Holding Successful Cruise Ship Meetings

By Barry Maher

I get to speak on cruises quite frequently. And I love it. They’re wonderful places to hold meetings. They increase attendance and put everyone in a great mood. But there’s a big difference between holding a meeting on land and holding one on a ship. So before casting off, here are a few things you’ll want to consider.

First of all, no matter what your travel agent may tell you, your group is not likely to be a priority with the ship’s cruise director. He or she has far too many other things going on, things that affect many more passengers.

Before booking, meeting planners need to question the cruise line in detail about the facilities that will be available. If possible, they should try to get their meeting room locked in. Many newer cruise ships have dedicated meeting rooms. But most ships simply don’t.

And no matter what the facilities are like, cruise directors will often move a scheduled meeting to a less desirable location, perhaps one where passengers will be passing by (or even moving through) during your meeting. I’ve done sessions in hallways, in bars, in dining rooms, on deck, and in huge theaters that dwarfed the group that had contracted for the meeting.

And any number of times, I’ve had passengers sit down and join us, figuring this was just another part of the shipboard entertainment. That’s flattering and I’ve never had a problem with it. Still, I have heard of speakers being heckled by passengers who’d gotten an early start on the daily drink special.

The day before the meeting, double check on the room and make sure all necessary AV equipment is scheduled to be delivered. And delivered on time. Then expect that it won’t be, and get to the room early enough to remedy the situation. And it’s not just AV equipment you need to check on.  I did one cruise where I had to dash off to a rather distant bar for drinking water before each session because the theater where the meetings were held didn’t have water.

With so many potential distractions, so many other things that participants could be doing rather than sitting in your meeting, having great content is even more vital at sea than on land. If your speakers aren’t gripping, if they don’t really know how to hold an audience, they may not have an audience for long. Except perhaps for the heckling drunks. If that kind of meeting is optional, participants will wander away at the first opportunity. If it’s mandatory, they’ll be daydreaming about what they can do once the speaker finally shuts up and lets them out of there.

Cruises aren’t business environments. And you want the stimulating, yet relaxing atmosphere of the cruise to make your event more successful not less. If your speakers can make their sessions fun while delivering vital content, you’re going to be way ahead of the game. If they aren’t particularly good, the session could be a bit of a ship wreck.

One final note. The breathtaking scenery outside the meeting room windows can put even the best speaker to shame. If, for example, you’re cruising the Inland Passage in Alaska where the view is not only stunning but constantly changing, a good set of meeting room blinds can be your most important piece of equipment.

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