We’ve long argued that meetings get a bad rap.
While it’s true that there are probably far too many of them, there’s no reason to think that meetings in and of themselves are bad.
In fact, a meeting where everyone is actively contributing, participating, and collaborating can be one of the best parts of your day.
But how can you make this happen? As remote and hybrid work continue to make meetings a necessary and often frequent part of our lives, this question has become more relevant than ever. After all, unnecessary and unengaging meetings are not only an annoyance — they can also seriously affect our productivity and well-being.
Fortunately, ensuring your next meeting is effective and engaging isn’t a matter of luck. With some simple planning, as well as skills and tools, you’ll know how to run an effective meeting where everyone on your team wants to participate.
What is meeting participation?
Meeting participation is when everyone agrees to work together to share ideas, give and receive input, make decisions, solve problems, and assign actions, among the many other possible tasks. It is a cooperative effort that is made possible by a shared enthusiasm for progress, as well as a willingness to speak out and take risks. It often requires a sense of psychological safety, encouragement from facilitators, and an intentional structure.
Benefits of improving participation in meetings
Encouraging participation in meetings doesn’t just make the meeting more fun (although it does do that) — it can also lead to some important benefits. Here are a few reasons why it’s worth making an extra effort.
Getting everyone to take part in a meeting can have the downstream effect of encouraging your team to work together more outside of the meeting. This is the power of active participation. Simply by seeing others speak up and share their ideas with one another, you can create a sense of cohesion and inclusivity that continues long after everyone leaves the room.
Enthusiasm, as everyone knows, is contagious.
When everyone is communicating and collaborating in meetings together, they will be more likely to hold themselves accountable for their work. The reason is simple: by seeing how others are contributing, as well as by sharing their own contributions with their team, individual contributors won’t want to let anyone down.
This is a powerful social impulse you shouldn’t ignore.
No matter how you measure it, participation promotes productivity by helping teams work through problems, ideate different solutions, raise potential roadblocks, and communicate goals more clearly. It all comes down to how the act of participation — sharing accomplishments, defining issues, working out creative ideas — makes it explicit what needs to be done. In short, participation sets expectations and drives motivation, both individually and across the team.
8 Tips to encourage participation in meetings
It’s normal to find participation in your meetings starting to lag, but it’s by no means inevitable. If you’re looking for a reset, here are a few tips to get people raising their hands once again.
1. Decide if you really need a meeting
The first thing you should do is determine if your meeting is really necessary. Making employees attend a meeting that could have easily been an email isn’t just a waste of their time — it can also cost serious money. Plus, if your team doesn’t feel like a meeting is important, they likely won’t be enthusiastic enough to participate.
But how can you decide if a team meeting is needed? Here are a few questions to ask yourself before sending out your next invite:
- Does this meeting need to take place in-person? Or can it be held offline or asynchronously?
- Is the topic urgent or time-sensitive?
- Do you want an open-ended discussion? Or do you just want to disseminate information?
- Does everyone I plan to invite have a stake in the discussion?
2. Plan the meeting with your participants in mind
If you want people to contribute and take part in the discussion, then you need to carefully consider their needs. First, be deliberate about who you invite. If someone isn’t directly affected by the topic of the meeting, then they probably shouldn’t be there.
But don’t stop there.
Try to narrow it down to the most essential or useful people, such as those who regularly have the best insights or who can wear multiple hats. Avoid anyone who you know may create problems or create unnecessary obstacles.
And don’t forget to consider everyone’s schedules.
As more people work remotely, this may mean planning across different time zones. Also, try not to bring in people who already have lots of meetings on their schedule. That can be a quick way to brew resentment or burn out.
3. Have a clear outcome in mind for the meeting
Knowing and clearly communicating what you want to get out of your meeting, as well as out of each item on your agenda, will help keep everyone focused on working toward that goal. This, in turn, will eliminate confusion, motivate action, and encourage participation.
Be sure to decide on these outcomes beforehand — preferably when you are putting together your meeting agenda and soliciting feedback. Work to make these goals clear for everyone. This means participants will leave the meeting knowing what everyone’s next steps and responsibilities are. These outcomes should also be realistic. You want everyone to feel confident that they can accomplish what they are working toward.
