Disruption threat to effective meetings

Research specially commissioned for Warwick Conferences reveals that disruption during meetings isn’t just annoying, it can greatly reduce their effectiveness, says Rachael Bartlett, author of Warwick Conferences’ Value of Satisfaction report

We’ve all had the experience. You’re in a meeting with colleagues, suppliers or customers. The mood is positive and focused, and you’re making progress as you work through your agenda. Suddenly the atmosphere is shattered by the noise of building work or loud voices from a crowd out in the corridor. Or slow wi-fi brings the key presentation to a grinding halt, or a member of staff interrupts to say you need to take your coffee or lunch break now.

Perhaps a couple of colleagues arrive late because of travel problems, disturbing the meeting at a key moment. Or someone else explains that they’ve now got to leave early for similar reasons.

As one of the country’s leading meetings’ venues and as a part of the University of Warwick, we decided to take an evidence-based approach to identifying what effects disruptions have on meetings and what can be done to minimise them

I’m lucky enough as part of my job to travel the world and visit venues as well as talking to the leaders of a wide variety of organisations about their needs when it comes to meetings. They’ve all told me that disruption in business meetings is a very common problem. As one of the country’s leading meetings’ venues and as a part of the University of Warwick, we decided to take an evidence-based approach to identifying what effects disruptions have on meetings and what can be done to minimise them. To do this we commissioned a major independent survey.

Nearly all (91 per cent) of the delegates, managers and event bookers we surveyed agree that finding a venue with minimal distractions is important, while 78 per cent of delegates who were chief executives, managing directors and business owners regard this as very important. Two thirds (63 per cent) of delegates and managers think that a good meeting venue can make all the difference to the success of a meeting.

We also found that 90 per cent of respondents believe it’s important that a business meeting venue lacks distractions from non-business guests or activities. Nearly half (46 per cent) of delegates have recently attended meetings at venues where they have encountered non-business guests. This figure rockets to 79 per cent for those who have been dissatisfied with customer service in the last 12 months.

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As a dedicated business venue this was particularly interesting to us. A quarter (26 per cent) of those who have attended events at mixed-purpose venues say their meetings have been disrupted by non-business guests or activities. One client told us how a meeting they’d held mid-week in a multi-purpose venue had been interrupted by a raucous wedding party.

When it comes to keeping interruptions to a minimum and improving delegate concentration, staff play a key role. Two thirds (65 per cent) think venue staff going the extra mile makes a venue stand out. However, in the last 12 months, almost half (43 per cent) say that venues have been let down by poor customer service and staff. Staff in multi-purpose venues need to clearly understand the difference between a business meeting and a wedding reception or 21st birthday party.

Food and beverage, if it’s not handled correctly, can disrupt a meeting too. According to our survey, 80 per cent of event bookers say appropriate catering is their number-one priority. Curly sandwiches or soggy croissants are not just unappealing, they have a detrimental effect on delegates’ energy levels and the effectiveness of a meeting.

Food should be nutritious and varied with protein and freshly cooked vegetables in order to minimise that post-lunch dip.

Mixing variable party sizes, and social and business guests can also be a considerable disruption. One in five say catering intervals have overrun at multi-purpose venues – over three times more than those saying they’ve experienced this at a dedicated venue.

These might sound like small things but, as our independent survey and my conversations with customers demonstrate, it’s important not to shrug disruptions off as an acceptable part of business conferences. Insignificant and momentary blips soon multiply, leading to lower levels of delegate satisfaction, engagement, meeting effectiveness and, ultimately, disappointing return on investment.

www.valueofsatisfaction.com

FOCUSED AND EFFECTIVE: FIVE WAYS TO MINIMISE DISRUPTION

1. CHOOSE THE RIGHT VENUE

Ensure that your venue is dedicated to business meetings so that the staff and facilities are appropriate. You don’t want to try to manage your meetings around wedding parties and stag dos.

2. COMMUNICATE WITH THE VENUE

Ensure those at the venue know exactly what you need. This means communicating your requirements effectively with the staff who’ll be supporting the event on the day as well as the salespeople you deal with beforehand. Those providing catering and other services should be aware this is a business meeting and not a social event. If problems do arise, raise them immediately and make sure you have easy access to someone who can take action.

3. GET THE RIGHT WORKING ENVIRONMENT

The exterior and reception area of a venue might look impressive, but what about the meeting rooms themselves? You need to make sure the areas in which you’ll be working are spacious, quiet and private, as well as having the right lighting and temperature.

4. CHECK THE AREA AROUND MEETING ROOMS

Your meeting room might be conducive to work, but what about its immediate vicinity? Background noise is one of the biggest bugbears for delegates and a major cause of disruption. Noise-related nuisances can include building work, cleaners, the public and traffic. Check how prevalent this is when you visit a venue.

5. CONSIDER THE CATERING

Good food not only shows delegates they are valued, but it also gives them energy and helps them to concentrate. Instead of the basic sandwiches and crisps, invest in good-quality protein, fresh vegetables and a wide choice of well-prepared food.  Make sure water, tea and coffee, as well as snacks, are in constant supply so meetings are not disrupted as participants go in search of essential hydration or something to keep their blood sugar up.