Originally published November 24, 2015

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Last week, I attended a meeting where members of two large knowledge management organizations met in person for the first time. In this era of virtual work, such meetings are rarely held any more, although they should be. According to Eric Ziegler,

Face-to-face meetings are an investment, not a cost. While people work remotely, meeting face-to-face is absolutely necessary to build stronger relationships, increase trust, and improve collaboration. This is an absolute must.

Here are ten tips for making the most of these opportunities to meet face-to-face.

1. Ask the participants to help review and approve the agenda, using your organization’s enterprise social network (ESN). This will give them some ownership of the meeting and ensure that it meets their needs.

2. Test each agenda item: could this be just done just as well on a call or webinar? If so, don’t include it in the meeting. Make each agenda item include interaction, specific planning, decision making, and/or action.

3. Use your ESN before, during, and after the meeting

  • As the agenda for the meeting is being developed, solicit
  1. Ideas for the meeting
  2. What the attendees hope to get out of the meeting
  3. Whom they want to hear from and what they want to hear about
  • Before the meeting, ask attendees to introduce themselves
  1. Locations, organizations, roles, and specialties
  2. Interesting details about themselves
  3. Link to their personal profiles
  • Initiate
  1. Discussions to be continued at the meeting
  2. Polls on key topics
  3. Leadership Q&A
  • Live posts during the meeting
  1. Ask questions and request assistance
  2. Take notes to share with people who are not there but would like to follow along
  3. Provide feedback to the leaders of the meeting
  • Display a live stream of posts during the meeting on a large screen
  • After the meeting, report back to attendees on
  1. Highlights and outcomes
  2. What leaders learned — what worked, and what didn’t work
  3. Commitments, actions, and dates

4. Schedule time during the meeting for

  • Attendees to meet one-on-one or in small groups with other attendees
  • Birds-of-a-feather sessions at breakfast, lunch, and dinner to allow those with shared interests to meet, talk, and possibly form communities
  • An innovation challenge in which attendees find others with complementary backgrounds to work together to produce a deliverable by the end of the meeting

5. Allow attendees to get personal instruction on useful methods, techniques, and tools

  • Have booths like in a trade show, and let attendees move freely from booth to booth
  • Have experts in the tools available for demos, hands-on training, and Q&A
  • Give out points for mastering the content at each booth, and recognize those with the most points at the end

6. If you invite outside guest speakers to present at the meeting, involve them in workshops following their talks, in which participants

  • Discuss the presentation
  • Talk about how to implement the ideas
  • Commit to specific actions and follow-up checkpoints

7. Provide the opportunity to discuss and exchange books

  • Send out a relevant book to all attendees before the meeting
  • Hold a book club discussion at the meeting about that book
  • Conduct a book exchange at the meeting where people can bring other relevant books to swap

8. Include an attendee-driven segment in the agenda, also known as an unconference or BarCamp. This gives attendees a role in leading sessions, voting on which ones they prefer, and providing smaller, more interactive breakouts.

  • Attendees can suggest topics and offer to lead sessions
  • Attendees vote on which sessions they want to attend
  • Based on the response, you can hold one session, several sequential sessions, or multiple parallel sessions

An unconference is a loosely-structured conference emphasizing the informal exchange of information and ideas between participants, rather than following a conventionally structured program of events. This can lead to quotes such as “at this unconference, attendees created sessions on the spot, making for an energizing and freewheeling exchange.” For more about unconferences, see

A BarCamp is an ad-hoc gathering born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment. It is an intense event with discussions, demos, and interaction from attendees. For more about BarCamps, see

Here is an example of how such a session can be communicated before a meeting via email.

“Last year, we introduced BarCamps as part of our All Hands Meeting. We plan to hold another set of 9 BarCamps this year. Please edit the BarCamps wiki page to add proposed topics for this year.

We’re looking for at least 9 BarCamps for day two of the meeting: three per hour for three hours — you are required to attend three.

Consider suggesting/organizing a BarCamp to take advantage of our entire team being together, including (but not limited to):

  • Discussing /resolving a problem, issue, or important topic
  • Conducting/attending training
  • Organizing /creating something new

A BarCamp is similar to a knowledge café (a one-hour conversation/training among a small group of people on a work-related topic, with a specific objective or outcome), with a few key differences

  • BarCamps can originate with the attendees, not necessarily the organizers
  • Can be organized in advance, or can spring from ideas at the meeting itself
  • Anyone can lead a BarCamp — does not need to be a manager
  • Attendees can vote on BarCamps they want to attend

BarCamp FAQs

Q: Do I have to lead the BarCamp by myself?

