Have you got the meeting location right? If not your meeting could be doomed before it starts

Are we in the right place to have this conversation?


I do a lot of facilitation. At meetings for various organizations, in my own business, and even at home with family. Sometimes I even have to use those skills when I am talking to myself.

When I prepare for facilitation, I work hard to be clear on the purpose of the meeting or event. What is the meeting about?  What is the desired outcome?  I select an approach that I think will work for the participants and create the agenda. I talk with the organizers about A/V aids, handouts, and meals. But we don’t usually talk about the event location, because they have already chosen it. This is a huge mistake. Location does matter, and the wrong choice can doom your event before it even starts.

Consider this: you are holding a meeting to brainstorm new ideas. Deciding to hold the meeting in your board room may seem like a great choice. It is in your offices, and there is generally a level of comfort and familiarity there. People have access to resources and tools, plus, it’s free. But, if your board room is like mine, it is filled with pictures and mementos of past success. It is part of a shrine to what you are proud of, the past, and what worked.

Holding an idea session in a space like that sends the message that we do not want new ideas. It says we want to do what got us here and have more of that success. This location would be a great space to conduct an appreciative inquiry style of meeting. What do we do well, and how can we leverage that into the future? But to create a space open to new ideas, you want a place that inspires the attendees to think and feel different.

Consider this: should you be in a place of power? In early partnership meetings, what does it say when you always meet in one partner’s office and never the other? It sends the message that one partner has more power, more status, and more control than the others. That may be what you want, but usually, it’s not. Community partnerships aim to build on the idea that every partner is equally valued, and no one is better or more important than the other.

Even in your personal life, location matters. There was a recent story on the BBC about Sarah Cameron, the wife of former British Prime Minister David Cameron. After David resigned, Sarah stated that they had disconnected, and their relationship was in a hard spot. They went to New York for a vacation and were able to reconnect without the pressures of their kids, the media, and politics swirling around. You likely know a couple that has done something similar.

There are also a lot of couples who have tried this technique, only to have it fail miserably. It was not the right place to try and have the conversations they needed to have. Maybe you need to be in a room with a therapist. Did you know that 70% of people reported having their most meaningful conversations in their car together? Maybe you need a long drive to have the conversation that is on your mind.

I am not stating there is a definitively right or wrong answer. Just that location and setting matter, and we need to start paying more attention to it. If you are hosting a meeting, remember to engage your facilitator early to help ensure that the meeting is happening in a place that will support your desired outcome. As a facilitator, remember to add this topic to your prep conversations.

Next time you are facilitating a meeting or event, or even need to have a conversation with an employee, your spouse, or your kids, I want you to consider these 6 things:

  1. How accessible is the location? Will everyone be able to get their and fully participate?  Remember too that long trips will make a difference in how people think about what is going to happen. Not being able to slide into your daily routine makes a difference too.
  2. How formal or informal is the location? People will act differently depending on the expectation of how you behave at your chosen location. The social norms at a kitchen table are very different than social norms in your executive board office.
  3. Does the location encourage interaction and discussion? Is this important?
  4. Does someone hold power in this location? Do we want to emphasize that?
  5. What type of discussion or meeting does this location support? Discussions about the past, the future, or other possibilities?
  6. How safe will people feel here? Will they be cautious about what they say because someone might hear them? Will it be too fancy for some, or too rustic? Do you want people to feel a little uneasy? Do you want them to feel important or special?

Location matters. Consider what you have just read, and always ask yourself: is this the right location for the discussion we need to have?


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