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Lead Your Team Managing

How to Ensure Meeting Participants Are Paying Attention

Tips for a successful meeting
Credit: UfaBizPhoto/Shutterstock

You schedule a meeting for your team with a hefty agenda, only to show up to a room full of snoozers and daydreamers. Half of your employees are checking their emails or texts; the other half are at least pretending to listen, but are they absorbing the information and thinking of ways to contribute?

"Meeting engagement is probably the single biggest issue facing meeting leaders," said Bill Kern, CEO of GoWall. "You always have those who love the sound of their own voice, which is equaled by introverts who have great ideas but are reluctant to share them and switch off."

If you have a large team, it is difficult to keep everyone on track, especially during a long meeting. As a leader, you must ensure your employees are paying attention and willing to participate. Here's how.

If you drone on and on about the changes you plan to implement or a new software application your company is using, you won't get the feedback you're hoping for. To capture – and keep – workers' attention, you need to speak with purpose and passion, as if what you're saying is important, because if you're hosting a meeting about it, then it is.

"As well as your employees' body language, you need to be aware of your own," said Grant van der Harst, managing director of Anglo Liners. "You could be conveying messages of disinterest to your employees during your meetings without realizing it … If you're not enthusiastic about the topic, how are your employees going to be enthusiastic about it?"

Let's face it: It's easy to get bored when discussing work-related topics, no matter how much you love your job. If you notice you're tired of your own voice or your employees are hunched over struggling to keep their eyes open, introduce some humor in the conversation.

"Laughter generates oxytocin, dopamine, and endorphins, which drive connection, increase blood flow and activate gamma waves in our brain, making us more alert," said Paul Osincup, workplace strategist who did a TedTalk on the power of humor in leadership. "You don't have to be a comedian or even tell a joke to get started. Start with being fun over funny and let some of the laughter happen naturally … If you do go for funny, my advice would be to start with yourself first."

In his TedTalk, Osincup noted that "humor reduces social distance between people, and it makes leaders seem more approachable and less stressful."

While you might think it's inappropriate to crack a joke, acknowledging that your workers are human and probably don't want to spend an hour listening to you lecture in a cramped room can ease the tension. Make sure the mood is light yet serious so your employees feel less like they're in a work meeting and more like they're having a productive conversation with their teammates.

Cell phones and computers might be distracting, but disallowing them in the meeting only makes your employees resent you for treating them like they're students in a classroom. Your workers are people, too; they have families, homes, doctor appointments, etc. Trust them to only use their electronics when necessary.

If it becomes an issue, however, you can confront it by explaining your expectations. Tell your workers that you understand they have personal matters to attend to, but unless they're stepping out to take an important call, you'd rather they not sit on their phones or email colleagues during your meeting.

Getting your employees' attention in the first place shouldn't be difficult, but retaining it for an hour or two can be tricky. Cover only what you need to, sticking to your (shared) agenda as best as possible.

"If people aren't paying attention, it's usually because the meeting has dragged on for too long and the agenda simply doesn't interest them," said Jeff Sullivan, marketing manager of Workamajig. "I tell everyone I manage to trim the fat off their agendas. Don't run an entire meeting if a 10-minute daily standup over Skype will do."

Of course, side topics or questions will pop up, and some meetings might need to be longer than others. As long as you keep it as short as you can while still saying everything you need to, your employees shouldn't be too distracted.

Don't invite employees to a meeting if the subject doesn't pertain to them. For instance, if you're giving a presentation about a software app that they won't use in their position, you're wasting their time.

Additionally, if they feel they don't belong or the information is relevant, they'll find other ways to occupy themselves throughout the meeting, whether it's texting, typing on their laptop or whispering to a co-worker.

"There is nothing worse than having to sit through a meeting that is completely irrelevant to you when you are really busy and could be doing something more important," said van der Harst. "Naturally, these people are going to struggle to pay attention and are going to use this as an opportunity to take a break rather than taking an interest."

Van der Harst advised inviting only managers or team leaders to larger meetings rather than entire departments. That way, managers can share the information with their individual teams in a smaller setting, covering only what's relevant to them.

For those you do include, however, make sure they understand why they were invited to the meeting.

"No one should wonder why they have been invited to your meeting," said Kern. "If there's a chance a participant could be unclear about why they've been asked to attend, send them a message beforehand and explain why you want their contribution."

Address each participant individually about their assignments and any changes they might experience. Ask them if they're on the same page or have anything to add to the conversation. This encourages workers to participate in the meeting, sharing insights they might have otherwise kept to themselves.

"Each person at your meeting has a point of view or idea to contribute, whether they are in the room, remote, attending in real time, or dropping in on their own time," said Kern. "Make it easy for everyone to freely share their ideas."

Before ending the meeting, don't forget to ask if anyone has any questions, comments or concerns. That way, everyone feels that they're an important team member and that their voice is heard.

Sammi Caramela

Sammi Caramela has always loved words. When she isn't working as a Purch B2B staff writer, she's writing (and furiously editing) her first novel, reading a YA book with a third cup of coffee, or attending local pop-punk concerts. The only time Sammi doesn't play it safe is when she's writing. Reach her by email, or check out her blog at sammisays.org.