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Intentionality: TC’s Secret Sauce for Successful Meeting Design


Rasheedah Stephens

Date Published

May 19, 2023
8 minute read
Meeting Design

At The Clearing, we’re known for our meeting planning and executing expertise — called “meeting design.” When people think of that expertise, our best-in-class facilitators and planners often come to mind. As a client, these are the people you’ll spend time with setting goals, developing an agenda, and guiding your attendees through the session. However, there are many behind-the-scenes activities that must happen to create a great meeting. That’s where Rasheedah Stephens, The Clearing’s Senior Manager for Office Operations, comes in. Here are Rasheedah’s insights and tips for building the foundation of a successful meeting.

The Clearing’s Approach to Meeting Design

When it comes to meeting design, I would love to say that The Clearing has a secret formula for great meetings. However, the reality is that we simply put a lot of effort into it. We think about every important piece — not only what a meeting participant sees and experiences. It’s like the foundation of a building. The expansive lobby or amazing views may catch your eye, but neither is possible without a strong foundation. To create that foundation, we start with the desired meeting outcomes and build from there. It is an intentional process that includes everything from determining who needs to be present, to the required technology and physical layout. Now that I think about it, maybe that’s our meeting design secret: intentionality.

The Added Value of Intentionality

When it comes to meeting planning, intentionality means taking care of the small things so the core meeting team — the facilitator, the knowledge capturer, and the analyst recording the event — can run the meeting and participants enjoy a seamless experience. As a meeting designer, I look at it like this: what can I do to help everyone get the most out of the meeting? Here’s my meeting intentionality checklist — feel free to adapt it to the needs of your organization.

Make the Simple Things Simple

Removing uncertainty around items attendees may be wondering about before the meeting and keeping them comfortable while they are there is one of the best ways to drive engagement. Put yourself in their shoes — what information would allow you to enter the meeting worry-free? What would distract you from the discussion at hand? Here are some things I think about to ensure participants enter the meeting with a clear mind and stay that way.

Getting there: Provide clear directions on parking and public transportation options so participants aren’t scrambling on the day of the meeting.

Getting in: Ensure participants know what they need in order to access the meeting location. Does the building have specific security requirements? Is ID required for entry? Making this clear can help avoid frustrating situations that negatively color someone’s day.

Meal expectations: This is probably the pre-meeting item people are most concerned about. Be clear about what will be provided to set expectations and remove worry.

Keep it comfortable: Do the little things that make people feel at home.

  • Tell attendees where the restrooms are so they don’t have to ask
  • Do regular temperature checks to ensure people can focus on the content, not being too cold or hot
  • Ensure the basics like water and coffee are easy to reach
  • Make sure everyone has enough personal space — whether that’s legroom or ensuring chairs aren’t too close together
  • Ensure the AV setup allows all attendees to comfortably see any required screens or hear speakers without difficulty

Nail the Setup

I start by asking myself and the core meeting team some questions.

Will the meeting be fully in person or a hybrid? If the latter, we recommend having a facilitator for the virtual element and someone in the room to ensure that the needs of both in-person and virtual participants are met.

Is collaboration key or will the meeting follow a lecture format? This will help you optimize seating — for example, rounds or classroom style.

What is the desired flow? I like to set the room up to match the desired outcomes. For journey mapping sessions I set one part of the room up as the current state and the other as the future state. The meeting begins in the current state and moves to the future state as discussions progress. The physical move helps put participants into a transformative mindset.

Are there participants that require accessibility considerations? This will allow you to plan an AV setup that facilitates seamless participation for every attendee.

What is the tone of the meeting? If you’re looking at a day of hard conversations, consider options to set a relaxed atmosphere such as soft seating and a meeting room with windows so participants can get natural light.

Where should everyone sit? Who people sit by can have a direct impact on their experience or participation. For example, if someone is sitting at a table right next to their boss, they may not speak up. We also try our best never to have a “head of the table” to ensure all participants feel equally involved.

Create Room to Breathe

While achieving desired outcomes is critical, creating a jampacked agenda with minimal breaks is often counterproductive. I like to make sure participants have time to catch their breath during the day to ensure they remain fresh and engaged throughout the meeting.

Keep attendees hydrated — and caffeinated. Make sure beverages are easy to access and if you have a larger session ensure there are two stations so people are not waiting in line just to get coffee.

Bio breaks. Build these into the agenda so people know they don’t have to leave in the middle of a session.

Email breaks. Few cause more anxiety than a full inbox. So, we make sure we honor that by allowing participants to have breaks to check their phones, make quick calls, or simply step out and stretch.

Keep it light. Meetings can be stressful, so I like to find ways to add a bit of fun to the day. This can be music during breaks, a fun icebreaker, or surprise cupcakes.

Digital To-Dos

We mentioned hybrid meetings above, but with more and more organizations going fully digital there are additional considerations to keep in mind.

Don’t keep attendees wondering. If participants are in a digital waiting room, make sure they know they’re in the right place. Send them a message saying welcome to the meeting and we’ll be right with you. This is also a great opportunity to remind them to test their audio and video.

Set the ground rules. Give attendees the guidelines right away. For example, if cameras are to be on let them know before the session starts. Tell participants if speakers will be taking questions throughout or they should be held until the end of a given session.

Be available to help. Ensure attendees know who to contact — and how — in case of technical difficulties. I want to ensure people don’t miss out simply because they can’t connect, hear, or see.

Don’t Go It Alone

Planning a successful meeting isn’t easy. That’s why my final piece of advice is to enlist the help of your colleagues or outside support to make it happen. Not only will it reduce the burden and pressure on you, it will open your planning process to new ideas and provide your attendees more day-of resources to ensure they can focus on the meeting content instead of logistical details. If you find yourself struggling to plan a meeting or group session, I would love to help. Email me anytime at