Seven Tips for Improving Your Participation and Contributions During Meetings


An unfacilitated meeting can be led (or misled) from any chair in the room. If you are the meeting host, or even participating in someone else’s meeting, here are seven quick tips to ensure that you add optimal value.

Improving Meeting Participation

Improving Meeting Participation

  1. If it is your meeting, ask a facilitator to lead the group through major decision-making, prioritization, and solution finding activities. Having a facilitator enables you to participate fully and gives the responsibility for policing the process to a neutral person.
  2. Strive to organize your thoughts before speaking. Then express your idea simply, logically, and concisely. People are more receptive to ideas they understand. Long, complex explanations work against you.  Some meeting participants have been known to make great contributions.  Some meeting participants have been known to make long contributions.  Rarely will you witness a great, long contribution.
  3. Respect others, knowing that there is usually more than one right answer. Different views force us to develop new ideas and more ideas equates to higher quality decisions.  The best way to win a debate is to fully understand the other party’s position, so listen carefully.  When you talk, you are repeating something you already know.  When you listen, you learn something new.
  4. Use encouraging and positive comments during your meeting. Negative comments create defensive reactions that distract from business goals.  There is no need to play favorites or even cheer a particular person’s contributions, but speak positively about the overall value and velocity of everyone’s contributions.
  5. Use structured activities that lead to solid outputs and deliverables. Methodological tools ensure equitable participation and systematic progress toward results that can be documented.  If it is not documented, then it did not happen.  Do NOT rely on informal, unstructured discussion.  Discussion, percussion, and concussion are all related—to the headache of uncertainty about “What actually happened in that meeting?”.
  6. Focus on one issue at a time and close it down before moving on. Most groups can solve any problem if you maintain focus on the appropriate question.  However, getting a group of people to focus at the same remains the biggest challenge during any meeting.  Avoid war stories and unrelated issues.  Past experience is no guarantee of the future state.  Out of scope discussions are a waste of time, distract the desired focus, and mislead others. The cause of most project failures is scope creep, and the same problem applies to meetings, especially when they are unstructured.
  7. Rescue wayward meetings by challenging participants to think clearly.  Unclear speaking and writing is indicative of unclear thinking.  Teach them how to think, and always build consensus around WHY something is important, before discussing WHAT the options are, followed by HOW we should proceed.

Reply with any questions you might have by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiatives, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need to lead more effective groups, teams, and meetings.

Become Part of the SolutionImprove Your Facilitation and Methodology Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics of an effective facilitator and methodologist. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership-training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you’re working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and numerous tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

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Our Most Popular Meeting and Workshop Ground Rules for Optimal Group Behavior


Use a set of ground rules to help manage meeting behavior.  You can lead meetings and discussions without ground rules, but did you ever leave an unstructured meeting with a headache?  The term “discussion” is rooted similarly to the terms “percussion” and “concussion.”

Some of the ground rules we have found particularly effective include:

  • Be curious about different perspectives—practice teamwork
  • Use Ground Rules to Help Manage BehaviorBe here now (ie, turn off electronic leashes)
  • Bring a problem, bring a solution
  • Consensus means “I can live with it” (and will support it inside and outside)
  • Don’t beat a dead horse
  • Focus on “WHAT” not “HOW”
  • Focus on interests, not positions
  • Hard on facts, soft on people
  • Make your thinking visible
  • No “Yeah, but”—Make it “Yeah, AND…”
  • No big egos or war stories
  • One conversation at a time
  • Share reasons behind questions and answers
  • (or, Share all relevant information)
  • Silence or absence implies consensus
  • Team is responsible for outcome
  • Topless meetings (ie, phones on stun, no laptops)

Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiative, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need.

Become Part of the Solution, Improve Your Facilitation Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you’re working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and detailed tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

Related articles

How to Structure the Introduction to Meetings and Workshops


Three Components

Just as the life-cycle of a meeting or workshop has three steps (ie, Get Ready, Do It, and Review), we find that within each meeting, three components need to be carefully managed to ensure success.  All agendas should include a beginning, a middle, and an end.  Many meetings fail because they neglect to include all three components.  Even a lousy book or movie includes a beginning, a middle, and an end.

The Beginning

Planning Predictable Results

Manage (and rehearse) your introductions carefully.  You want to make sure that your participants feel that their meeting has clear purpose and impact. Remember, to use the integrative and plural first person of ‘we’ or ‘us’ and avoid the singular ‘I’ so that you can begin to transfer responsibility and ownership to the participants since they own the results.

Have your room set-up to visually display the purpose, scope, and deliverable of any workshop.  If you cannot convert these three guiding principles into 50 words or less (for each), then you are not ready yet to launch the workshop. Let us repeat, if you do not know what the deliverable looks like, then you do not know what success looks like.

Consider displaying the purpose, scope, and deliverable on large Post-It® paper, along with a set of ground rules appropriate to your politics and situation.  The following sequence is typically optimal for a robust introduction.

  1. Introduce yourself and explain the importance of the meeting, how much money or time is at risk if the meeting fails. Try to avoid using the word “I” after this moment. It is tough to drop the ego, but at least be conscious whenever you do use the first person singular.
  2. Present the purpose, scope, and deliverable and seek assent.  Make sure that all the participants can live with them. If they can’t, you probably have the wrong agenda prepared since it is designed specifically for your deliverable.
  3. Cover any of the administrivia to clear participants’ heads from thinking about themselves, especially their own creature comforts. Explain how to locate the lavatories, fire extinguishers, emergency exits, and other stuff particular to your group and situation.
  4. Cover the agenda and carefully explain the reason behind the sequence of the agenda steps, and how they relate to each other. Relate all of the agenda steps back to the deliverable so that participants can envision how completing each agenda step feeds content into the deliverable, thus showing progress for their efforts as they get closer to completing the meeting.
  5. Share some (not more than eight to twelve) ground rules. Consider supplementing your narrative posting of ground rules with some audio-visual support, including some humorous clips, but keep it brief and appropriate. See your FAST alumni site for some wonderful downloads.
  6. For a kick-off, have the executive sponsor explain the importance of the participants’ contributions and what management hopes to accomplish. For on-going workshops, consider a project update but do not allow the update or executive sponsor to take more than five minutes.  Your meeting is not a mini-Town Hall meeting (unless it actually is).
  • NOTE:  For multiple day workshops, remember to cover the same items at the start of subsequent days (except executive sponsor or project team update).  Additionally, review content that was built or agreed upon the day(s) before and how it relates to progress made in the agenda.

The Middle

The agenda steps between the Introduction and Wrap comprise the middle steps. Most of our other blogs are focused on what you can do between the introduction and wrap to help a group build, decide, and prioritize.  We also provide a separate blog that deals exclusively with a robust approach to the Wrap-up.  See How to Manage the Parking Lot and Wrap-up Meetings for HOW TO manage the end of a meting or workshop.

Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiatives, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need to lead more effective groups, teams, and meetings.

Become Part of the SolutionImprove Your Facilitation and Methodology Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics of an effective facilitator and methodologist. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership-training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you’re working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and numerous tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

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