Trying to solicit employee participation in a business meeting isn't always easy, especially if your workers think of it as a break from the normal routine and want to sit back and relax. Because effective meetings usually require employee involvement and your goal is to draw people out, you must create an engaging atmosphere that makes people want to speak up. You can't force participation but you can establish a friendly environment that encourages employee contributions.
Share the Stage
One of the best ways to encourage participation is to ask for frequent input or feedback. If you spend the majority of the meeting lecturing, explaining charts or complaining about company issues, you'll likely get silence from your employees. Present relevant information and focus on topics that are most critical so the meeting has structure and purpose, but ask for input every five to 10 minutes. You might start the meeting by letting your employees know you'll be asking for feedback. That way, they'll listen more closely and will likely craft comments and suggestions in their mind so they're ready to contribute when asked.
Ask Specific Questions
Participants often feel intimidated to offer suggestions when they aren't sure what the presenter wants or where the meeting is headed. Business consultant Marlene Chism suggests framing questions in a specific manner that guides participants down the right path, according to her book and website Stop Workplace Drama. You might say, "Let's do some problem-solving on how we might address higher customer service needs during the holidays. Does anyone have any suggestions?" Avoid general questions, such as "What improvements can we make?" or "What should we do about our customers?"
Hold a Final Round
As reported by ''Inc,'' Ev Williams, co-founder of the blogging site Medium, suggests hosting a closing round at the end of each business meeting where participants can voice their final comments or suggestions. Each person has 30 seconds to state their ideas or concerns, with no back-and-forth discussion allowed. This method draws people out because they don't have to fear that their ideas will be rejected or criticized. A closing round is also beneficial for you as the leader because it provides a sense of how the meeting went, defines the emotional tone of the group and reveals ideas or suggestions that weren't expressed during the course of the meeting.
Set the Tone
The tone of a meeting often plays a big role in how comfortable employees feel interjecting their opinions and offering input. Friendliness and hospitality will likely draw them out. In general, the more formal the meeting, the more likely your employees will see it as a boss-oriented presentation than a team-oriented discussion. Have coffee, bottled water, snacks, fruit or mints available or have lunch delivered during a mid-meeting break. Consider hosting the meeting on Thursday or on a business casual day, so your employees feel relaxed and know the weekend is just around the corner.
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