Many meeting hosts will make the mistake of assuming that just because their team are present in body, they’re mentally present too. But as statistics show this just simply isn’t the case! A huge 90% of people report daydreaming in business meetings and 73% state that they use their time in meetings to do other work.
So, how do our meeting leads cut this statistic down? Well, improving our team’s meeting etiquette and making some changes to how we structure and present our meetings has been a great start. Here are some ways in which you can do just that.
Let’s kick things off with meeting etiquette. Following these 5 steps will help keep people focused, productive and reduce any interruptions in your meetings.
- Ensure everyone can hear
- Meeting preparation
- Minimize distractions
- Avoid interruptions
1. Punctuality is essential
Good meeting etiquette starts before your team has even stepped foot into the room. Turning up for the meeting right on time is, of course, one of the most basic signs of business meeting etiquette. Not only this, but it reduces the time that people will have to give their attention to you, which will greatly improve meeting engagement.
Sure, in some emergency situations turning up late can’t be avoided. But, with the average meeting delay being around 11 minutes and 50% of employees stating that people arriving late is a sign of a bad meeting, it’s critical to try and reduce how often this happens.
But how? Well, learning how to write effective meeting reminders can help as simply relying on your team’s calendar to remind them about the meeting is a recipe for disaster. If you’re noticing a pattern with certain meetings having more late arrivals, assessing and readjusting the time of your meeting might help with punctuality. For example, young people are more likely to have trouble with morning meetings!
In extreme cases, where delayed meeting entrances are frequently causing serious disruption it may be worth putting a rule in place. For example, if an attendee is any more than 5 minutes late to a meeting then they should not enter and catch up via the meeting minutes afterwards.
2. Ensure everyone can hear
Before you charge full speed ahead with your meeting, it’s a good idea to double-check that everyone can hear/see what you’re presenting. In most cases, team members won’t speak up themselves to say they can’t see or hear so checking yourself beforehand is recommended.
This is, of course, especially important if you have members of the meeting joining in via Zoom and works both ways (both checking they can hear you and you can hear them). Whether you’re letting the participant politely know “you’re on mute!” or double-checking that your conference-room microphone is working. Putting those few seconds in at the start of the meeting is good etiquette and will increase engagement greatly.
Note that we also have a separate virtual meeting and Zoom etiquette guide for when you’re taking your meetings online.
3. Preparation improves meetings
A team member coming to a meeting unprepared is a pain. And not just for themselves, but for the whole group of attendees. Everyone present will be able to tell when someone in a meeting is badly prepared, whether it is because they have nothing at all to contribute to the discussion, or they cannot answer questions when asked.
There are plenty of steps you can take to avoid this situation though. One is by sending out a fully filled out meeting agenda with discussion points, actions and expectations you have from your attendees. Giving them this information will cut down their preparation time and mean that they know exactly what they need to bring along with them (both physically and mentally!).
Another way to avoid this meeting awkwardness and improve the productivity of your meetings is to give your attendees the option to opt out early into the meeting. This is an option they can use if they have nothing to add to the discussion or realise they are unprepared. However, this should ideally be done within the first 5/10 minutes of the meeting to avoid interrupting people when they are mid-flow. This is also famously one of Elon Musk’s meeting rules.
4. Keep distractions away
One of the strongest meeting etiquette rules that can completely change the tone of a meeting is to keep distractions at bay. Nothing is more off-putting during a brainstorming session or a tense decision-making meeting than someone sitting in the corner and texting.
Asking employees to leave their phones on silent and in their pockets is a more than reasonable request and will ensure that no ringing or beeping is interrupting important moments. It will also keep meeting times to a minimum, as no-one will need to repeat themselves due to a colleague playing on their phone during the conversation! In turn, the engagement levels in meetings are sure to skyrocket when this rule is in place.
The lack of distractions isn’t just beneficial to the individual either. In a survey by Doodle, 55% of employees stated that someone calling or texting during a meeting is off-putting, and results in a bad meeting. So, enforcing this team meeting etiquette is a booster for everyone involved.
Additionally, mobile phones are not the only distraction that can be present in a meeting. The same rules should go for smartwatches and, in cases where needed, it is possible to use hand-written notes rather than laptops.
5. Interruptions should be minimised
While in a healthy discussion, two people talking at once can occur from time to time. However, constant interruptions are not one of the characteristics of a good meeting.
