Eva Talk

Mastering the Art of Designing and Facilitating Effective Meetings With Mike Van Der Vijver

In today’s fast-paced work environment, meetings have become a common way for teams to communicate and collaborate on important projects. Effective meetings can encourage participants to actively engage in the discussion and decision-making process, leading to more productive and collaborative outcomes. 

This requires careful planning, clear communication, and skilled facilitation to ensure that everyone’s ideas and perspectives are heard and that the meeting stays focused and productive.

However, poorly designed and executed meetings can lead to wasted time, frustration, and a lack of productivity. To ensure that meetings are successful and productive, it is essential to master the art of designing and facilitating them.

In this event industry expert series, Mike Van Der Vijver, Co-founder, MindMeeting shared his insights on some of the common mistakes that event organizers make when designing or facilitating a meeting. 

With nearly 25 years of experience in the meeting industry, Mike has established himself as a conference interpreter and Meeting Designer through his co-founded company, Mindmeeting. Besides, he also serves as an executive consultant and coach, specializing in national and organizational culture. 

Mike is a regular contributor to international conferences and has previously served on the board of the Italian Chapter of MPI, Itim, the Institute for Training in Intercultural Management, and Congrestolkensecretariaat (Conference Interpreters) of Amsterdam.

– Could you tell us about your professional journey and MindMeeting? 

That has been a journey searching for something that wouldn’t bore me in the long run, passing by a biologist, translator, interpreter, and consultant. Communicating through meetings proved to be the thing for me. 

After sitting in hundreds of international conferences as an interpreter, I thought: “It must be possible to make people communicate better in events like this.” That thought led to the birth of MindMeeting, in 2003, with my best friend and business partner, theater director Eric de Groot. In the past 10 years, we have found partners in various other parts of the world, one of which has turned into a j/v company in Taiwan, called Orange Gibbon. 

This has culminated in the publication of two books on meeting design, “Into the Heart of Meetings” (2013), with the fundamentals of the design methodology; and “Meetings, by Default or by Design (freshly published), a practical workbook with 100+ pieces of advice on designing more effective meeting programs. 

– What are some of the common mistakes that you see organizers make when designing or facilitating a meeting? 

Good Meeting design creates programs in which content, stakeholder interests, and organizer goals balance out. That requires a sound methodology. What I often see, is that organizers come up with a program too soon, without first establishing goals for the impact the event needs to have. 

Ultimately, what should matter, is the change the event can bring. But in practice, the first question organizers ask is: “Who should be the speaker on this topic?” The result is meetings with too much “broadcasting” and too little participant engagement and involvement. 

The task of moderating or facilitating the program is often given to a content expert or an eminent member of the community in question. In many cases, though, that is a person who is not a specialist in connecting what happens on stage and what happens in the audience.

That increases the distance between the stage and the participants further. Professional moderators and facilitators know how to do this. It is wise to give the important members of communities a different, equally prestigious role. 

– Can you describe your experience working with virtual meetings and how you keep participants engaged in that environment? 

Engagement is always the result of a mix of two things: touching the motivation of participants and offering them powerful experiences. Especially the second is harder for online than for face-to-face events. There are several solutions, though. 

The first is to ensure a purpose-made program for virtual participants that is not a derivative of the face-to-face one. Attention spans online are shorter, so programs need to be fast and high-paced, with short sessions. 

Virtual meetings work well if they are the culmination of a series of communication touchpoints with participants, involving other media. And by that, I do not mean social media alone. 

You build the community by allowing participants to interact with one another beforehand, by sending them something that connects them with the content, by shooting them an e-mail with the first one-third of a presentation which continues during the event, etcetera. You need to work hard on creating an expectation that will be satisfied during the event. 

– Any advice that you would like to share with event organizers?

Today, you have the choice between various delivery channels. Make sure you design your programs in accordance with what you can realistically achieve through these channels. Many organizers have unrealistic expectations, for instance, about the impact of “pure content” (i.e. presentations) online. I’m afraid that you need a high-level design for online events to really create an impact. Just lining up a series of speakers is no longer acceptable. 

For more in the Events Industry Experts series, check out our interview with Shawn Cheng, Olivia Preston-Lee, Patric Weiler, Shameka Jennings, Janice Cardinale, Courtney Stanley, Helen Moon, Danica Tormohlen, Ashley Brown, Jason Allan Scott, Brandt Krueger, Corbin Ball, Will Curran, and Stephan Murtagh today!

Are you interested in sharing your insights or viewpoints with the events industry? Join the Eva Talk.

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