting. To be able to build, meetings should be effective, thriving and… leave as much time as possible to build, AKA get work / magic done. This is a recipe book to get more out of remote meetings in less time. It is a hitchhiker’s guide to thriving gatherings.
At Odyssey we see meetings as tools. To put a screw in a plank a screw-driver (or cordless drilling machine) is the way to go, whilst a hammer (or tacker) is better with nails. And to cheer up a crowd a flute, guitar or sampling station is the best option. So pick or create the best tool for each job. And if you don’t need a tool (anymore), don’t use it, pick another, drop it or keep your hands and mind empty to be able to applause — for example. So: not meeting is the standard, each meeting is a conscious choice.
At Odyssey, we only use the best appropriate tools/meetings available and that’s why we design and organise our own meetings and store the success tools in our wiki.
Failing to prepare, is preparing to fail. It’s a cliché and… true. Especially in the meetings. That’s why we prepare all our meetings (from 2 to 2000 participants) with loads of attention, love and professionalism. No matter whether they are tiny, small, large (or massive). We love to create together and help each other forward, and… have fun. We are Human After All.
In this article we share our biggest learnings for online, remote meetings. Basic knowledge for all team members and free to benefit from for everyone else. Yet we know that this document is just a good start. The next few weeks and months we will transform it from a manual, a reference book into a wizard, which is easier, quicker and more fun to use. It will be the perfect tool to get more out of our meetings, in less time. Please add your suggestions on our Discord. We’re building this together.
Checklist: Too short summary
Does your invitation contain?
- Inviting, meaningful title.
- Desired result/follow-up
- Role of every participant in achieving this result.
- What will happen next (with the result)?
- Times. Doors open, start, finish, doors closed.
- Location/URL and tools being used.
- Is the meeting really necessary?
- Do you need help to prepare or chair the meeting?
Meetings: real time live gatherings with a reason.
A meeting is a real time, live gathering of at least two people to achieve a goal together. The goal might be to come up with new ideas to solve problems, to decide, to build something, to celebrate, to have fun, to connect, or whatever you choose as the reason for gathering.
Every meeting should be consciously designed, prepared and hosted to do exactly what it is called for (and nothing more and less) and invitations should always be tailor made (who should attend and why and who should NOT be there). No meeting is the same. Of course some meetings can be similar — a weekly standup or a monthly game night. Please store and use good meeting designs/formats/inspiration from our wiki.
Every meeting has an owner, who is responsible for the whole. Designing, preparing, inviting, meeting, (and his or her own follow-up actions).
Every meeting has a master of ceremony (MC)/host/chair, responsible for the process of the meeting itself from beginning until the end. The owner can of course be the MC, but let it always be a conscious decision. The MC can also be external.
Every meeting has at least 2 participants (which is far more than ‘attendant’ or ‘people in the audience’). Every participant is responsible to be fully present (or not!), of value and for follow-up. The owner is a participant as well. Every participant is responsible for their own follow-up and task lists. Every participant is responsible for making the meeting a success, and that includes discussing his or her attendance with the meeting owner and gently participating in the moderating of the meeting. For example: if you feel it’s too much/off-topic/you’re tuning out, share it; you might need to stretch your legs (and others as well) or… question continuing the meeting. Always be critical in a gentle, constructive way.
We believe in and are using an appreciative approach in meetings. Which means: listen, appreciate the contribution of others, ask clarifying questions and suggest instead of interrupting and debating. We believe in dialogue over discussion, harmony over battle. We’re in this together. Let’s bring each other forward!
We don’t believe in hybrid meetings. In a hybrid meeting participants are not on the same participation level/tune and the meeting is out of balance.
Why do I want to gather which people?
Designing a meeting always starts with two interrelated questions:
- Why do we need to meet?
- Who do we really need? (Names & numbers and/or their ‘species’/role).
If you don’t have a clear answer, you cannot prepare, invite (and meet) properly. Who is really needed and why? What do you expect from each invitee and what do you offer? Clear answers lead to a good design and participants who are looking forward to being present. Every meeting is tailor made for the specific group of participants. What will make Anna happy attending this meeting? Why is this meeting worth taking one hour of development time from Jorrit? And Jeroen? And Genevieve?
And ask yourself: do we really need to meet, or is there another, a-synchronous, way? (E-mail, sharing a Google Doc, et cetera).
Essential elements of designing and preparing the meeting
- Desired result: a decision, a document, informed colleagues, having said goodbye to a loved one. Et cetera.
- Follow-up. What is the form of the follow-up? A decision list? A task list? Meetings are worthless without follow-up.
- Story/setting/atmosphere/on what micro-adventure are we going? A gathering of knights is different from a board meeting of investors. Meeting in Teams is totally different from Momentum Lounge or Discord. You don’t have to share the story explicitly. participants will experience it and benefit from it. You might want to use it in the title of the meeting.
- Desired memory of the meeting: how do you want people to remember the meeting/how do you want them to leave the room?
- Temper. Chaotic or structured. Focus or scattered?
- Status. Public (yes, please), confidential? All meetings at Momentum are public and in Momentum unless there is a very good reason not to…
- Obligatories to work with. Limited budget? Time? Specific tools? Firewall restrictions? Etc.
- Characteristic (max 5) verbs. What are you going to DO? Brainstorm? Decide? Sing? Cook? Dance? Etc.
- Flow of the meeting — with an artistic touch, giving you and others more sense of the flow. Example? Over here. Go mad. Let your creativity flow.
