Check out these 10 handy tips that are guaranteed to make your online or in-person meeting both engaging and productive.
10 tips for engaging meetings
Every meeting of more than 10 people should have at least two people helping to facilitate, especially in a virtual setting. One person can be in charge of taking notes and helping to set up the physical space or be in charge of technical stuff like screen sharing, playing music, or designating breakout rooms, while the other can be in charge of facilitating; or you can share responsibilities.
We recommend always working with a design team for meetings of more than 10 people. This is a group of 2-3 people who are representative of the meeting participants to help design the meeting agenda. This provides a diversity of thoughts, ideas, and experiences to ensure the agenda is engaging for everyone in the meeting. If you don’t have time to pull together a design team, at least run your agenda by others for feedback before the meeting.
Trying to accomplish too many things in a meeting causes confusion and makes people feel overwhelmed or rushed. Consider carefully how much time you have and what is reasonable to do in that amount of time. Keep it simple. Following are common meeting purposes:
- Brainstorm a new idea
- Co-create something
- Foster and build relationships
- Explore a topic
- Learn about a new resource
- Make decisions
- Gather input
- Discuss next steps
Meetings are a time to connect and interact. If the only purpose of the meeting is to provide and listen to updates, you may want to reconsider what the best method is for doing that. Here are a few alternatives to scheduling a meeting for sharing updates:
- Try using a communication platform (e.g. Slack or Microsoft Teams) for team members to post updates and respond to comments or questions where everyone can see. This will save everyone time during meetings (and space in your inboxes). Bonus — you will also have an easy to find running list of updates that anyone can go back and re-read whenever they want.
- A short email with bullet points of what people need to know sent to those who need to know it, is a great way to share timely and specific updates with the relevant person or group.
- Try a video. Or a poem. Updates can be creative and fun.
- Shared project management tools (e.g. Notion or Google Drive) allow everyone on a team to take a more in-depth and up-to-date look at what other groups or teams are working on.
- If you want to know more about something you read an update, schedule a one to one conversation with that person. This is the best way to encourage collaboration between colleagues.
We prioritize everyone bringing their whole self to work. That means being open and acknowledging we are living complicated lives in difficult times. Take time every meeting to check in with how people are doing. If this ends up taking up the entire meeting time that must be what the group needs. If it only takes one or two minutes, that is also fine. Just make sure to honor people as whole humans before jumping into the guts of the agenda. And while we are at it - check out these 10 tips for connecting virtually with family and friends.
We are all in virtual meetings day in and day out. The bar is now higher than ever to make your meetings creative in order to maintain engagement. Some basic ways to be creative include:
- Play music as people enter or during breaks.
- Create a theme for a meeting that pulls people in. Common meeting themes are rowing in the same direction, fertilizing a garden, cross-pollinating ideas, making a recipe, weathering a storm, etc.
- Use icebreakers thoughtfully to build connections, check in or give folks a quick physical or mental break. Some ideas might be: a scavenger hunt, 10 minute break to walk outside, guided meditation, a few deep breaths, word association.
- Even better, make fun the point of your meeting from time to time and focus on team-building and increasing connection. For example, create a bingo game to play based on words they might hear in the meeting and have prizes.
- Embrace humor at every opportunity.
At least 40 percent of people in society are introverts. This means in meetings they need time for silent reflection and small group discussion in order to feel comfortable sharing and to have adequate time for processing. One-2-4-All is a great method for this type of engagement. Start with silent reflection (1), move to pair share (2), then quad share (4), and back to large group discussion (All). It works every time. Pro tip — three to four people is a great rule of thumb for small groups. Any meeting with more than five attendees would probably benefit from some breakout room time.
This is always a good rule, but especially with the level of stress in daily life at these times. If you can tell people are really struggling with engaging in the agenda, know that it is OK to stop and to ask if there’s anything that needs to be said. Be willing to accept the answers, which could mean ending the meeting early. This world is abundant. There is always time to make up for a missed meeting.
If there isn’t enough time in the meeting to do this, make sure to follow up in email with clear ideas of next steps and action steps. Make sure to share who’s in charge of what and when it’s expected to be done. For example, in each agenda practice saving the last five minutes for reviewing the “to do’s” and also asking “who else needs to know?” what was decided or discussed.
Every team that meets regularly virtually (and in-person) should have a pulse check at least twice a year. This is an opportunity where the sole purpose of the meeting is to talk openly and honestly about what’s going well, what needs to be improved, and how to make your time together more fulfilling and impactful. If you haven’t done this with your team yet, now is a good time to start.
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