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by Melissa Booraem

Escape from business as usual

When you hear the word meeting, do the words LOOOOOOOONG and BOOORING spring to mind?

You can add a jolt of energy to any business meeting by leaving the daily grind behind. Take a look at why off-site meetings work better and the most innovative ways to stage yours.

let's meet on it

Walk into any office across America, and you”ll find a meeting in progress. Stay long enough and you”re likely to see that meeting interrupted by a ringing cell phone or another employee just stopping by. Not to mention the mental distraction among attendees who are ever mindful of the pressing office needs waiting outside the conference room door.

While many day-to-day business operations can be handled with a routine meeting, sometimes you have to step out of the office – and escape the daily distractions – to get energized and focused.

Kathy Smart, president and CEO of SmarterIdeas Inc., a Gwinnett company that offers business coaching and consulting, agrees that productivity increases when participants leave the office behind. Smart has trained and consulted business professionals in the United States and around the world.

"Productivity gets a boost because people are able to get away from their environment. Participants get their minds clear and become focused on the objective of the meeting," Smart says. "If the meeting is planned well and objectives are well-established, the company will benefit from the renewed commitment of the staff and their strengthened teamwork abilities."

Many companies hold yearly meetings to establish company and personal goal setting – and that”s a good first step. But just heading off site won”t fix a poorly planned event.

Smart warns that if one critical detail in meeting planning is missed along the way, the entire event can collapse.

For this reason, off-site meetings must be carefully orchestrated. "In addition, the leaders must maintain the agenda and make it clear that this is not an excuse to play," Smart adds.

bring in the pros

According to the UGA Center for Continuing Education, more than 20 million conferences and meetings are held in the United States each year with billions of dollars spent.

Team building outdoor events remain popular, says Smart, as well as improvisational theatre that is based on work experiences. "There”s no limit to the imagination, and there are many corporate event planning companies that have great ideas and venues for this," Smart says.

She says it is wise to use a professional event planner or business coach. "I would definitely bring in a professional to ensure your objectives are being met," she adds.

make it work

When planning a successful off-site meeting, start early! If you”re using a professional, have the planner onboard from the start. One meeting format does not fit all, so create an event unique to your company and your business culture. Make the mission or goal of the meeting clear and ensure that everyone is able to participate on some level. Avoid meetings that are heavy on lectures and make sure there is time planned for fun and entertainment – time that won”t get cut or squeezed as the agenda develops!

"I think off-site meetings can work better [than on-site], if they are properly planned," says Smart. "Getting away from the office and allowing people to open up and relax stimulates creative thinking."

close the deal

The benefits of proper meeting planning can be seen on a small scale with clients as well. A quick business lunch, dinner or even golf game ca