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How a Meeting Environment Affects Success—In-Person and Virtual

By Jim Poage

Innovators & Entrepreneurs, February 2022

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Let’s begin with a short tale to demonstrate how a meeting’s environment can energize people’s emotional levels and affect the meeting’s success.

I was at an all-day facilitated meeting in an upper floor conference room of a tall office building in Cambridge, Mass., overlooking the Charles River, the Back Bay section of Boston, and the distant Blue Hills. The room was long and narrow with a window running the length of one side looking out at this gorgeous view. About eight of us sat on each side of a long conference table. So, half the attendees (including me) looked out at this inspiring view all day, while the other half looked at a wall all day.

At the end of the meeting, the facilitator went around the room and asked each participant how they felt about the day’s meeting: “Do you feel we made good or little progress?” The people who had looked out the window at the exhilarating scene were inspired and thought it had been a productive day. The people who had looked at the wall thought little had been accomplished.

So, it’s not just what’s discussed or decided at a meeting that matters, it’s also the environment at the meeting. In this case, a day spent looking at an inspiring urban landscape or at a boring wall affected the participants’ mood, energy, and opinion of the meeting.

Ideas to Energize In-person Meetings

Now, arranging for a spectacular view is not always possible and is not the only one way to move your participants' heads and hearts. Here are just a few suggestions to enliven meetings:

  • Don’t use a plain, boring room. At least put information on whiteboards before or during the meeting, write and post flip charts, post wall charts before the meeting, etc.
  • Pass around objects, pictures, etc.
  • Vary how you show information: Write on a flip chart or whiteboard. Create content live to provide variety, don’t just show PowerPoint slides.

What About Virtual Meetings

The meeting described above took place before the proliferation of virtual meetings triggered by the COVID pandemic. In virtual meetings you cannot arrange the siting and the views. But there are some things you can do to liven up the virtual environment.

  • Personalize your background. Most virtual meeting software allow you to select a picture to have displayed as a background behind you. Select a background that relates to the meeting topic.
  • You can hold props, samples, objects, and pictures up to your camera. This can breakup the monotony of virtual meetings.
  • In his User Experience virtual sessions, Jared Spool from User Interface Engineering (UIE) avails himself of a camara to show documents, draw graphs and write bullets on paper. I find the creation of visual aids more engaging than showing prepared PowerPoint slides.

Give it a shot. Think about the environment for your next meeting—it will enliven you and your colleagues.


Jim Poage, Ph.D., is the founder/president of JLP Performance Consulting, where he focuses on creating an emotional rapport with customers, colleagues, and audiences. Jim and his daughter Jennifer Poage co-authored Flair: Design Your Daily Work, Products, and Services to Energize Your Customers, Colleagues, and Audiences (Maven House). You can find out more about becoming an energizer on Jim’s website, www.jimpoage.com. Jim can be contacted at jimpoage@gmail.com.