A Great Little Meeting on No Budget

Great meetings, large or small, depend less on facilities, amenities, and technology, than on the commitment and ingenuity of the participants. I learned that yet again last week, when I had to figure out how to hold a small meeting in the middle of Manhattan, with no money.

I was providing some pro bono consulting for the convention planning committee of a religious association doing truly important work -- but with very budgets.

How could the nine of us convene in the middle of New York City, with no funds for a meeting room, AV, food and beverage, etc.?

Since I was the one participant located in New York City, the task fell to me.

Here's what I did, using materials that all fit in an attache case.

As a no-cost meeting room, I used the upstairs dining area of the a fast-food restaurant on the corner of 32nd street and 7th Avenue in New York City, across the street from Pennsylvania Station, where my clients were arriving from Washington. I ascertained that after the morning Rush Hour, this whole upstairs area was completely empty, so for our meeting starting at 9:30 we would have the whole place to ourselves. It was devoid of amenities, of course -- but it was ours.

I arrived 20 minutes early, and they couldn't have been happier than to have a customer come up to the counter during that "down" period, who bought enough coffee and rolls for nine people.

Enough already with the food and beverage. On to the venue. Upstairs, I quickly moved some tables together at the far end to seat nine of us, popped open my attache case, and started by dressing things up a bit.

First, I spread a paper table cloth with the Columbia University ensignia, used at Faculty House where I hold monthly seminars.

Then, I put out pencils and pads around, and turned on my miniature tape recorder, playing some energizing rag-time music -- and ready to be used later, to capture our discusssion.

On the wall next to our table, I attached a giant 10-foot wall chart which I use for visually analyzing and planning major organizational change projects. It enables conferees to brainstorm the forces at work in their situation, and identifying the leverage points for change.

At each person's place, I put a tent card for them to print their name big and bold, an agenda, and the Power Point texts I'd ordinarily put on an overhead transparency projector, printed "six-up" on three sheets of paper.

At the end of the table I stood up The Problem-Solving Machine, a spiral-bound book of whiteboard pages on which are printed blank formats for the best project-planning tools such as GANTT, the Fishbone, and Flowcharts.

By now, you may be thinking I'm the Martha Stewart of small meeting planning. But to me, the results justified the preparations.

The conferees arrived -- and their faces burst into lovely smiles and appreciative comments as they saw how well set up we were to get our business done. Clearly, my little display of ingenuityh and resourcefulness was energizing them. It said: "I care about this meeting. We can solve our problems with creativity rather than money."

Buoyed by these good spirits, from 9:30 until Noon we had one of the best meetings I've ever conducted. Spirits were high, ideas flowed, problems were solved, insights occurred, decisions were made, people were inspired and moved to action.

As the lunch crowd began drifting upstairs, we cleared the table, took our charts down from the wall, removed the table cloth, and left like thieves in the night. I had the feeling that the meeting had been so good not in spite of, but BECAUSE, we had pulled it off with limited resources.

The lady at the cash register downstairs gave us a wink as we left -- she probably watched the evening news to see whether there'd been a major bank heist that afternoon in Manhattan!

Copyright © 199 Ronald Gross