Where possible, an employee should be able to share their thoughts freely and without interruption, with time for questions and discussion afterwards. If you’re struggling with attendees talking over each other or interrupting other speakers, a strong agenda can help combat this as you can schedule set speaking times for each person present.
Another way to minimise these interruptions is to foster a more respectful workplace culture. If all other aspects of your workplace have a competitive and challenging feel to them, this is bound to seep through into meetings. Making small changes around the rest of the workplace will undoubtedly help with this.
These 5 steps will keep people engaged in your meetings and ensure that every meeting is time well spent.
- Keep talking time down
- Notice body language
- Utilise breaks
- Note-taking tips
- Splitting the work
1. Don’t talk for long periods
Listening to people talk for long periods of time is something that most humans struggle with, which makes a lot of meetings quite difficult.
A good way to combat this is by planning all meetings to have less than 10 solid minutes of an individual talking at a time. This could be broken up by pausing to ask for questions, breaking into a smaller group discussion or including an activity.
For some meeting types, long periods of talk won’t be needed at all as members can take it in turns to present their thoughts or opinions. This avoids losing the attention of those present by talking for an overly long period of time, something that 46% of people say they dislike about meetings.
2. Pay attention to body language
If you’re in charge of leading a meeting and you’re the one doing the talking or directing a group activity, you will have a particular impact on the engagement levels in the meeting. One way you can gauge if the energy needs to be cranked up is by monitoring the body language in your meeting room.
If you notice any of the following behaviours in your meeting attendees, it might be a sign that you need to change tactics in your meeting:
- Leaning back in the chair and scanning the room
- Checking phone or emails
- Whispering to other attendees
- Checking watches
If you begin to notice team members doing this, it might be time to turn over for their opinions or questions, to help break up the time you’ve been speaking for. You could also try changing activity or, if all else fails, call time on the meeting. It’s better for business and productivity to have your team working on something else than flogging a dead horse in a meeting they don’t want to be in!
3. Breaks might be required
The general rules of meeting timing are that a meeting should be short and sweet, rarely everlasting longer than 45 minutes. But, in some scenarios, this simply isn’t possible.
When a meeting has to go on for longer than 45 minutes, it can really take its toll on engagement levels. While it may feel like getting your best minds together in a room for a couple of hours can result in hours of productive, genius work, what will really happen is more and more attendees will lose focus as time goes on.
But, if you really do need an hour or two of your team’s time then you can help keep engagement levels high by utilising breaks. This study from Microsoft found that by using breaks engagement levels could be boosted throughout business meetings. The breaks give a team the chance to recharge and relax their brain, get a quick snack or coffee (which will boost their mood, too!) and come back ready to tackle the topic once more.
This practice is especially important in Zoom meetings. As employees don’t need to transition from location to location, managers and meeting lead often assume multiple remote meetings can be stacked back to back. This is a certain way to bring on the dreaded Zoom fatigue, so be sure to schedule breaks for your remote team as a priority!
4. Encourage handwritten notes
As we’ve mentioned a few times throughout this article, handwritten notes are an excellent tool for engaging meetings. Writing down your notes by hand is a complex procedure, which is found to increase the amount you remember from your meetings.
It’s also found that when taking handwritten notes, you’re more likely to listen to what is being said to you rather than simply transcribing what you hear. This means you’re much more engaged in the meeting’s contents.
As a bonus, it also lowers the risk of you being distracted by a tempting email or Slack message!
If your meeting notes need to be shared or edited into a full project at some point, however, it is certainly better to keep them digital. This makes for faster editing and removes the risk of someone struggling to read your handwriting!
5. Split the work
One absolutely certain tip on how to make staff meetings more engaging is to get your team involved with them. Giving each member of the meeting a section to lead or present takes the pressure off of you and means there’s no chance for an individual to start daydreaming.
This collaborative approach also improves the team’s meeting skill set, fosters a teamwork-based culture and will make meetings much more enjoyable!
Each meeting is different
Be sure to remember that there are many different types of meetings, and what works in one won’t necessarily work in another. For example, during a meeting where multiple attendees will need to present their screens, keeping your laptops out of the meeting room won’t be possible.
But, with these points in mind and a little practice, you will start to understand what works for your team. This will aid you with developing engagement workarounds and your own etiquette and engagement based team meeting ideas that can be documented and used in the future. Be sure to check out our further meeting tips for even better productivity and engagement!