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Awesome Meetings: How to keep meeting participants engaged?

Checking their phones. Looking out of the window. Scribbling in their notepads. These are the signs that the meeting participants are disengaged and bored. Let's see how it can be prevented and remedied.

Any meeting, even the best one, can fall victim of the disengagement: it could be bad time, gloomy weather, flu season, or even… the meeting's topic itself. Making a rock-solid agenda and well-selected meeting form can be sometimes not enough to make it engaging and involving.

When meeting participants disengage? Any physical or mental factor that prevents meeting participant from giving their full attention to the meeting can be the culprit. The usual suspects are:

  • physical discomfort: room is too warm or too cold, too dark or too bright, too noisy, or the seats are uncomfortable,
  • physical factors: meeting is too early or too late, the day is "gloomy/sleepy", participants may be sick, or fatigued,
  • metal factors: the meeting's topic may be boring, or through poor planning participants are not that relevant to the meeting, have "impostor syndrome" or just are not sure they can add value, or their ego was bruised in a discussion and they want to keep their face,

As you can see, many common reasons are either easy to avoid, by taking a good look at the facilities in which meeting will be taking place. The individual and temporary reasons for disengagement are harder to detect and react to, and will require facilitator to use their intuition.

How to spot a disengaged participant? Fortunately for the meeting's facilitator, it's really easy to determine which participants are disengaged, and which aren't. Look out for the boredom signals like:

  • checking one's phone,
  • excessively using the laptop or a tablet,
  • looking at the watch,
  • looking through the window,
  • looking around trying to find something interesting to look at,
  • running a chat in parallel to the main meeting discussion,
  • dancing on the seat, shaking their legs, constant fiddling with hands,
  • sighing, leaning back, closing their eyes for longer than normal time.

These signals are really easy to spot, but there are some subtle ways that mark disengaged participant, like:

  • sitting quiet, avoiding eye contact, caused by the conflict of bruised ego,
  • staring into one point, usually ahead or right in front,
  • looking away from the main meeting scene, i.e. looking away from the participants, screen, board, etc.
  • rolling eyes and chuckling, as a reaction to other participants' arguments.

How to reengage participants? The best way to bring back a disengaged participant who doesn't pay attention is through an attention pull i.e. subtle activation through asking them questions, relate to them, or any other action that triggers their attention. Phrases like "John, what do you think about Jane's idea of using Facebook ads for our spring promotion?" or "As John already mentioned, we can expect higher campaign costs during spring, because…" are good examples.

Attention pulls are build in a PERSON + ACTION + CONTEXT format: first the pulled participant's name is called to get their initial reaction, then expected action is signaled, and finally context is provided to let them reclaim their place in the discussion. By providing the context at the end of the attention pull technique, facilitator allows the reengaged person to naturally reenter the discussion and avoid feeling ashamed or awkward.

When participant is disengaged because their ego was bruised or there was a conflict, the underlying cause must be addressed — the participant is definitely paying attention, but they actively avoid any further damage to their ego or self-perception, if they were wrong for example. Meeting's facilitator should use constructive phrases like "We found out that our campaign was less effective than initially thought, so let's keep that in mind and look for solutions" or through finding a compromise. Keeping close to the facts and dampening negative emotions while avoiding blame is the key!

One important thing worth mentioning is: meetings should never be forced — it's better to reschedule a meeting to keep everyone engaged and productive, than to force the way through leading to misery.

We hope with this guide you will keep the high energy during the meetings to keep everyone involved happy and productive!

Cubitoo offers personalized coaching for startups and small companies focusing on running effective meetings and other communication-related aspects of running a successful company. Get in touch today