Related: 5 strategies for building consensus
4. Start off with a warm-up or icebreaker
There’s nothing like a good warmup to get the juices flowing and help break everyone out of their shells. This is especially important when attendees don’t know each other, or when you want a more open-ended and creative discussion. In these situations, it’s natural for people to feel reluctant to participate. That’s why an entertaining icebreaker or activity can be the perfect thing to get people talking and interacting with each other. This could be anything, from listing off places you’ve lived (or want to live) to telling two truths and a lie.
Whatever you do, just be sure to make it fun and no pressure for everyone. That way, it will be easier for them to drop their guards and start contributing when the real discussion begins.
Need Icebreaker inspiration? Check out these resources for breaking the ice with your team:
- 12 small-group icebreakers
- 25 icebreakers for virtual meetings
- 100 icebreaker questions for getting the conversation started
5. Include a clearly-defined agenda and stick to it
Taking the time to put together an agenda can help sharpen the meeting’s focus by giving participants a clear sense of direction. Think of it like a roadmap: you’re much more likely to get to your destination if you know the way.
Start out with the big items. Define a theme for your meeting and the length of time you’d like to meet. From there, you can start narrowing it down.
Assign each agenda on your item to someone and decide on how long you’d like to discuss it. Try to also come up with a goal or clear outcome you’d like to arrive at for each item, as well as for the entire meeting. And before finalizing anything, don’t forget to solicit feedback from your participants. The more they’re included, the more they’re likely to contribute.
6. Prioritize inclusivity
Inclusivity means giving every participant, whether they’re a CEO or an intern, the same space and attention to share their ideas and contributions. It is a democratic ideal that is easy to agree on, but often more difficult to implement. Whether this is because of stereotypes, unconscious bias, or company culture, it’s important to be aware of these barriers.
So how can you overcome this and make your meetings as inclusive as possible? Start out by creating a risk-free environment where everyone is encouraged to share ideas and speak their mind without fear of making mistakes. You could also empower different communication styles by giving participants the option to contribute not just in person, but also before or after a meeting, or even anonymously.
7. Use tools to make participation easier
In many ways, we live in a golden age of meetings. We’re no longer limited to beige meeting rooms or long conference tables. With today’s tools, we can meet literally anywhere. Even better, we can use these tools to level-up teamwork and get more done.
There are too many great tools out there to list out all at once. For instance, video conferencing software like Microsoft Teams and Zoom make it easy to share screens and record sessions. Project management tools like Asana are great for assigning tasks and organizing projects. And services like Google Docs and Quip enable teams to collaborate on documents in real-time.
Of course, there are also digital whiteboard tools like Mural, which can be a great way to add a whole new dimension to meetings. Augment a discussion with visual notetaking, or let everyone add their own ideas to the canvas in a hands-on workshop. Our library of templates can also help you kickstart your discussions and encourage people of all types to participate.
8. Finish the meeting with next steps to follow-up on
Active participation during a meeting is wonderful, but you also want it to lead somewhere. That’s why you should make sure that everyone leaves the meeting with clear action items that you can check in on down the road.
Each action item should be clearly defined and connect to the goals or outcomes you previously decided on for the meeting. Wherever possible, they should be measurable too. For example, one person may be responsible for putting together research reports on competitors, while another is in charge of locating market opportunities.
Whatever the case, giving everyone a task to take away with them is a great way to instill responsibility and accountability — and ensure more participation the next time you meet.
Make meetings more engaging and impactful with Mural
Holding an engaging productive meeting, one where everyone actually wants to participate, is easier than it sounds. All it really takes is a little planning and foresight. Make sure the meeting is necessary and create an agenda that has clear outcomes and goals. Take a collaborative approach that includes everyone, even if that means using a fun warm up.
Looking to change your team’s approach to meetings? Learn how asynch collaboration can revitalize team meetings and make them more impactful.
Don’t forget to take advantage of today’s powerful tools, like Mural, to encourage people to start thinking, contributing, and participating in new ways. Create a Free Forever account and get started with one of Mural’s free templates, which you can edit and share with unlimited members — making it easy to get every team member involved and engaged.
About the author
About the authors