The 7 Most Frequently Asked Questions about Leading Engaging Meetings

Sep 30, 2019 by Elise Keith in tips & techniques, training (18 minute read)

Last week we launched Barbara MacKay's new Meeting School course on How to Lead Engaging Meetings. It's sweet. I took it and learned a bunch of handy new tips, and I had fun too. Barbara's a dynamic, warm presenter and a joy to watch.

During the launch webinar, we heard many more questions than we could answer. This wasn't surprising, because the Lucid team always gets questions about meeting engagement. We've known for some time that Meeting School needed a course focused on engagement, because the number one question we hear is:

1. How can I lead more engaging meetings?

I hear this question at every workshop and speaking engagement, and the press loves articles about how to increase meeting engagement, especially if you can sum it up in five tidy little steps.

atd-5steps
How to Increase Engagement in Five Simple Steps. No problem, right? Are we done here?

Sadly, our answers are frequently disappointing. As one reviewer shared:

"I wanted to walk away with some actual proven best practices for anyone in any kind of meeting."

- Anonymous Reviewer

Boy, Anonymous Reviewer, I feel your pain. I, too, would love a proven practice that anyone could use in any meeting. That would be so awesome.

Anonymous reviewer speaks for us all. I've learned that people asking how they can lead more engaging meetings want to hear about a simple, magic technique they can use to instantly improve their meetings.

It doesn't work that way for two reasons.

First, the answer for how you can lead more engaging meetings completely depends on the meeting.

As Barbara mentions in her course, the International Association of Facilitators has over 400 engagement techniques in their database alone. There are tons of ways to lead more engaging meetings, but they aren't all appropriate for all groups or situations. You should know a few of these techniques, but more importantly, you need to know when to use them.

To learn a proven set of techniques you can use in a variety of meetings, take the How to Lead Engaging Meetings course. Barbara does a great job teaching a curated selection of the most effective and easiest to use techniques. She shows you exactly how each technique works and includes great tips on when you might want to choose one technique over another.

The second reason the magic technique answer doesn't work, however, is that when you tell someone about a truly magic technique, they don't believe you!

For example, I often talk about getting everyone participating in the first five minutes of a meeting. That's a game changer for engagement and super easy to do.

But the idea of using an icebreaker or clearing or other simple opening ritual with a group that hasn't done that before - it terrifies most people, and they dismiss the suggestion out of hand.

That's why I was thrilled to see that Barbara began her course by tackling the first barrier to engagement: mindset.

If you want to lead more engaging meetings, you and your meeting participants need to adopt a team-oriented mindset.

Then, you need to create the conditions for engagement and use a few engaging meeting techniques.

The Engagement Equation

Team-Oriented Mindset +
Conditions for Engagement +
Use of Engaging Meeting Techniques +
Frequency of Repetition =
Engaging Team Meetings

2. How can I lead more engaging meetings in a culture that doesn't share agendas or prepare for meetings?

This common question reveals the real challenge more clearly. You might experience the problem as boring, pointless meetings where no one engages. You might think that you need to find a way to improve engagement.

That's true, but you can't start here. Engagement (or lack thereof) is a symptom of a poorly planned and ineffective meeting, not the cause.

The first step to increasing engagement in meetings is to define what you want people to contribute in advance of the meeting. That requires planning and preparation up front.

If you understand the purpose and plan for the meeting and you know what kind of contribution you need from participants, then you can find engaging ways to ask for it.

When we talk about an ineffective meeting culture, this is a shorthand way of saying that the team has bad meeting habits. It's an important distinction, because when we feel like we need to combat our culture, we're struggling to take on this crazy hard, emergent, soupy mess. Why even try when you're fighting an impossible battle like that?

Habits, on the other hand, are made up of actions we repeat. Habits are what we do.

You may not be able to direct your culture, but you can absolutely choose to do what you need to do to make meetings more effective.

