Last week a colleague asked for help organizing her thoughts for an upcoming team meeting. She had prepared a set of PowerPoint slides and was preparing to distribute a hard copy of some job duties that she wanted to review with her team… for the third time.
As we honed in on the specific problem she wanted to address, I asked how comfortable she’d be in changing her presentation tactic. Instead of talking at her team (for the third time), what if she laid out the problem and then asked for their input in solving it?
She gave it a whirl. Afterward, she said her team was engaged for the entire meeting and they offered more suggestions and solutions than she could shake a stick at.
Shortly after this experience I came across this image, lifted from a highly entertaining article on the importance of presentations as a performance vs. a conversation.
It got me wondering: why do we, as managers, so often feel that we need to come up with all the answers for our teams?
Following are three suggestions (and a tool) to engage meeting attendees more effectively:
When appropriate, send information in advance and insist attendees come prepared.
I recognize that there are times when news needs to be broken to everyone at the same time, in person. In my experience, that’s generally the exception, not the rule. If there’s something new to be shared with the team – a new development or a new policy, for example – then send it out in advance. And request that everyone come to the meeting prepared to discuss how the new development or policy will impact them.
Make them do the work.
In the example I shared (above), my colleague decided to abandon her lecture-style review of an existing policy. She admitted it would have put her team to sleep. Instead, she chose to challenge the team to list as many responsibilities as they could think of that they needed to fulfill in accordance with this policy. It kept her team awake, on their toes, and it allowed her to see what they remembered and where possible gaps existed between the policy and their day-to-day practices.
Let them come up with solutions.
Too many managers (myself included) feel that they need to come up with solutions to every problem – big or small. In the example I shared, my colleague abandoned her plan to tell her team how the problem was going to be solved. Instead she solicited solutions from her team. My colleague no longer had to stress over whether a solution she came up with would meet the needs of her staff, and because her staff came up with the solutions, they had a stake in owning and carrying out these solutions.
A word of caution: engaging people takes time, effort and preparation
Taking a risk by creating a more engaging team meeting can yield fantastic results that include:
- More energy during team meetings,
- Better use of everyone’s time,
- More ideas from more people,
- More innovative solutions, and
- Shared ownership of problems and solutions.
You won’t find success, however, by merely wanting to engage people. Engaging your team or audience in a meeting requires advanced planning and meticulous preparation.
You need to map out exactly how much time you’d like to spend introducing a topic, facilitating a discussion, and discussing next steps. You need to make sure you’ve defined exactly what results you want to see. Without planning, you could suddenly find that you spent too much time setting up a problem and you’ve run out of time for discussion. Or perhaps you’ll find you’ve spent too much time brainstorming and not enough time refining ideas or clearly articulating next steps.
If you’re looking to plan a meeting that engages your audience, here is a link to a presentation planning template that could help you keep your next meeting organized.
Have you found a strategy to better engage people in your meetings? Please share in the comments section.
Know someone who could use some help engaging people in their meetings? Pass this link along.