Good Meetings: Act like a Host

Like it or not, humans are social creatures. Whenever we gather together for any purpose, we like to feel included. That means feeling welcomed into a space, knowing the names of the people around us, and understanding why we are all gathered together. When you run a meeting at work, it will never hurt you to behave as though you’re welcoming people into your home!

Let’s face it: Meetings that aren’t productive can contribute to employees feeling unengaged or disengaged. But meetings can be productive, especially when you use a little emotional intelligence and give some thought to how you’re going to run the meeting and what people might experience during the meeting.

This is the second post in a series of four about how to run better meetings at work. The topics we’re covering are:

Most modern workers have to be in meetings at least some of the time; this series is in part inspired by this podcast that posits ways to turn meetings from sources of dread and drain into sources of productivity and energy.

Now, in thinking about behaving like a host, I am not advocating that every meeting be a party. Although, food never hurts! One of the best ways to behave like a host in order to make meetings more productive is to welcome people to a meeting - by doing more than saying, “Welcome to the meeting” before you dive into the agenda.

There are two simple steps to take:

  • Consider what would help participants feel welcomed them into the meeting space, and

  • Make sure everyone knows who everyone is in the room.

Feeling Welcomed

What would work for your group? Is food appropriate? Might music be appropriate? (Maybe give the iTunes focus playlist a try - No, that’s not an affiliate link, I get no money, but it’s a playlist I listen to at least weekly). When people enter the meeting room, say,

Hi! I’m glad you made it. Welcome. How are you?

Or your own variation to help them feel that you are happy they’ve arrived.

Make your space work for you! Get to the room early and consider how the chairs, desks, tables, etc. are set up. What is the temperature like? If you’re either freezing or too hot, other people will probably be uncomfortable too. If you want people to talk to each other as equals, the optimal seating is circular. Maybe shove a big rectangular table against a wall and move the chairs into a circle. If lighting is important to you, consider bringing your own lamp or two and shut off the fluorescents overhead.

What I’m saying is: Give the space some thought, and use it well.

Get People Talking & Introduced

This is really about two different pieces of facilitator wisdom:

  1. The earlier in a meeting you get people talking, the more they feel their voices are welcomed and feel able to speak up.

  2. People like to know who is who in a gathering!

I’m suggesting that you have everyone introduce themselves, but even in groups that already know each other well, it’s a good idea to have people go around the room and say hello and answer a short, simple question at the start of a meeting. You can ask a question somehow related to the time of your meeting or the subject of your meeting. Examples include, "What are you looking forward to this weekend?" or "We're here to talk about our performance management system. Have you ever had a particularly memorable performance management discussion, whether you were the manager or the employee? What happened?" Not only does this get people talking early, and maybe have a chance to meet someone new, it also helps people transition from whatever they were doing before - which is likely still on their mind - before you need them to concentrate on the meeting’s purpose more directly.

Note: If you have a consultant running the meeting, and they do not make a point of introducing themselves to people they don't know, consider talking to them about it. Make it clear that you want people to feel like they belong. It will be a valuable piece of information about how you expect them to work with your employees.

Have questions or comments about this post or our series on good meetings? Let me know!

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