Is your creative meeting staged?

Have you ever had your boss/client ask you to book a ‘creative’/’different’ kind of meeting room for your/their next meeting? Somewhere you can think ‘outside the box’?

After the first panic over the request (“I don’t know any creative meeting rooms!”) has vanished, you remember reading an article in a magazine where a conference center had designed meeting rooms with different themes: In one, you will be seated in bean bag chairs at low coffee tables; in another, there are no tables, and the chairs are swings; and one is kept all in green. “That’s it!”, you think. Mission accomplished!

But what if the meeting room you just booked doesn’t fit your meeting because it is in fact just a regular department meeting where you need to make practical decisions (even though your boss thinks it is ‘oh so creative’)? Then mission is not so accomplished anymore.

Because: Will the meeting automatically be more creative just because we are seated in bean bag chairs? Or will it be more interesting just because we have it in a less traditional meeting room?

Outdated trend: ‘Creative’ meeting rooms

A few years ago, quite a lot of venues decided to follow the trend and decorated their meeting rooms in ‘alternative’ ways as to shake things up and diversify themselves from the other venues.

In the beginning, the meeting planners loved these meeting rooms – how can you not be creative in a ‘creative’ meeting room? – but as time went by, they (as well as the venues) realized that all is not well that ends in a ‘creative’ meeting room. The attendees did not become more creative, more informed, or more connected, if they met in these sort of meeting rooms.

The meeting room has to match the meeting’s objective

My point is that you are not automatically more creative in an alternatively decorated meeting room – having the meeting in an exciting meeting room is not enough to make it more fruitful.

I am definitely not saying that you always have to have your meeting in a somewhat boring, white, square meeting room in a hotel, but when you plan the meeting you have to ask yourself if you will get a higher ROI on the meeting if you have it in the woods, sitting on tree stumps.

Maybe creativity is not sparked by the purple walls of a meeting room, or sitting in swings instead of chairs – it is after all still a meeting room. Maybe it is a matter of giving your attendees a little free time to take a walk, play football, or meditate, if you want them to be more creative. Ideas are often born when we think of something completely different.

And if you think of it, isn’t it better to have the budget meeting in a room with good facilities and comfortable chairs in order for us keep our focus at the numbers and don’t miss a 0 somewhere because the uncomfortable table is a canoe turned upside down?

The meeting design is more important than the setting

In the end, it is all about designing the meeting to meet the objectives. Creative thoughts are not automatically triggered by a ‘creative’ room if the meeting is uncoordinated, doesn’t have an agenda or moderator, and the attendees don’t get mental room enough to think. In this case the whimsical meeting room doesn’t change a thing.

Obviously, if the meeting room is designed with a purpose it can easily support the meeting’s objectives, but it still needs to be designed to match it. An example could be a room designed with colored space like Edward de Bono’s idea of ”The 6 thinking hats” where each color represents a tool for discussion. This room might be a way to look at a problem from different angles, but you still need to guide the attendees in the process – the process doesn’t appear by itself just because the room is designed with this in mind.

Big meeting or small – it’s all the same

These ‘creative’ meeting spaces – being it a golf course, a sound studio, or sitting on yoga mats instead of chairs – are usually meant for the smaller meeting, but we have exactly the same issue with the larger conferences: If the conference is only PowerPoint presentation after PowerPoint presentation from one somewhat boring speaker after the other, you can decorate the conference room just as beautiful or exciting as you want…it still doesn’t heighten the ROI or ROO.

On the other hand, it is not per definition bad to have a meeting in an alternatively decorated meeting room, as long as you remember that an interesting meeting room doesn’t equals a great meeting.

The meeting room of the future

In fact, it seems like these special meeting rooms are quietly disappearing from the venue scene. Venues have realized that they are no longer interesting to meeting planners as we focus on other things now.

IACC, a global professional association which represents small to medium sized venues focused on meetings, training courses and conferences, see these trends in their latest ”Meeting Room of the Future Report”:

  • We want to choose ourselves how to put the furniture in the room – and we want to be able to move them during the meeting without having to call someone from the venue’s staff in (it has to be quick)
  • We want a more homely feel in the setting
  • We want space outside the meeting room for lounges etc. This is just as important as meeting room itself

So, key words are personalized, individualized, and flexible. And when we look at the meeting of the future, things like purpose, ROI/ROO, and personal touches will be way more important that whether or not the walls of the meeting room show illustrations from nature or the room itself is a tipi.

What do you think of ‘creative’ meeting rooms? Do you use them? Do they enhance your meeting?

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