Many people think that running a great meeting is simply a matter of tightly keeping to a well-constructed agenda. Masterful meetings also include: (1) thoughtful meeting preparation; (2) the creation of a safe and open meeting environment; (3) full participation of attendees and, (4) the effective management of challenging behaviors that take meetings off track.
This first post on meetings addresses strategies to engage the full participation of meeting attendees.
Tips for Engagement:
Step I: Who to Invite: If you want your meeting attendees to be fully engaged, make sure you pick the right ones to attend. Given your meeting objectives, who are the appropriate people to attend? Who has the expertise in the topic area? The interest?
Step II: How to Invite: When you invite these attendees to the meeting, tell them why their participation would be important at the meeting; this lets them know that you believe they add unique value to the meeting. Ask them, in light of these objectives, if they have any suggestions for the agenda.
Step III: How to Prepare Attendees: Prior to the meeting, give attendees a “heads up” that you will be asking them to introduce themselves and share what is most important to them about the meeting goals and content. That way, you are giving introverts some notice so they can reflect and think carefully about what they want to say prior to the meeting rather than be put on the spot at the meeting.
Step IV: How to Manage the Start of the Meeting: At the meeting, when you ask attendees to share what is important to them, make sure you let them know how much time they will have and make sure they stay within that time slot. That allows everyone know you will make sure airtime is properly managed, sometimes helping people feel less reticent to talk if they are concerned about their time. This also lets them know you are in control of the meeting.
Meeting “starts” are important for two reasons: One, early interaction and participation set the tone for further interaction and participation. Once people get passive in meeting, they tend to stay passive. Two, attendees are observing the facilitator and whether she or he is going to keep the meeting on track and involve and manage participation. Early on, attendees decide whether the meeting will be well managed.
Step V: Listen Well: Track what is important to participants so that when their particular interests get raised during the meeting, you can bring these into the conversation.
Step VI: Build in Reflection Time: That reassures meeting attendees that airtime will be properly managed, sometimes helping them feel less reticent to talk. This also lets them know you are in control of the meeting
Step VII: How to Manage Silence and Disengagement: If no one responds to your questions, don’t assume they have nothing to say about the issue. Assume they either need time to think about their response or they aren’t comfortable sharing for a myriad of reasons.
One strategy I use all the time when people are either quiet or disengaged, is to break them up into small groups for a few minutes and ask each group to discuss a particular item. Some may be more comfortable speaking in a smaller group especially because their thoughts are not identifiable to everyone in the room. If any of the topics are sensitive, think carefully about which attendees go into which groups (and with whom) so that they are in groups in which they feel comfortable speaking.
If you notice some participants who still appear disengaged, check in with them at meeting breaks, ask them how they think the meeting is going. Ask them their opinion on what was just discussed and then reinforce their ideas, encouraging them to share these at the meeting.
Step VIII: Use Interactive Methodology: To keep attendees engaged in a longer meeting, use creative methods for some of the agenda items to juice it up: a debate, a role-play, a case, a guest speaker.
If everyone appears to agree on a topic, ask someone to play “devil’s advocate.” This ensures that other perspectives get out on the table by safely structuring the role of dissenter. This also gets the group to consider what obstacles it might face should it go ahead with its initial plan.
Step IX: Food and Fun: Snacks always seem to lighten the mood of meetings. And a little humor and even a squishy ball or two go a long way in making attendees more comfortable.
Stay Tuned for Part II on Masterful Meetings – “Managing Challenging Meeting Behaviors”!