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I was working with my team on finishing the agenda for an intense, 2-day meeting.  There was only one 90-minute block of time left to fill.  And nobody wanted to take it on.

It was the 90 minutes immediately after lunch on the second day. Perfect timing for food coma and exhaustion to be setting in.  Terrible timing for a facilitator.

We wanted to use this 90 minutes of time to introduce a series of new initiatives we were unveiling.  But giving each project manager 15 minutes of airtime to offer a traditional PowerPoint-based set of talking points just wouldn’t work.  That was a format that would lull even the most enthusiastic participant to sleep after three or four presentations.  So we decided to try something we’d never tried before in a professional meeting: speed dating.

How it Worked

We set up six stations around the room, one for each initiative.  The stations featured visual aids and handouts about individual initiatives and the project manager anchored each station, waiting for new “dates” to come by.  We divided our meeting attendees into six groups and assigned each group to a project where they would begin their “dating process”.  Each “date” lasted for 8 minutes (loosely structured, project managers were supposed to provide 5 minutes of information and allow for 3 minutes of questions from their audience).  After 8 minutes, groups were asked to rotate to the next new initiative.  This process repeated itself six times and concluded with a large group de-brief.

In the End

I have never seen a room full of people more abuzz and alive immediately after lunch.  The short “dating periods” forced the project managers to identify and share the absolute most important aspects of their projects.  The short Q&A period forced participants to come right out and ask their questions if there was something they really wanted to learn more about.  Attendees were not only engaged and physically active throughout the session, the small group nature of the activity allowed those who left wanting to know more with personal connections to the project managers.

In the interest of full disclosure, this was not an activity I came up with on my own.  It was something I had seen several months earlier during a meeting with an amazing organization called LINGOs.  I make this point for two reasons:

  1. To give credit where credit is due, and
  2. To remind you that when it comes to instructional design, there are very few truly original ideas out there, so don’t be afraid to borrow and adapt others’ ideas to your own context.

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