Four essential steps to keep participants engaged during meetings

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Note: This article is part of the #FirstTimeManager series, which aims to provide best practices and actionable insights for professionals embarking on a new venture. You can read the other article here

It’s 3.30 PM and you’re attending one of the many weekly meetings on your agenda, some of which you feel are a waste of your time. The clock seems to have slowed down and your colleagues look pensive, as well as somewhat disengaged. You’re wondering why you have to present here.

Sounds familiar? This is just one fraction of the 31 hours people spend, on average, per month attending meetings. More importantly, this might be one of the 76% of unnecessary meetings that hinder employees’ productivity and performance.

While being an essential part of aligning teams in any business, meetings have a bad reputation for wasting precious time and energy. So how can you make yours more productive?

 

It all starts with engaging your participants

Consider the following statistics:

  • 91% of participants daydream during meetings,
  • 73% perform other tasks, such as responding to work emails or checking social media feeds,
  • 39% actually fall asleep. Did you ever notice that?

At Moonstar, we are always looking for ways to ensure that every team member is actively involved in the conversation. Take a look at our top four tips to keep participants engaged and ensure that your meetings run smoothly and achieve their purpose.

1. Choose the best meeting format

Switch things up a bit and change the format of the meeting. To do this, take into consideration the topics on your agenda and your overarching objective.

richard bransonIf you’re aiming for a short and highly effective discussion, try a stand-up meeting. Aside from the many health benefits of standing, these meetings keep participants engaged and focused, preventing them from nodding off. Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, is a big fan of this approach, noting “I find it to be a much quicker way of getting down to business, making a decision and sealing the deal.”

If you want to have an enjoyable and super healthy meeting, resort to a walking one, especially if it involves one to two colleagues. It not only helps you squeeze in some exercise during your working hours, but it’s also a great way to foster deeper connections and boost commitment to performance. Nilofer Merchant, founder of Rubicon Consulting, explains that “Walking side by side reinforces the perspective that you’re working on something together.”

If you want to trigger creativity and innovative ideas, change the location of your meeting. Go outside the office or have lunch together with your team. In this way, people will get less distracted and be more engaged in the conversation.

2. Be mindful about time

Time is an easy to squander resource, so make sure you respect your team’s schedule. There are three simple ways to do that. First, set a proper time for the meeting. Right after lunch, participants will be sluggish and unfocused. Early in the morning, they might have too many things on their mind. Stick with the 10-11 am slot, when people are neither hungry, nor tired, and when their energy levels are still high.

gary vaynerchuk

Second, match your meeting timing to your agenda. If all the topics on your list can be discussed in 30 minutes, don’t schedule an hour. Here is the advice of Gary Vaynerchuk, chairman of VaynerX and CEO of VaynerMedia: “If I have an hour meeting with my team, we will fit everything we need into the hour. We’ll banter a bit and talk about a few things we didn’t plan on talking about. But if we cut that same meeting to 30 minutes, we’ll still accomplish everything that needs to be done, hands down.” 

Lastly, start and end the meeting on time. This keeps participants engaged by emphasizing there is a set amount of time to discuss all topics. Moreover, it communicates that you’re disciplined and respect your team’s schedule.

3. Ask questions

Offer your team the opportunity to speak up and share their thoughts. After all, this is why they are part of the meeting. Use general questions to ask for everyone’s input and direct questions when a matter requires specific expertise.

For example, let’s say you want to add a single-sign-on functionality to your mobile app. You could ask the whole team questions like “Is this functionality relevant right now?” or “Do we have the resources to make it happen?”. Then, you could address the software engineers directly with questions such as “What steps do we need to take to implement this?” or “What time frame should we allocate to the task?”. By acknowledging individual know-how and expertise, you not only keep participants engaged, but also make them feel valued and appreciated.

You can also use the 5 second rule, a facilitation technique that requires you to wait 5 seconds after asking a question. During the first 2-3 seconds, participants will look at each other, waiting for someone to speak up. By the time you reach 5, the silence will become uncomfortable and somebody will take the responsibility of breaking it. This is a great way to show your team that you actually want and expect their input.

4. Ensure all participants are contributing

person in suit with megaphone

If you know you have introverts attending the meeting, make sure they are actively engaged in the discussions. They usually feel intimidated by extroverts and are reluctant to share their ideas, so make them feel comfortable speaking up. Ask them questions directly, such as “How do you feel about this idea?” or “What other options should we consider?” and encourage them to come up with suggestions. The same goes for distracted colleagues – try naming them if they haven’t contributed.

If you notice several people are fidgeting or generally zoning out, consider taking a short break, allowing participants to relax and disconnect. All it takes is 5-10 minutes for people to recharge and engage in a more productive conversation.

 

When organized and run properly, meetings lead to better collaboration, more creative decisions and greater commitment to results. Harness the benefits of productive meetings and keep participants engaged with these four simple techniques. Make sure they genuinely contribute and never watch the clock ticking away again.

If you want to stand out in the way you run effective meetings and motivate your team, you can check out Moonstar’s Fundamentals of Management program. This learning journey is comprised of six micro-modular digital courses that will accelerate your leadership development.

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