~ By Brad Egeland
Meetings…meetings…meetings. If there were a secret formula for keeping our meeting attendees awake, alert, and productive during our meetings, we could make a fortune selling it. It's like some people think it's a personal invitation to take a nap, or not show up at all.
I can't help—at least not in this article—with getting people in their seats, but I can perhaps help with keeping them alert and contributing.
I know personally that these tips have been useful for me as a participant as well as for the meetings I hold as a project manager, watching and listening to my attendees. Timing is critical, avoiding distractions is necessary, and your connection with the participants is essential to ensure they stay awake and contribute to the session.
Here are five of my personal lesser-known hacks for making your meetings more productive.
Don't use a whiteboard. It takes your eyes off your audience, it depersonalises the meeting, and it frustrates people. It always looks messy and can be hard to follow for those who might be less visual than the rest of the attendees.
Choose a meeting time that gives you the most alert participants. For me—from experience—that is 10-11 am. No one is starving for lunch. No one is driving at break-neck speeds to make your 8 am meeting (and only jerks schedule 8 am meetings). And avoid the after-lunch meetings. Period. You don't know what people had for lunch. Half will be sleepy, a quarter might have indigestion, and the remaining quarter is mad that they skipped lunch to prepare for your meeting. And all will be pining for the end of the work day. Stick with something around the 10-11 am time frame whenever possible.
Do not offer food. I repeat, do not offer food. You don't want that type of meeting facilitator reputation. And it makes people sleepy and easily distracted. And it's messy.
I've recently been in a meeting where the topic veered off onto the food offered, and whether it was better or worse than offered at David's Finance meetings. Just don't offer food.
Give the floor to those who appear distracted. It will keep them or get them engaged, or it will force them to prepare better next time. Either way, it's win-win. And if you're conducting a conference call where you can't see everyone, do a couple of round robins during the meeting to get thoughts and feedback. That will keep them alert and engaged.
While it is critical that you take some accurate notes, avoid burying your nose in your laptop or taking extended silent periods to write down a lot of detail. It breaks your connection with your attendees, loses the meeting momentum and allows minds to wander.
Figure out a better way. That may mean getting good at taking brief notes, having a designated note-taker, or recording the meeting. Just do your best to keep eye contact going. Extended pauses to take notes can lose the audience.
Ok, there you have it. Five of my lesser-known hacks for making your next meeting more productive. I can't guarantee they'll work for you, but they have worked for me.
How about our readers? What are your personal recommendations for keeping your attendees alert and contributing in meetings? What works best for you?