- Program/schedule/agenda. The ‘mind’/rational version of the flow ;-)
- Recording. Will the meeting be recorded?
- What is the context of the meeting? Are people busy with other things? Are they relaxed or stressed? High summer gets people being more social, deep winter makes everyone go inside. Rain or shine? What are the mood setters?
- What is a good time and day to meet? Many night owls attending? Don’t start at eight. Many people tend to be more silent after waking up and to be more talkative and interactive later on in the day. Evenings are great for going deep, and achieving next levels together. Generally, if you host a meeting in the middle of the day, you just deprived many colleagues of getting in the flow on that one difficult issue they want to solve today.
- What is a good day to meet? Monday is the start of the week. Friday is almost weekend and perfect for closing off and social stuff. Tuesdays and Thursdays are perfect to get work done.
- What does a meeting cost? Number of participants x their hour fee + tune in and out time x their hour fee + location/server/various costs. Having a meeting of 20 minutes with three developers costs maybe 3 x 2.20 hours = 7 hours times their fee…
The process of meeting
A meeting starts with a proper, clear, warm/ ‘hand written’ invitation
- Meaningful, inviting title. Meetings should never be called ‘meetings’. Better titles are ‘choosing emojis’ ‘Summer BBQ’ or ‘weekly show and tell’.
- Result you want to achieve (and expected/desired form of follow-up).
- Description starting with the why.
- Meaningful list of invitees and reason for invitation of every single invitee. If you cannot explain what the crucial role of an invitee is, they should not be invited .
- Invitation to prepare: what do you expect? And additional (essential) info/links/documents.
- URL/Location/list of tools are you going to use to meet? Momentum? Which lounge? Discord? Which channel? Miro? Which board? A Google Doc? Minecraft? Which server? Et cetera. Without a clear central repo (Miro, document) it is hard to contribute other than speaking while everyone else waits for them to finish talking.
- Will the meeting be recorded or not?
- Doors open time. When is everyone welcome to log on (for chit chat and maybe technical issues)? Explain that there will be music (for instance) to get everyone in a comfi/safe mode.
- Starting time of the meeting (and you may want to add: be on time and don’t be late, not even 10 sec). Be clear. Be sharp. It can even be 18:03.
- Meeting details. Agenda? Items? Flow of the meeting? Using an agenda? Use ‘action’ focusses items: ‘explore…’, ‘decide…’ et cetera.
- End time. When do you promise to be finished?
An important/unexpected/large meeting should probably even start with a save the date prior to sending the invite.
Pro-tips for participants (and responsibilities)
- Decline the meeting if the meeting owner does not convince you of the goal of the meeting and your role in it.
- Be present 100%. Your mind can only be at one place at a time.
- Dive 100% into the online environment and close off the physical world. Use a good screen, good mic, good (noise canceling?) headphones — learn from setups of gamers. Don’t meet from a coffee bar, train or other public place. Be present. And before diving into the online sphere, please be sure to have left the physical world safely behind as well for yourself as the others (talking out LOUD with noise canceling headphones can be quite annoying).
- Focus on the meeting like you would do in a good offline meeting. No distraction from for this context non-relevant conversations. Don’t get distracted. It will bring you deeper and we will have better connections, conversations and cooperation.
- Turn off any (audio) notifications (e.g. Discord) that will interrupt your and other participants’ attention.
- Take good care of yourself. After sitting for more than 20 minutes your body already starts sleeping. After 1.5 hours your body is dead. So: keep moving your neck, your body, your feet. Drink, go to the toilet. Be sure of good air quality (oxygen, temperature, etc).
- Take notes for yourself. Pen & paper work perfectly besides an online meeting.
- Ask yourself: when is it of real value to have camera/video-calling switched on and when is audio just enough?
Pro-tips for MC’s and meeting owners
- Dry run in advance. Your own set-up (headset, camera, internet connection, room, echo), key-participants (especially newcomers) and in larger meetings technicalities like lights, camera, video’s et cetera.
- Decide upfront whether you want to allow participants to get in after starting time and leaving before end time. If ‘no’ is the answer, be sure to lock the doors of the room before you start (and notify about it in invitation). People getting in late and leaving early is a disastrous disturbance of flow.
- Play some meaningful/cool music between ‘doors open’ and start.
- Get and keep everyone involved. A meeting is a meeting of all the participants. Just address people who don’t seem so present. Give them a voice.
- Don’t start a funeral with logistics. A meeting is a meeting, connection of people. Start warm with connecting them. And end the meeting warm and in harmony.
- Take good care of everyone: Mind breaks, remember everyone to drink (it helps to stay fit), go to the toilet. Et cetera. Usually a good compass: check how you feel yourself.
- Want to become a pro? Great news! We have Ritzo and Nick in our team and a ton of best practices from our own experience. Reach out to one of them, they are happy to work with you to better your skills!
- A meeting without follow-up is… effect-less. Be sure that follow-up is being taken care of. Make a decision or task list or even better: invite a participant to take the responsibility to arrange this. And still: be keep an eye on it. So: check, or meta-check the follow-up.
- Use sensory language to help people get out of their head/thinking part of the brain. What do you feel…? How does that look like? How does that sound? Et cetera. Invite for imagination.
We welcome any feedback/input/questions from you on our Discord!
We warmly invite you to join our Show & Tell-sessions, every Monday at 15.03 CET (so everyone can grab a coffee) in the Kusamaverse Momentum Lounge to learn about our progress and results.
Because we’re constantly evolving and improving our methods, processes, and program — we appreciate any feedback/ ideas/ or questions you have!