When Matt Light, an American football offensive tackle, announced his retirement from the New England Patriots he said:

I kind of wanted to end it with this. I always look to something that someone else has said. When I was looking through a list of different quotes, I found one from Aristotle. It was fitting to not only where I’m at in my life, but experiences I’ve had in this organization, but all the people I’ve met: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

We hear it here five thousand times a week. Just worry about yourself, not others, make it part of your routine. Keep striving to do it better and better. The excellence we all shared as an organization, teammates, friends, everyone else. It’s not just as an act, it’s a habit, it’s how we live our lives, what we try to do day-in and day-out. I hope this habit continues. Thank you.

If you want help understanding how your organization's current meeting habits compare to those of high-performing teams, take our free diagnostic survey or contact us for a detailed diagnostic.

If you want help quickly establishing new habits across your whole team, check out our Successful Meetings Quickstart program or the Essential Skills for Effective Meetings course.

3. How can we get people engaged when some of them are calling in or remote?

When experts share engaging meeting techniques, they often show teams standing up together using sticky notes and other props. These obviously don't work the same when some or all of your attendees join the meeting remotely.

That said, the keys to engaging remote meetings are the same as those for in-person meetings. The five steps to increasing engagement apply equally to meetings in conference rooms, on sports fields, and held over the phone.

When this question came up during the webinar, Barbara shared these quick tips for adapting engaging meeting techniques when you have people joining by phone.

A. Call on the remote people by name first when you ask a question.

It's hard for people on the phone to cut into the conversation, so to get them engaged, you need to ask them directly. Bonus: if you call on the remote people first, you'll be less likely to forget them or run out of time when the people in the room take over.

B. Assign each phone participant an in-room buddy.

Pair each person calling in with someone in the room. The person in the room makes sure the phone participant gets a chance to speak to each question, and they're responsible for adding anything the remote participant wants to contribute in writing.

At Lucid, we meet remotely more often than we meet in person. To make sure we can run engaging and productive remote meetings, we use a suite of remote meeting technologies that make this engagement easy including Lucid Meetings for our meeting prep, in-meeting facilitation and note taking, and follow up; Zoom for video conferencing and screen sharing; and Stormz for brainstorming and decision making.

If your meetings include a combination of in-person and phone participants, take Judy Reese and Steve McCann's mini-course on Engaging Distant Participants to learn how to make those hybrid meetings as good as they can get.

4. How can I get more people engaged when the boss hijacks my meeting?

If "How can I lead more engaging meetings?" is the number one question I hear, this and other variations of "How can we run more effective meetings when the boss is the problem?" comes in a close second.

It's very possible that your boss believes they run a great meeting. Most leaders do, often because no one has ever suggested otherwise.

Ideally, you can have a private conversation with the boss about your meetings. Share what you're learning about running better meetings and ask if they're willing to let you take the lead for a bit. Ask them to spend more time observing in meetings so when you check-in again in a few weeks, you can get their reactions.

If your boss is truly open to ideas for improvement, you can also suggest they take a look at Dr. Rogelberg's mini course designed to help meeting leaders quickly determine their strengths and areas for improvement.

If that's not going to fly, you'll need to use a bit more finesse. If you can't have a direct conversation with the person who dominates your meetings and ask them to share nicely, then you'll have to treat them like the time-burning wildfire they are and use all your wildfire prevention strategies.

Here are four prevention strategies to get you started.

A. Start the meeting with a timed go-around or other lighting-fast group activity.

Use a go-around like the weather report, the two-minute check-in, or other quick exercise to get everyone speaking as soon as the meeting begins. Make sure you start and end with someone other than the boss. This sets the expectation that everyone participates and that all contributions get equal (and equally brief!) time.

B. Get fanatical about your checkpoints.

A meeting checkpoint tells everyone the plan for the meeting (your agenda) and where you are on that plan as the meeting progresses. You want to state up front what the group needs to do in their time together and how much time you have for each item, then repeat this as you move from one topic to the next.