A: No. If you want to pair up with someone else for the hour, feel free to share the load.

Q: What is the format of the BarCamp?

A: The format is up to you, but a common format is:

  • State the topic and objectives
  • Give the background and context
  • Present the questions you’d like feedback on
  • Work toward some kind of demonstrable/practical conclusion

Q: Can we use the BarCamp for a team meeting?

A: No, the BarCamp is not a meeting of just your team. We want to take advantage of our entire organization being together to get cross-team interaction.”

9. Solicit feedback after the meeting. Conduct a post-meeting survey and start a thread in your ESN to allow everyone to see each other’s comments and to build on them.

10. Conduct a post-meeting review, including what went well, what didn’t, and the feedback provided in the survey and ESN discussion. Then act on the lessons learned and feedback received when planning the next face-to-face meeting.

Ideas for an engaging all hands meeting

Q: I am now in charge of a KM program and have been asked to present at an all hands meeting, preferably in a creative way that’s more engaging than a PowerPoint presentation. Some ideas people have thrown out are a video, a fireside chat, a skit, a demo. I’m interested in maybe engaging the group in a simple activity that can show the power of knowledge sharing. However, the group will be about 200 people, many in the room and many joining remotely via video call. What are your suggestions?

A: My advice is to avoid anything that may sound better than it will likely end up being in reality, e.g., a skit. I would do the following:

  1. Present useful information using graphics-rich slides and screen shots of what you would demo. Avoid a live demo as it may go awry.
  2. Plant some questions that multiple audience members will ask. They will be the catalysts to get others to also speak up. Spend a good portion of the time on conversation.
  3. Ask some questions to stimulate discussion, and make sure to get both local and remote responses.
  4. Invite one or more guests to join you. Outside voices break up the session and lend different perspectives.
  5. Use technology to support the event, such as live polling, ESN live posting, and a chat window for the virtual attendees.

See additional responses in this SIKM Leaders Community thread.

Further Reading on Meetings (Face-to-face and Virtual)

1. It is a dangerous delusion to believe that frequent face-to-face knowledge sharing meetings are a luxury by Bruce Karney

“Face to face knowledge sharing is not a luxury. The pity is that in many organizations it is perceived as being one. There are indeed examples of effective knowledge sharing in the absence of face to face, but these are far outnumbered by examples of ineffective computer-based and phone-based collaboration.”

2. The new standard for meetings and conferences by Seth Godin

“ ‘I flew all the way here for this?’ is going to be far more common than it used to be. If you think a great conference is one where the presenters read a script while showing the audience bullet points, you’re wrong. Or if you leave little time for attendees to engage with others, or worse, if you don’t provide the levers to make it more likely that others will engage with each other, you’re wrong as well.

Here’s what a speaker owes an audience that travels to engage in person: more than they could get by just reading the transcript. And here’s what a conference organizer owes the attendees: surprise, juxtaposition, drama, engagement, souvenirs and just possibly, excitement.”

3. Why Face-To-Face Will Always Matter (Infographic) by Danny Ashton

4. Why Face-To-Face Meetings Are So Important by Mina Chang

5. 18 Reasons Why In Person Face-to-Face Meetings Work Better by Brandon Gaille

6. Come Back to Our Senses: How to Create More Meaningful and Memorable Meetings by Kare Anderson

7. Nancy Dixon

8. Virtual meetings by Nancy Settle-Murphy

9. How to Run a Great Virtual Meeting by Keith Ferrazzi

10. How To Run The Best Virtual Meeting Ever by Ken Perlman

11. How to Design an Agenda for an Effective Meeting by Roger Schwarz

12. How To Run Your Meetings Like Apple and Google

13. Less Fluff, More Stuff: The Science of Productive Meetings — Knowledge@Wharton interview with Steven Rogelberg

14. The Surprising Science of Meetings: How You Can Lead Your Team to Peak Performance by Steven Rogelberg

What do you think is important when planning a face-to-face meeting? What benefits do you get from meeting in person which you can’t get in a virtual meeting?

Written by

Knowledge Management Author and Speaker, Founder of SIKM Leaders Community, Community Evangelist, Knowledge Manager https://sites.google.com/site/stangarfield/

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