How to engage employees in meetings

Brid-Aine Parnell

Wednesday 28 March 2018

Distraction at meetings is rife – staff check their emails and social media, think about food and even fall asleep. But there are ways that managers can make meetings about productive discussions, collaboration and clear goal-setting.

No office can get away from holding at least some business meetings, but managers need to work to make them a productive collaboration instead of a boring distraction.

Long, tedious meetings are the bane of many office workers and they freely admit to all sorts of distractions, including checking their social media and even falling asleep.

Tedium and distraction

A recent study from Barco ClickShare found that of respondents in the UAE, UK, US, Germany and France, the UAE was the worst for dropping off in meetings. Nearly half of all UAE respondents (45 per cent) said they had fallen asleep in meetings, compared to an average across the study of 30 per cent.

Over 80 per cent of UAE respondents also admitted they regularly checked their emails during meetings. Indeed, technology can make or break a meeting, since technology failures irritated 67 per cent of all respondents, but 72 per cent said that using multimedia content in a presentation made them feel more engaged.

UAE employees are generally engaged and satisfied in the office, but for many workers meetings feel like an unnecessary distraction from their ‘real’ work. Managers need to carefully consider a range of factors to engage them and make the most of collaborative time, including time and frequency of meetings, technology usage and even how and when you serve food.

A meeting should be a time when vital information and ideas are exchanged, clear goals are set for teams and individuals, and smart solutions are produced by active brainstorming. But how are engaging meetings made?

Timing is everything

It’s best to hold meetings earlier in the day, when people are alert and ready to be engaged. And if it’s too close to lunch, many employees will be distracted by hunger or their lunch plans.

Meetings also need to start on time and stick to limits. If the meeting is supposed to be a half-hour brainstorming session, make sure that’s what it is. If a presentation is supposed to be five minutes, that’s how long it should be. Once employees become used to the idea that the deadline is set in stone, they’ll respond well to the pressure.

Finally, make sure meetings aren’t too frequent. The Barco Clickshare survey found that 59 per cent of people feel their engagement is affected by the number of meetings in a day.

Technology dos and don’ts

The right technology can perk up a presentation or spark a conversation about new ideas. Video, slideshows and music can all help viewers stay more engaged and on-topic. Interactive technologies can also be a great way to keep people focused. Using an app like Metoo or an electronic meeting system not only encourages engagement, but also collaboration. If you don’t want to go high-tech, go old-school with a whiteboard and a show of hands. Whatever tech you choose, make sure it’s working and ready to go before participants arrive.

If you’re not using an app for collaboration, the best tactic is to ask meeting participants to leave their smartphones outside. Checking on emails and social media can be a conscious response to boredom, but many people simply do it out of habit and may even have a look despite being interested in the meeting.

Food, glorious food

Providing food can entice people in the door of a meeting, but serve it at the wrong time and it becomes the entire focus. If snacks are available throughout the meeting and everyone is helping themselves, all that activity is a distraction and the droning presentation can seem like nothing more than background.

Pick a time for food – at the beginning or the end, or if it’s a long meeting (which should be avoided where possible) serve it during a break. Don’t, however, leave the food out at the start of the meeting but forbid people from touching it until the assigned time. That is definitely a distraction.

Change it up

The most important tactic for successful meetings is to make sure they aren’t all the same. Even with multimedia content and interactive technology, smart timing and good food, if it’s the same meeting every week, it gets boring. Make some meetings about discussion and interaction, some can be short presentations followed by questions, and others can be roundtable discussions.

Or go a bit further and do something radical. A study by Washington University found that taking out all the chairs from the meeting room boosted excitement for creative group processes. Just the act of standing altered how people were thinking about work and interacting with each other.

With a little careful planning, managers can turn meetings from time-consuming distractions into productive and engaging time well spent – and stop their employees napping in the meeting room.