Meeting checkpoints work to increase everyone's sense of urgency and accomplishment, so they're a great best practice for every meeting. I cover exactly how to run checkpoints in the section on managing time in the Essential Skills course.

For those of you preventing a wildfire time-burning boss, the checkpoint is also a not-so-subtle reminder that you all need to stay on target. When the boss agrees at the beginning of the meeting that the agenda looks good, you get to remind them of that agenda throughout.

C. Use more silent engagement techniques.

When you ask a question or request ideas, have everyone write their answers separately in silence before sharing them with the group. They can write on sticky notes, a note pad, or an electronic document; this technique works just fine for both remote and in-person meetings. Then, when you ask people to share their replies, start and end with someone other than the boss here too.

This practice gives everyone a chance to formulate their own opinions before the boss steps in. The people who share first set the tone and the expectation for how long each person should speak.

D. Don't invite the boss to the meeting!

If you don't need their direct involvement, consider meeting without the boss. Before the meeting, you might ask them: "We're meeting to work through this issue. I want to be respectful of your time and know this could take a while. How about we work on this and come up with a recommendation, then I can go over the notes and any questions you have afterwards? That way you don't have to sit through the whole meeting."

5. I keep trying to get my team engaged, but it isn't working. How can I make them engage?

I hear this question from leaders who realized they need to run more engaging meetings, so they showed up with an icebreaker one day. Their team's response was... mostly confused. Then, they tried a different icebreaker and tried asking a more engaging question. These also fell flat.

Now they're frustrated. They've heard the stories of how these techniques work great for other people, but they don't seem to work for them.

If this is a question you're struggling with, let me ask you a question: Have you told your team what you're doing and why you're doing it? Do they know that you want to run more productive, engaging meetings and you need their help?

The answer I get to this question is usually "No."

Engaging meeting techniques often fall flat when they're first introduced for two reasons.

  • Reason One: Your team has a habit of non-engagement. They don't expect to engage, they don't believe they have to engage (because experience proves that they don't), and they don't have any practice engaging. Establishing new habits for an entire group of people takes practice and time.
  • Reason Two: Your team lacks the necessary mindset. Remember:

The Engagement Equation

Team-Oriented Mindset +
Conditions for Engagement +
Use of Engaging Meeting Techniques +
Frequency of Repetition =
Engaging Team Meetings

It's possible that your team is naturally predisposed to team-oriented thinking and that you have the conditions for engagement in place already. If that's true, then jump right into those go-arounds! But if you're not sure, take the time to lay the groundwork for more engaging meetings first.

6. How can I get people engaged when they're texting on their phones in meetings?

This is a hard question for facilitators and those who regularly run engaging meetings to answer, because they don't experience this problem.

Facilitators don't have lots of people texting on their phones when they should be engaging because the people in their meetings are too busy working together to text. They don't have time to get bored and check out.

If texting in meetings is one of your team's bad meeting habits, you're experiencing a symptom of poorly structured meetings.

You can attack the symptom by asking people to place their phones in a basket when they enter the room, or by making a "No Tech!" rule. Lots of people try tactics like this and it can make a short-term difference.

That said, if you've watched my presentation on increasing engagement in meetings, you'll know that cell phones are just the modern incarnation of a meeting problem that's been around for over a thousand years. If someone's bored in your meeting, they're either going to find something else to fiddle with or fall asleep.

The better solution here is to tackle the underlying system that's making it acceptable for leaders in your organization to run unproductive and disengaging meetings in the first place.

7. No, that won't work for us because... What else you got?

There's no way around it. Leading consistently engaging meetings makes a huge positive difference in a team's performance, and it takes a lot of work.

After you implement the quick-hit tips, like using video conferencing instead of phone calls or starting with a go-around, you're left with meetings that are better but still don't thrill you. Most of the bad meetings habits stay the same.

