A Walkthrough of Strategic Meeting Design

Ashley Ann
6 min readMar 15, 2023

It began with, “Would you have some time to lead some discovery meetings in Florida in 2 weeks?

You have to understand: I live in Madison, Wisconsin. It was late January. I would have gone to Florida even if the job was to be a coffee runner.

So naturally, I calmly said yes.

Planning the Annual EveryCampus Steering Committee & Operational Partner Meetings

Unfortunately, there’s not a very catchy name for these meetings.

What is Every Campus?

Every Campus is a collaborative initiative seeking God for revival by making gospel movements in every corner of every campus a possibility.

The Players

  • EveryCampus Steering Committee (ECSC) — 2–3 representatives from the main partners, InterVarsity and Cru.
  • Operational Partners — 2–3 people from each of the 3 vendors who provide web development, marketing, and data services to EveryCampus.

The Context

EveryCampus has gone through a few iterations of its strategy, and it was moving into what is now called “Every Campus 3.0”– shifting its strategy to working more with its network of partners.

In the past, when a new “version” came out, the operational partners would be gathered to talk about the major changes.

Meeting Design

Meeting Design is Design. While the interior activities are a little bit different, you can follow a similar design arc:

  1. Discover — find out participant needs and goals, learn about prior meetings, etc.
  2. Design — Start building the meeting agenda and exercises.
  3. Develop–produce the slides, materials needed, etc.
  4. Deliver — facilitate the meeting!

Discover-

While I wasn’t able to meet with everyone on the Every Campus Steering Committee (more on that later), with who I was able to meet, I asked questions around these areas:

  • People– “Who’s in the room? What are they like? What power/gender dynamics are there? How familiar is everyone with each other? What do they care about?”
  • The journey — “What’s brought you to this moment? What’s next that these meetings need to build towards?”
  • Success — “At the end, what is the one thing you hope these meetings will accomplish?”
  • Previous meetings– “What did [previous facilitator] do well? What has been a flop before? Are there landmines between groups or relationships to be aware of?”
  • Practical– “Who is getting food? What is the room like that we will be in? How much time do we have?”

Insights

  • Most of those participating were new to EveryCampus and new to each other — the vendors had switched out some of the persons on this account.
  • It is not a small thing for these operational partners to come out — one was flying in from Hawaii!
  • There was a tension to hold that ideas at this meeting wouldn’t necessarily go forward– the next set of meetings would be to gather ideas from field experts and then a third meeting would be held to bring the sets together to form a cohesive plan.

After reviewing, I could see that the the original meeting design–which was to give each operational partner 2 hours to share what was new in their industry, wouldn’t do everything the Steering Committee needed during this valuable (and frankly expensive) time, so we agreed I would totally rewrite the meeting design.

Design

We had a new set of goals that I designed our time against:

  • Strengthen working relationships
  • Strengthen the connection to EveryCampus
  • Hearing about new industry capabilities
  • Generating ideas and what it would take to execute those ideas from

I started putting together a very detailed agenda so that the Steering Committee would know exactly what to expect — the time for an activity, what the outcome was, who would be leading it, how it worked, and what supplies were needed.

And an overview version to send in advance to the partners

If you’re just starting out on designing strategic interactive meetings. I highly recommend the books Sprint for a recipe to start with and then Gamestorming to expand your set of activities. Building up my database of activities and their use cases has been probably my single greatest asset as a facilitator.

Develop

After working through the detailed agenda I had a great list of supplies and things to create that would be critical to these meetings run smoothly.

  • Slides to give instructions
  • Thinking prompt sheet to help folks ideate
  • Worksheet template & example for creating a concept out of an idea

With materials in hand, my favorite sticky notes that sticky to anything, and a pack of sharpies all packed away in my luggage, I headed to Orlando to facilitate the time!

Deliver

With food set out, stickies and sharpies strewn everywhere, and slides ready to go, all that was left to do was facilitate the meeting!

You know what is true whether you’re creating a mobile app or facilitating a meeting? You will be thrown curve balls. In this case, there were a few:

  • Last minute adding some remote participants.
  • The room being booked over during my room prep time.
  • Hearing feedback too late with one of the members of the steering committee who hadn’t been on my planning meetings — there was a bump of misalignment.

I share all this because if you’re new to planning meetings, it’s always helpful to know what can potentially pop-up that you need to smoothly improvise against.

Overall, we had a really successful time. One of the participants who was interested in learning more about facilitating and meeting design asked me what brings me joy in facilitating. I recounted a very specific moment from that very set of meetings:

One of the activities was to create a concept for how we might invite more people into prayer walking. The ideation team for this prompt started their presentation by sharing they had decided to just pay people to take RVs around to every campus and prayer walk it. NOT! They explained that as they were playing with an idea that was silly to begin with, they realized what made this idea unsatisfying. The goal of prayer walking isn’t to just check off a campus — the goal is to get people connected to their local campus. So they reframed their own prompt into, “how might we invite more people to prayer walk campuses in their own locality?” This shift spiraled out into more ideas where they would directly contact churches within a certain radius of un-prayerwalked campuses and then….

That’s the joy–when the process brings further insights and starts a snowball of creativity.

Next time

If I had to do it all again, there’s two things I would change:

  1. Being more firm about meeting with every stakeholder.
  2. Silly me forgot to schedule in 30 minutes for some Florida sunshine ☀️ 😎

Over the years of facilitating I’ve learned a few pro-tips I want to leave you with:

  • Encourage them and help them think: Many don’t think of themselves as naturally creative or “ideators” — but they can if given some helpful practical handholds. This is my thinking prompt sheet to help expand the imagination.
  • Make things clear: Always provide an example of the outcome you’re looking for — if you want people to make a wireframe, show them what it is, and be open to them creating other options like a magazine cover, or a narrative story.
  • Be ready to improvise: Plan 30-minute breaks every 90 minutes both for your participants to take a breather and more importantly, for you to huddle with a decision maker to get live feedback and make adjustments on the fly. Ask repeatedly, “Is this heading in the right direction? What’s happening in the room?” You may not be able to tell because you’re busy facilitating.

Did this help you?

You can contribute to my book fund to help me keep writing!

Ashley Crutcher is the Director of Experience Strategy at InterVarsity located in Madison, WI. She tweets at @ashleyspixels and enjoys cuddling with her furkiddos, crocheting/knitting, ringing handbells, and thinking too much about everything.

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