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Facilitator: Increasing Engagement

We have all been part of meetings where everyone is looking at their phone or computer or they are zoning out seeming completely disinterested in what is happening. As a facilitator, this can be completely discouraging!  One of the most important tasks for facilitators is increasing engagement during a meeting; however, our meeting participants can be easily distracted if we don’t keep them engaged. So how do we do it? Join me this week as I explore 3 ways to increase engagement during your next meeting.

  1. Set expectations. At the beginning of the meeting, remind participants of the purpose of the meeting and how important it is for all of them to actively participate. It’s also good to acknowledge that you recognize that everyone has very busy schedules and to-do lists and ask that they pause on those in order to be fully engaged in this meeting. You may want to include a guiding principle of “silence cell phones” in order to minimize this distraction as well. Emphasize the importance of the meeting and their participation at the beginning and throughout the meeting.  This can be most effective when you do this in a positive and uplifting way rather than a negative and shaming way. I’ve tried both methods and have found that even though folks may “comply” when you try to shame them, they don’t really fully engage and you may lose other meeting participants who are afraid that you may “shame” them next.
  2. Keep things moving forward.  As a facilitator, your job is to keep the meeting moving forward toward the agreed upon purpose. Participants are more likely to stay engaged when you keep the flow of the meeting moving in a productive and positive way. You have to be willing to graciously pause or redirect those who want to keep talking as well as know when you need to move a topic to a “parking lot — or I like to say “bike rack” to be a little healthier. 🙂 Although some topics may require more time than expected, it’s important to acknowledge that it is taking longer and even check in with the group to be sure they are willing to spend the additional time on it. You don’t always have to do a verbal “check in.” If folks are continuing to be actively engaged and you have diverse participation and productive conversations, you can continue. However, if only one person is continuing to try to make their point and the rest of the room is drifting to their phones or other devices, it’s time to move to the next topic and find a way for a one-on-one or small group discussion later.
  3. Be encouraging. I’ve mentioned this as part of other recent posts, particularly How to Lead a Partnership Well: Interact positively with others and When interacting positively with others becomes manipulation. This also really helps with increasing engagement. When someone is willing to share their perspective or provide a recommendation, acknowledge and affirm them! When we show appreciation for their input and provide genuine encouragement, others will also want to be engaged in the meeting. It builds trust and creates opportunities for vulnerability (Brenè Brown again!).  You don’t have to be elaborate or verbose, but a simple thank you and a smile goes a long way to increase engagement.

So what about you? What have you found successful in increasing engagement during your  meetings?

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Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

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