The value of a meeting is largely created by its participants – if they actually participate of course. No secret formula here, but understanding a few of the following psychological principles will help you encourage contributions during your meetings.
Nothing is more frustrating for the moderator of a meeting than facing the lifeless gaze of an audience that is waiting for the happening to be over already. To avoid this type of situation, try to apply the following principles to your organization.
In his famous book How to make friends and influence people from 1936, Dale Carnegie explains the fundamental human need to feel acknowledged. This need can be observed in the working environment as well as in every other area of life. Everybody wants to feel acknowledged, first and foremost as a person but in the context of your business, also as a collaborator with a specific mission. Acknowledgement is the first major factor in motivating your collaborators to participate.
The baselines of acknowledgement are simple: Knowing your collaborators’ names and their exact roles in the company. However, as simple as it may sound, in many big companies that is not always the case. To go a step further, the moderator of the meeting ideally gets his participants on board beforehand while developing the agenda of the meeting. Which topics do the participants want to discuss? What questions may arise? However, if you involve your participants during the planning phase, then their contributions also have to be taken into account. Otherwise, disappointment is guaranteed!
Finally, acknowledgment ideally implies a little bit of gratitude as well. At the end of the meeting, the moderator should thank the participants for their contributions. Make sure that the central ideas you include in the report are credited to their contributors to motivate even more participation next time.
Participation for participation’s sake is of no use. The different contributions of your participants should add value and imply concrete consequences. As mentioned, the main points are recapped at the end of the meeting and recorded in the meeting’s report. Don’t leave out any disagreements that may arise between participants. Differing points of view should be transcribed precisely and, of course, diplomatically.
Since all ideas are meant to be reviewed in your report, it is even more important that individual contributions provide food for thought and a basis for future decisions.
Last but not least, participation must never be punished. Avoid re-enacting the Hundred Flowers Campaign: In 1957, Mao encouraged criticism of his party before severely punishing those who spoke up. In order to encourage your colleagues to actively participate in the meeting, make them feel safe and signal that their words won’t be used against them.
One way to encourage participation is to directly ask for it. Expectations are the counterpart to gratitude: The moderator is aware of the value of his participants’ presence and therefore, expects contributions. Participation is not an option but an obligation. Coming up with ideas, objections, questions and new propositions are all integral parts of your participants’ roles in the meeting. Management needs to assert these expectations and everybody needs to be made aware. It doesn’t matter how you get the message across, as long as you reach all individuals in your company. Meetings are anything but cheap – in fact, you can calculate their value by simply adding up for all your participants: the time every participant spends in the meeting * his or her salary. By now, it should be very clear that meetings are not synonymous with nap time or passive listening.
If you want your colleagues to participate, they need to be very clear about the usefulness of the meeting. Therefore, you need to start with limiting the number of meetings you organize. Then for each meeting, try to limit the number of participants and you are well on your way to saving money and time. Furthermore, you are showing that you acknowledge and respect your colleagues. They are busy and so you only claim their time when absolutely necessary. By inviting only those who are capable of truly adding value to the discussion, you acknowledge their roles, skills and knowledge. Finally, organize your meetings economically by only calling for them when truly needed. Ask for the participants’ points of view on important topics: That way you show that you value their intelligence and take their participation seriously.
A lively meeting encourages participation. That is human. As a result, formal and stiff meetings are best avoided. Instead, try to create a relaxing atmosphere. The white board or visuals can be helpful tools. In addition, watch your body language: Take an open stance, establish eye contact, move around… Your non-verbal communication will put your participants at ease. If your corporate culture allows you to, gamify your meetings: Use an interactive stopwatch, visual indicators showing which topics have already been discussed, a contribution-meter allowing you to calculate individual scores, etc.