How Do You Jazz Up a Meeting in the Conference Room?

By Susan O'Neill July 19, 2010, 8:45 AM EDT

Johnson & Johnson brought in masseuses to an employee event to help staffers relax.

Photo: Jennifer Warren

It’s not always feasible to take an important meeting out of the office. However, you can still create an inspiring setting and foster an “off-site” mind-set when you don’t have the budget to go to a hotel or conference center.

“You still want that special experience,” says Joann Lim, an event planner at Oldcastle Glass Engineered Products in Mississauga, Ontario, who incorporates personal touches for attendees. “We design invites. Even if it’s an in-house meeting, everyone gets an invite,” says Lim, who recently planned a national sales meeting at the company’s offices. (In past years, everyone convened at the manufacturer’s site in Los Angeles.) To create the feeling of another location, Lim suggests adding aspects of an off-site meeting, such as a Continental breakfast and notepads at each place around the boardroom table.

To inject an element of fun into a training session held in January at KPMG’s Toronto and Vancouver offices, national director of event management Connie Tinney and her team called on Toronto firm Elephant Entertainment to create RU Game, a videoconference teambuilding activity. At the conclusion of the meeting, employees in both offices participated in a fast-paced game—complete with buzzers, lights, sound effects, and a lighted scoreboard—which combined elements of Jeopardy!, Name That Tune, and Family Feud. “It was a success in both cities. It allowed the participants to forget they were still in the meeting room, and they just had fun instead,” Tinney says. “When in doubt, just have fun.”

Anja Kaehny, manager of lifestyle communications and corporate social responsibility with Audi America in Miami, suggests adopting a theme to spice up an internal meeting. “Generally, you have unhealthy food and [the format is] very stereotypical with a coffee break in the morning,” she says. Her suggestion: a wellness theme with healthy snacks and an on-site massage therapist instead of a coffee break. “You could also introduce a [relaxed] dress code,” she adds.

Kaehny also maintains that the menu choice is critical to creating the right atmosphere. “If you’re hosting an information session in the morning and a creative brainstorming session in the afternoon, I think people are really influenced by the kind of food they get, and the stimulation. When you have a meeting with high-carb food, it doesn’t help people’s creativity,” she says.

In Sarah Hunter’s role as an executive producer for Switch, an Atlanta-based marketing and communications firm, she handles the company’s Coca-Cola account and often plans meetings at the brand’s headquarters. In an effort to keep things fresh, Hunter arranges meetings in the courtyard or cafeteria, rather than the auditorium. “Finding different locations on campus really changes things up for people,” she says.   

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