A recent Harvard Business Review blog article by Amy Gallo shared some simple, powerful guidelines to transform small business meetings from time-sucks into productive endeavors. Do those same guidelines apply in the Convention-scale events we manage on a daily basis? Our answer is – sort of.

1. SMALL MEETING WISDOM: Keep the meeting as small as possible. No more than seven people. This allows participants to not only hear and speak, but to also pick up on body language, and provides opportunity for everyone to participate.

BIG MEETING WISDOM: Ensure a high level of engagement, with interactivity and dialog opportunities built in throughout the event. Today, content is king at conferences. However, the wise organization understands that attendees are exponentially more likely to embrace new behaviors and ideas the more personally vested they are in the solution. Turning conventions into collaborative conversations through audience response systems, open space meetings, team building, and panel discussions has a dramatic impact on the impact of the meeting to the organization’s bottom line.

2. SMALL MEETING WISDOM: Ban Devices. The net-net of this insight is that multi-tasking ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, and not only do these digital addicts fail to do any of the several activities they are attempting to execute simultaneously, they also distract their peers.

BIG MEETING WISDOM: Leverage Device Addiction. Many meeting stakeholders attempt to keep the venue wifi access a secret from attendees to keep them focused on the meeting. This addresses the symptom, and not the underlying root causes – of both the pressure attendees feel to be in multiple locations at one time, compounded with a sense of disenfranchisement about the purpose of the meeting.

That being said, more and more organizations are embracing the technology as a way of raising the engagement at the event with Event APPs, interactive games that drive key behaviors, smartphone audience response and polling as well as encouraging social media dialog about the event. In the age of the millennial, where eye contact is a thing of the past, technology is becoming the media for engagement.

3. SMALL MEETING WISDOM: Keep it as short as possible. No longer than an hour. The principle here is to improve focus with an arbitrary deadline, thereby improving the efficiency of problem-solving.

BIG MEETING WISDOM: Provide content in manageable segments that support how adult learning occurs. Unfortunately, in consideration of today’s business pace, most conferences and conventions run 8-10 hour days for 2-3 days. Breaks are few and far between, and most content is in a lecture format. The lack of variety and level of intensity is a recipe for mental overload – aka, meeting disaster. Ostensibly the objective of these meetings is to provide critically important business information, but it is done in such a manner as to almost guarantee that 50-80% of the information will be forgotten in days, not weeks.

The answer is to provide mental “down time” which study after study has shown is required for the synapses to “burn” the information. Additionally, opportunities to practice and apply the information in various formats is also crucial to complete adoption. This means “mixing up” the content delivery throughout the event. Lastly, but far from least, the mind retains more information if it feels it is playing, or laughing. Fun meetings are more productive meetings.

PART 2 of Small vs. Large Meeting Best Practices will be posted on Sept 15, 2015. Check out our other blogs on Open Space Meetings and ROI for events, as well as Event Energy Mapping for Conferences.