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Just take it off!

Just take it off!

Nicola Hopes

28 November 2023

I’ve been involved in planning a few team awaydays and events recently and I’ve been reminded of the infamous quote attributed to Coco Chanel:

“Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.”

Now, given how stylish you are, I’m sure you’ll know the quote well. It refers to dialling down the need to add too many bells and whistles to an outfit, suggesting that it distracts from the style.

(If you’ve seen any photos from Coco’s heyday in the 20s and 30s you’d be forgiven for asking how many accessories she had on to begin with! She was not afraid of a bauble or two…)

But the point of the story is not sartorial elegance.

The point is about less.

From Board meetings to Conferences and from Keynotes to Steering Meetings – I can’t count the number of times this year I’ve attended a slot that’s running over time.

And the reason?

They’re trying to cram too much in. But so many people are.

Perhaps it’s a triumph of hope over experience, thinking that Jo will really keep their update to 20 mins, and nobody will ask any questions… but experience teaches us it just isn’t working.

If you do keep up with the packed agenda – you’ve given your audience so much to chew on they’ve got indigestion. And the reflective thinkers in the room have no chance for their poor brains to process it all.

If you’re running late – it feels out of control and rushed. It feels stressful for your guests or speakers. And it doesn’t allow key subjects enough time to breathe and develop.

So, my advice: streamline that agenda by taking one thing off it. Here’s how.

Discard the frippery

These are the key causes I’ve seen for people losing control of the meeting, conference or awayday by trying to pack too much in.

#1 Good old fashioned poor planning – you’re assuming that nobody overruns a coffee break, there are no questions, everybody will run exactly to time and handovers happen instantaneously. They won’t, so don’t expect them to. The bigger the egos in the room, the more likely they are to run over time. You’ve been warned!

#2 You’ve lost the plot – you set up the session to tackle a particular topic, but you got a bit greedy. A bit unfocussed. You decided to crowbar in an update on a big project. A great speaker became available. Somebody offered to lead a cutting-edge discussion. Now you’ve got something that’s trying to be all things to all people. And that always works out, doesn’t it?

#3 You’ve used the wrong format – you’ve heard me say it before, updates don’t need an audience. Maybe you’re using a meeting to share information or collaborate when it could easily be done offline? Do you need to insist on more pre-reading and pre-work? Maybe you need more frequent, focussed sessions with this group on individual topics? Or perhaps you can use virtual drop-ins to space out the discussions?

So, next time you’re in control of the agenda, take a hard look in the mirror and ask yourself what you can take off it. Now, that’s much more sophisticated, isn’t it?

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