Notes From a Retreat

Even (especially?) editors who write about other people's meetings need to hold meetings of their own

So it was that Convene‘s editorial team gathered at Editor in Chief Michelle Russell’s cozy home in northern New Jersey for a two-day retreat last week. A few observations:

Retreating is a lot like house painting: It’s all about the prep work. We four editors — Michelle and I, along with Senior Editors Barbara Palmer and Hunter Slaton — had participated in a joint sales and editorial retreat in Chicago a few weeks before, and we reviewed the action items and other notes from that in advance of our own meeting.

It definitely made me realize, for about the 53rd time, that the true power of face-to-face meetings is serendipity.

That helped us shape some big important questions about our editorial mix. Each of us also went magazine shopping before the retreat, and brought to Michelle’s house those publications that most spoke to us for a little glossy, four-color show-and-tell. All of this pre-brainstorming really helped focus our efforts at the retreat, because it felt like we’d already figured out what we didn’t want to talk about.

The best ideas come from nowhere: Or, they don’t come from where you expect them to. We ended up with a few great ideas for new feature articles and departments when we were talking about something else completely, because something somebody said made us double or triple back on a topic we thought we’d covered. It definitely made me realize, for about the 53rd time, that the true power of face-to-face meetings is serendipity. You simply don’t now who you’re going to meet and what you’re going to talk about until you’re there.

Kenny Rogers was right: You got to know when to fold ’em. The first day of our retreat was more like a half-day — we started after lunch and went until dinner, and it was tremendously productive. The next day, we started right after breakfast, broke for lunch, and went through late afternoon. And while that was also productive, in retrospect I think we stayed at it for an hour or two longer than we should have. We’d already accomplished a lot, and by the end we were tired and less focused. Next time I’d be inclined to plot out our schedule for the day, then preemptively lop off the last segment.

I’m sure these are all things that experienced meeting planners know. But until I get my CMP, I’ll have to keep figuring them out for myself. Or, better still, I’ll keep doing what editors do — interviewing people who know more than I do, and passing off their knowledge as my own.

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso formerly was executive editor of Convene.