5 Tips to Make Your Meetings More Interactive

Michael Glazer is a Tokyo-based Senior Consultant whose client work spans 15 countries across four continents. Learn more about Michael here.

“Why don’t people speak up at our team meetings?”

This is a common question I hear from clients when we start planning an offsite meeting or skills workshop.

It doesn’t take that much global business experience to realize that it’s all too common for some people to dominate the conversation (you know who you are!) and others to stay silent most of the time. Culture plays a role in creating this dynamic, and being based in Asia, I see it often when I work with highly diverse regional and global teams.

As I mentioned in my last post, teams benefit when there is an equal distribution of who talks during meetings. So, how can we help make that happen? Here are five approaches I’ve found useful in my own work:

  •  Set Good Expectations – Let people know at the start of the meeting specifically what you’d like them contribute to the discussion, especially if you work with introverts (I’m one) or people who come from high context cultures. You can even start setting expectations as part of your meeting preparation by, for example, asking people to come prepared to share thoughts on a particular topic.
  • Use Icebreakers – Spending a few minutes at the start of your meeting to help set a safe and inclusive atmosphere can go a long way to getting quieter team members out of their shells. Consider your audience carefully to help you pick the right icebreaker for your meeting.
  • Make Speaking Up Easy – At the start of your next meeting, try asking people to answer simple closed question out loud. After they do, then invite them to pair up with someone and share the reasons for their answer. This accomplishes two things. First, you get people speaking right away by saying “yes” or “no.” And many people find it easier to share opinions with a single partner than with a room full of colleagues who might be evaluating their ideas. Second, you create positive energy and a sense of active engagement in the room by getting everyone talking at the same time.
  • Use Post-It Notes – Especially in larger meetings, when I sense individual team members might fear speaking out in front of their peers or managers, I ask people to write their ideas on Post-It notes. Then, I collect and feed back the points as “table comments” instead of individual comments. This helps everyone contribute without worrying as much about whether their comment puts them at risk for saving face – an important consideration here in Asia.
  • Assign Roles – Ask people to give comments or questions from a perspective other than their own. For example, I recently facilitated a formal business review meeting for a large team. Expecting that the employees would be reluctant to ask tough questions, I assigned several people roles – such as Board Member, TV News Anchor, Strategic Client, Competitor’s CEO, stakeholder who is downstream in the value chain and so on – and people rotated in and out of those roles during the meeting. Especially with groups that value their organizational hierarchy, doing this gives people permission to make comments that might otherwise go unspoken.

What’s your experience? I invite you to share what’s worked for you and your teams.