Engaging and productive meetings

Generally speaking, meetings have four possible aims: influencing others, decision-making, performance of tasks and cultivation of relationships. Because all four are active processes, passive meeting participants seldom perform them very well. This means that engagement – remote or in-person – is a prerequisite for an effective, productive meeting.

Ideally, you should always consider what meeting form is most appropriate – in-person, remote or hybrid. This is not possible under all circumstances. But if you do have a choice of meeting forms, here’s a simple guide to help you.

Remote meetings

Remote meetings provide flexibility and cut down on transportation time and costs. On the other hand, it’s more difficult to decode the important aspects of our communication that take place through gestures, body language and eye contact. 

Remote meetings are best suited to providing brief updates or simple information, presenting calculations and diagrams or other similarly concrete information. While it’s also possible to hold remote development meetings, they function best if the participants know each other in advance and have already established a collaboration.

Here are a few tips on what you can do to increase engagement when you chair remote meetings:

🕚 60 seconds to get participants up to speed

Explain what the point of the meeting is – be brief and to the point.

  • Explain the topic of the meeting
  • Be animated – use clear body language
  • Consider telling participants something surprising, humorous or challenging

👨🏾‍🤝‍👨🏻 Shared responsibility

It’s challenging to hold an engaging, productive remote meeting if participants assume a role as observers. Many staff unconsciously define their role in this way when they receive the meeting invitation.

To counteract this tendency, you need to create a sense of shared responsibility very early in the meeting. You can’t do this by saying something like: -Ok, I want this to be a dialogue and I need for everyone to be involved.’ That rarely works. Instead, you should create opportunities for participants to take responsibility in a way that feels meaningful to them. 

No place to hide

Studies show that the more people are gathered in a group, the less likely it is that we will help someone in need. Social psychologists refer to this phenomenon as ‘diffusion of responsibility’: we are less likely to take responsibility for action when others are present. If everyone is responsible, no one feels responsible.

You can avoid this by giving participants tasks they can and must engage in actively:

  • Divide the participants into smaller groups with a maximum of three participants
  • Define a problem or question that can be resolved quickly

It’s possible to divide participants into smaller groups during a meeting on Zoom and Teams, so use this function to engage participants by creating a sense of shared group responsibility.

📑 Limit slides and info

There’s nothing more demotivating than having to watch slide after slide covered in text and complicated graphs. If your goal is to engage your participants, then go light on the slides. Look through your presentation with critical eyes and present precisely the content you need. Images and videos work better than text.

5️⃣ Keep participants’ attention

Make it a rule to present new information, switch things up or activate your participants about every five minutes. Meeting participants are sitting in different rooms and are surrounded by distractions, so if you don’t make it clear that you expect their involvement, they will often – even against their own better intentions – withdraw to the tempting role of observer. Once this happens, it’s really hard work to draw them out again.

These tips are from the article "How to Get People to Actually Participate in Virtual Meetings" byJustin Hale og Joseph Grenny. Get more tips here: Tips on successful remote meetings.

Hybrid meetings

A lot of the considerations that apply to remote meetings also apply to hybrid meetings: running the meeting effectively, involving participants and human engagement.

However, there are a few additional things you should be aware of when running hybrid meetings:

  • When there are some participants with you in person while others participate remotely, it can be helpful to ask all participants to bring their own computer. This puts all of the participants in the meeting on an equal footing.
  • If staff who are participating in person don’t participate on their own computers, it’s important to ensure that everyone is visible on the screen and that everyone can hear what’s being said
  • Make sure the dialogue on site doesn’t exclude staff who are participating remotely 

If you are participating remotely yourself, you may wish to appoint a co-chair: someone on site who can hep you facilitate the meeting.

In-person meetings

If the meeting involves development, either relational or work task-related, an in-person format is a good choice. When we meet in person, we can make eye contact and see each others’ body language and gestures. This minimises the risk of misunderstandings, which smooths the path to collaboration and development.

Whenever a meeting involves topics that can be interpreted and understood – and therefore also misunderstood - in-person meetings are preferable by far. They create trust, encourage psychological well-being and contribute to constructive, effective collaboration.