Friday, June 22, 2012

Making Meetings Memorable

Darla and I speak with one of the Cooperative members.
A few asked if they could have the stuffed bear in the boat.
What is the first image that jumps to mind when you hear the word "meeting"? I always think of a bunch of stuffy guys in suits sitting around a polished mahogany desk, droning on about quarterly financials, share options, ROI expectations, and other equally invigorating topics that make growing grass seem lively and exciting by comparison. So it's no surprise that when I was asked to participate in the Shelby Electric Cooperative annual meeting, my blood ran cold. I immediately began calculating how much it would cost to steal an I.V. dispersal unit from the local hospital and fill it with Red Bull.

Fortunately for my heart and blood pressure, I quickly found out there was no need for caffeine-inducing shenanigans. Freddie informed me that we were going to be one of the pre-meeting vendors at the park. This is where I started scratching my head. Vendors? At a meeting? Were we going to practice sales pitches? I wasn't sure what to expect at this point, but Freddie made mention of free pork chops, which was more than incentive enough for me.

The meeting itself was scheduled to begin at 1:00, but people began arriving much earlier than that. By the time I arrived at 10:30, the park outside the Chautauqua building was covered with tents and displays. The smell of shredded BBQ and pork chops was wafting through the air, and a local band was playing old-fashined tunes. Honestly, it felt like equal parts science fair and cook-out. Various other vendors set up their tables around us, mostly to chat with the cooperative members and offer various tidbits, information, and samples. We were situated directly next to AirEvac, a company that offers to zip you through the air if you need airlifted to a distant hospital. To be honest, I'd be in it for the free mug they were offering. A lifesaving helicopter ride is nice and all, but free stuff is hard to beat -- like the free popcorn offered from the table on our other flank. In retrospect, I'm surprised I didn't come home covered in salt and mugs.

We spoke to the passing Shelby Cooperative members about the various spots to visit in Shelby County. It was very informal and conversational. We might have been called a vendor booth, but the majority of the people seemed interested in information. The most popular item on our table was the big fold-out map of the lake, but we provided fliers, business cards, Visitor Guides, and -- most important of all -- candy. Our little stuffed bear was pretty popular too. One member said to his wife, "Just take the bear and run, Ethel!"

The Cooperative also had several of their own displays set up. One must have been showing off some kind of sound-proof insulation, because every so often I would hear a shriek that would suddenly drop off as a Cooperative member lowered whatever was making the horrid noise into a box. Another was demonstrating how much energy was needed to create electricity. Their display was simple, yet amusing: a bicycle hooked up to a series of light bulbs. The harder you pedaled, the brighter the light.

It was a nice chance to get out into the community and speak with people. Frankly, I think it was a smart business move, giving folks a free lunch and setting up a nice mix of community, vendors, and Cooperative demonstrations. The pervasive, choking atmosphere that accompanies many such meetings (made even more oppressive by claustrophobic conference rooms) was nicely countered by the friendly faces, cool breeze, and delicious food.