Sam Harrison on Non-Sucky Meetings

There’s a reason why Sam Harrison is a multi-repeat presenter at HOW Design Live. Well, several reasons. Harrison has spent more than a decade teaching creative pros how to develop, hone and sell their ideas. The author of IdeaSpotting and IdeaSelling, a frequent contributor and speaker, Harrison spends a lot of his time on the road coaching designers and learning their best creative practices and habits. We recently chatted about his travels, and about his presentation at HOW Design Live in May.

First, tell us what’s keeping you hopping right now — what’s on your itinerary these days?
I’m speaking all over North America at conferences as well as workshops and talks for in-house groups. And I’m writing articles on creativity, presentation skills and other topics for Fast Company, Communications World, HOW and similar publications. I also spend time consulting and serving on several creative boards and advisory councils — plus, we’ve just created a local film organization, so right now I’m deeply involved in that.

You travel so much — how does visiting new places fuel new ideas for you?
Traveling opens my eyes and mind like nothing else. I love the Mark Twain line that travel is “fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” They’re wise words; it’s impossible to stay closed-minded and uninspired when visiting new places and talking to different people.

How do you take advantage of being in a different location, whether it’s new to you or you’ve visited before?
I try to be relentlessly nosy. It’s pretty easy to journey all around North America and have the same experiences over and over: Staying in the same name-brand hotels, eating at the same types of restaurants and visiting the same types of shops and other attractions. So I make deliberate efforts to nose around for new experiences — smaller, more creative hotels, ethnic or hole-in-wall restaurants, quirky museums, whatever will inspire me rather than tire me.


So your presentation at HOW Design Live is about how to make meetings non-sucky. First, give me the No. 1 biggest reason why meetings do suck.
Oh, there are countless reasons for meeting madness — egos, blowhards, butt-coverers, butt-lickers, on and on. But most bad meetings stem from a lack of focus. Show me a rudderless meeting, and I’ll show you a long, boring, flabby waste of time.

When we think about meetings, we think about groups of people — so presumably, one of the keys to non-sucky meetings is getting non-sucky people in the room, right?
Well, it sure helps to stack the deck with non-sucky people, doesn’t it? But even that doesn’t guarantee a suck-free meeting. Just last month I was in a meeting with a group of really smart, creative and charming people, and yet it still became painful. People talked too long, veered off topic and didn’t know when to wrap up and go home.

So is there really anything we can do to make meetings non-sucky?
Absolutely. For starters, we can have fewer of them. Too many meetings are called out of habit — or to alleviate the anxiety of making tough decisions. But when we do have meetings, we need to whittle down the number of people attending, have a clear focus and keep the meetings short and stimulating. After all, a meeting is an experience — so why not make it an enjoyable, energetic, inspiring experience rather than a dull, bloated, deflating one?

But we each have to take some responsibility for making the meetings we attend a better experience, even if we aren’t running the show. If, during a bad meeting, I’m slumped down checking my iPhone with a smirk on my face, or if I’m asking self-serving questions and making long-winded comments, then I’m part of the problem.

At HOW Live on May 5, I’ll be talking about small steps each of us can take to make meetings faster, more fun and more productive, with techniques such as Use A Knife, Check The Climate, Can The Cushions, Beat The Clock, Ban The Bullets and more. It’ll be a fast-moving session with lots of real-world tips and techniques.

Speaking of HOW, what are you looking forward to this year? What keeps the event fresh and fun for you? What’s YOUR HOW Design Live?
I’ve spoken at eight or nine HOW conferences — and during that time I’ve also presented at events for hundreds of other organizations. And HOW Live is still my very favorite conference. Everything about it is first-class and it oozes creativity.

I always look forward to seeing buddies like Von Glitschka, Justin Ahrens and Stefan Mumaw – and, on the in-house side, Andy Epstein and Tim Cox. We’ve all been on the same programs together so many times we could probably give each other’s presentations. Yet I always learn something new from each of them.

And the keynote speakers this year are awesome – I especially want to catch Karim Rashid, Mimi Valdes and Simon Sinek, and I’m looking forward to once again hearing Michael Bierut, Paula Scher and Jessica Walsh. I can’t wait!

Now that you’ve read about Sam Harrison’s HOW Design Live, plan YOUR HOW Design Live experience. Visit the conference website to browse the full conference agenda and choose your sessions — register by March 31 to save $200 off the full price of your all-access Big Ticket.