Meeting health is a lot like personal health that way. Everyone wants to look good and feel great, but the regular "diet + exercise" advice just sounds like way too much work.

And we've all got great reasons as to why we can't really follow the experts' advice. We're too busy, we're allergic to vegetables (or icebreakers), we hurt ourselves trying too hard in the past... lots of reasons why we can't do the work required to get the results.

Here at Lucid, we don't have a magic pill you can take that will fix your meetings, and we don't believe that the surgical removal of all your meetings actually makes your team any healthier.

We do, however, have the equivalent of a Weight Watcher's meal plan you can try out to get you started.

The Lucid Meetings template gallery is full of complete step-by-step guides for running different kinds of meetings.

For example, these three packs work particularly well for increasing engagement.

This last set spells out a series of meetings that leadership teams run each quarter to get work done.

Going forward, we'll be sharing more meeting flow models like this for different kinds of teams and different work goals. Each one is like a complete menu plan, packaging up for you exactly which meeting you need to run when.

Ideally in the future, your team will design a customized series of meetings tailored to best support your unique culture and achieve your goals. When you're getting started, though, it's super handy and way faster way to start with a done-for-you plan.

If you don't feel like you have the time or interest necessary to learn how to lead engaging meetings on your own, consider grabbing one of these template packs and starting there.

Then, find someone on your team who is interested in developing their skills, because you'll want their help.

When it comes to meetings (and football, apparently), excellence is a habit. With a bit of knowledge and practice, meeting excellence is a habit you and your team can quickly embrace.

FAQ Summary

How can I lead more engaging meetings?

If you want to lead more engaging meetings, you and your meeting participants need to adopt a team-oriented mindset. Then, you need to create the conditions for engagement and use a few engaging meeting techniques.

These conditions are captured in The Engagement Equation, "mindset + conditions + techniques + repetition."

How can I lead more engaging meetings in a culture that doesn't share agendas or prepare for meetings?

When we talk about an ineffective meeting culture, this is a shorthand way of saying that the team has bad meeting habits.

It's an important distinction, because when we feel like we need to combat our culture, we're struggling to take on this crazy hard, emergent, soupy mess.

Why even try when you're fighting an impossible battle like that?

Habits, on the other hand, are made up of actions we repeat. Habits are what we do.

You may not be able to direct your culture, but you can absolutely choose to do what you need to do to make meetings more effective.

How can we get people engaged when some of them are calling in or remote?

It's hard for people on the phone to cut into the conversation, so to get them engaged, you need to ask them questions directly.

Also, try pairing each person calling in with someone in the room.

The person in the room makes sure the phone participant gets a chance to speak to each question, and they're responsible for adding anything the remote participant wants to contribute in writing.

How can I get more people engaged when the boss hijacks my meeting?

It's very possible that your boss believes they run a great meeting.

Most leaders do, often because no one has ever suggested otherwise.

Share what you're learning about running better meetings and ask if they're willing to let you take the lead for a bit.

Ask them to spend more time observing in meetings so when you check-in again in a few weeks, you can get their reactions.

I keep trying to get my team engaged, but it isn't working. How can I make them engage?

Engaging meeting techniques often fall flat when they're first introduced for two reasons.

Reason One: Your team has a habit of non-engagement. Establishing new habits for an entire group of people takes practice and time.

Reason Two: Your team lacks the necessary mindset. Remember the engagement equation: "mindset + conditions + techniques + repetition."

How can I get people engaged when they're texting on their phones in meetings?

If texting in meetings is one of your team's bad meeting habits, you're experiencing a symptom of poorly structured meetings.

You can attack the symptom by asking people to place their phones in a basket when they enter the room, or by making a "No Tech!" rule.

Lots of people try tactics like this and it can make a short-term difference.

The better solution here is to tackle the underlying system that's making it acceptable for leaders in your organization to run unproductive and disengaging meetings in the first place.

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