How to Pick the Right Meeting Space


How to Pick the Right Meeting Space

I love watching groups of people in different cities, and in different places.

Large families having a picnic in green leafy parks, with kids running around and cheerful music playing in the background. Couples hanging out in romantic lakeside cafes, chatting softly. Groups of friends relaxing in reclining beach chairs on a riverbank in the shade while drinking cold beer. And tired workers sitting side-by-side in a busy square, watching the dazzling street lights at the end of the day.

I’m drawn to understanding people and places – I can’t help it. Wherever I am, I enjoy absorbing the vibe of the space, along with the vibe of interactions happening around me, and paying attention to the subtle energies of the space that filter into conversations and shape the dynamics of groups, small and large.

There is a noticeable connection between the qualities of spaces where different groups choose to hang out, how happy or relaxed or energised they are, and how they interact with each other.

Perhaps you have also noticed that you engage with people differently when sitting in a garden, in a buzzing bar, or in a boardroom. You feel different, and you hold yourself differently. You talk about different subjects, use different words, come up with different ideas, and show different parts of your personality.

In certain environments you might ask questions, tell stories and share wild ideas that otherwise you wouldn’t.

But sometimes I still wonder, does it really make a great difference where we meet our friends, team and clients when we want to connect with them?

Shouldn’t we be our authentic selves, and fully present with the people we are with, regardless of our surroundings?

Well, if human nature was that simple, we’d have a much easier time running a business, wouldn’t we?

I’ve been at collaboration sessions where all participants were well-prepared to share innovative ideas with each other, yet the conversation didn’t flow, it somehow seemed blocked by the huge, cluttered meeting table which stood as a barrier between us.

I’ve attended meetings in open-plan offices where some of the participants were reluctant to speak their minds freely because they were worried about their opinions being overheard and criticised.

On another occasion, when I was invited to meet someone in an open workspace, I was immediately put at ease, because it became clear to me that I was in a transparent environment where people had nothing to hide from me or from each other.

Some lawyers I’ve met find it much easier to build rapport and trusting relationships with their clients in casual meeting spaces as opposed to stereotypical corporate meeting rooms. In a homely, colourful environment they tend to have more relaxed conversations, talking in down-to-earth, jargon-free language, and even cracking jokes occasionally.

Examples like these are everywhere, yet …

When you organise a business meeting, you probably pick the location routinely, without giving it much thought, perhaps one of the vacant rooms in your office, or the usual table in your favourite cafe. With your busy schedules, you can’t afford to spend much precious time contemplating the optimal environment and looking for the ideal venue for every single meeting.

And then, when the meeting doesn’t go so well, it’s usually not too hard to find a convincing explanation … This heatwave is wearing people out. You are too tired after staying up too late last night watching tennis. Your client had read too much nonsense on Google and came to this meeting with the wrong preconceptions. The technology was playing up, and so on.

But if you are honest with yourself, you need to admit that there is something you can do to make meetings with your team and clients a bit smoother and more productive, even when other factors may work against you.

Try to hold meetings in spaces that possess qualities similar to what you want to see in your conversations, and you should see a noticeable difference.

So how can you prepare?

It shouldn’t take much time and effort to pull together a menu of different meeting spaces available in or near your office that you can browse through whenever a meeting or team session comes up.

If possible, try to identify a suitable location for each type of conversation and collaborative activity that regularly occurs in your business.

Some examples are:

  • For blue-sky thinking  Find a bright, sun-lit, spacious room with open views, high ceiling and simple furnishing
  • For innovation sessions – Use a creatively decorated, interestingly furnished, flexible, colourful and playful space
  • For social conversations and building personal relationships – Use a comfortable, cosy, dimly lit space with warm colours and soft surfaces
  • For brainstorming, and coming up with quick ideas – Go to a moderately noisy, buzzing, casual, cafe-style space
  • For teaching and learning the details of a technical or scientific subject – Find a quiet, low-key, library-type space
  • For analytical or administrative discussions – Use a well-lit, simply decorated and traditionally furnished meeting room with cool colours and hard surfaces
  • For collaborative sessions where everyone should participate equally – Use a comfortable, bright room with round tables
  • For talking about exciting new opportunities, and for developing a vision for the future – Find a friendly cafe, or a beautiful, green outdoor space

Your menu of preferred meeting spots may look a bit different of course, but if you pay attention to how different environments influence the flow of ideas and decisions among your team and clients, you’ll soon figure out what works for your business.

Then next time, before you send out a meeting invitation, browse through your list and pick a location that will give you and your people the best chance to connect with each other, find solutions and reach agreements together.

If you have a story to share, I’d love to hear it.

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