9 Strategies to Engage Meeting Attendees

It seems we spend too much of our work lives in meetings. Last week I was in meetings for 27 hours (seriously!). How about you?

If we’re going to spend so much time in these meetings, they may as well be a good use of our time. Recently I had an opportunity to facilitate a 60-minute session about creating more engagement during meetings at global NGO I-TECH during a “Lunch & Learn” event. Following are 9 tips I shared during the session to help facilitate more engaging meetings.

Keeping Structure & Focus

1. Agenda: It may sound basic, but you’d be surprised at how many meetings take place without an agenda. Adding the following items to your meeting agenda will help keep the meeting on topic and on time:

  • Overall purpose/things to be accomplished during the meeting
  • Topics
  • Classification of each topic (information-only item, item for discussion, follow-up item, etc.)
  • Amount of time devoted to each specific topic
  • Person responsible for each topic
  • Specific goal/why are you talking about each topic

2. Rigorous prioritization: Ask yourself if you need to burn valuable meeting time by rattling off a bunch of updates or if you can communicate these updates by some other means (ie: sending out a weekly email with updates). If people really need to know the information in order to do something with it, then send out the information in advance and hold them accountable for knowing the information through a Q&A session during the meeting. Simply bestowing information upon meeting attendees is an invitation for them to check their email or send a tweet that ends in #boredtodeath.

Ensuring People Show Up Prepared

3. Send agenda and expectations in advance: If you want people to show up prepared, you need to give them at least 48 (business) hours’ notice with the meeting agenda and any questions they should come prepared to discuss.

Generating Discussion or Brainstorming

4. Small groups: Share information during your meeting, break into small groups for initial reaction, then have large group report-backs.

5. Large group discussion: Post a discussion question in the front of the room (PPT, flipchart or handout) or using a web conference tool (in the event of a virtual meeting) in order to keep everyone focused on the question at hand.

6. Brainstorming (Part 1): Post flipcharts with various discussion prompts around the room, break into small groups, give groups 2 minutes per station to generate ideas, then rotate to the next flipchart.

7. Brainstorming (Part 2): Give everyone a note card or post-it, ask them to write an idea, then collect cards as they leave the room.

Follow-up Items

8. Timely reminders: Send previous meeting minutes or action items that are coming due in advance with a reminder of expectations and responsibilities.

9. Time limits: Allocate a specific amount of time on the agenda and ensure people responsible for follow-up or action items are aware of the time they will be allotted.

What did I miss? Use the comments section below to let me (and the rest of the world) know if you have a particularly effective idea to engage folks in your meetings.

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4 Ways to Make Your Next Meeting a Better Use of Everyone’s Time

Have you ever been in a meeting that was simply mind-numbingly boring? Or worse, have you ever led a meeting that you were sure everyone else felt was mind-numbingly boring? Following are four ways to make better use of everyone’s time during your next meeting:

  1. Be sure to have an overall goal (and be sure everyone attending knows that goal). When people attend your meeting(s), they’re taking time out of their schedules (and their lives) to be with you. If your meeting is 60 minutes long, make sure everyone in attendance knows what “success” for your meeting will look like at the end of the 60 minutes you’ve spent together. One example could be: “At 10am, when we walk out the door, we will have identified the primary benefit of our new customer relations software for each division in the company.”

Identifying the overall goal is essential even for regular team meetings, since that primary goal will probably change from week to week. When a primary goal isn’t clearly articulated, everyone is left to assume they know the purpose of the meeting. Is the meeting simply for information sharing (and if so, why is it important that everyone pay attention; what’s the value in sharing the information)? Is the meeting to brainstorm? Is the meeting to prepare for and align on another (bigger, more important) meeting?

  1. Have an agenda. An agenda provides much-needed structure to the meeting. A detailed agenda can lend a helping hand to meeting efficiency by making sure everyone in attendance is clear on what will be covered, who will cover it, how much time will be allocated for each topic and what is expected from everyone else. Click here for a sample. Added bonus: sending your agenda out at least 48 business hours in advance (ie: don’t send it on a Friday and expect people to prepare for a Monday morning meeting) helps all attendees prepare for what will be expected of them and it demonstrates to your attendees that you’ve put some time and thought into the meeting. Click here for a blank meeting agenda template.
  2. Set some M/P/V goals. I was introduced to this concept about a year ago and it has done wonders for how much I can get out of meetings – both 1:1 meetings as well as meetings with small and large groups. M/P/V stands for:
  • Minimum: What’s the very least that should come out of any given meeting topic?
  • Primary: What’s the expected outcome of any given topic?
  • Visionary: If you were given one wish, what would you wish could come from any given topic?

For example, if I’m meeting with a client with whom I haven’t spoken with in quite some time, my M/P/V goal for this meeting might look like this:

  • M: Re-engage with David in order to remind him that we exist and have done some good work together in the past.
  • P: Begin discussions on working with David on a new project at some point in the next six months.
  • V: Sign a new contract to begin working with David on a current project.

M/P/V goals can (and should) also be set for each topic of recurring meetings like team and staff meetings. Perhaps an “M” goal should always be: Ensure my attendees aren’t mind-numbingly bored!

  1. Have a presentation plan for anything that is not merely informational. Your presentation plan may simply be a few bullet-pointed notes on the back of a napkin or, if you really want to be a meeting pro and have a high degree of engagement, you could use a more formal presentation plan (click here for a sample presentation plan).

The key to better engagement during meetings is to be intentional about how you plan to engage your meeting attendees. If you need some help organizing your thoughts, click here for a blank meeting presentation plan template.

Each of these four suggestions take time (some steps take a lot more time than others). Taking some time to be intentional about the way you go about your meetings can make the actual time spent in the meeting more valuable for everyone involved.

Looking for some ideas about what good interaction during a meeting could look like? Try this previous post:

Know of someone else who’d like to get some ideas on how better to use everyone’s time during a meeting? Pass this along!

As for you, if you want access to a steady stream of articles to help improve your presentation skills then you should probably follow this blog.