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7 Ways to Make Your Meetings More Exciting

Meetings compose a large amount of your work time, but are they time well spent? Efficiency can be increased or decimated by the timing and structure of meetings. Think about the impact multiplier for each participant. Starting an eight person meeting 15 minutes late wastes two hours of work for the organization.

Bad meetings are a drain psychologically. Efficient meetings, on the other hand, save time, help everyone accomplish more, and leave participants feeling energized. We’ve all been there. Ever feel frustrated by the same discussion week after week with no resolution? Contrast that with the excitement and clear ideas after a great brainstorming session.

How do you make each meeting more energizing? Here’s some tips I have gathered from Patrick Lencioni’s book Death by Meeting, Gartner research, Dan Roam’s visual grammar books, Mindtools.com and CIO.com. I use these techniques to get participants thinking visually, promote brainstorming and increase energy. Additionally, I like to add gamification techniques to meetings to make each moment productive.

Think of a meeting as a well crafted performance. It has exposition, rising action, climax or crisis, falling action, and resolution. Like any good performance you must prepare for each meeting. These tips will help for any type of meeting.

Why Meet?

According to research by Gartner, there are a select few reasons to hold a meeting:

1. To make a decision

2. To solve a problem

3. To share critical information/training information

4. To celebrate an achievement

Notice that “reports status” was left off of this list? Effective managers use 5 minute stand up meetings or technologies like team message boards (tweet length!) for status. Think of the impact multiplier. The “roll call” method of individually presenting status to the manager while others wait is a major waste of time.

Begin with the outcome

Establish what the meeting should accomplish. You know the meeting objective when you can complete this sentence: “At the close of the meeting, I want the group to _______”.

Meetings by Subject

The most innovative leaders limit their meetings to tightly focused subjects. Digressive topics, even important ones, are not discussed during these meetings. The topic is tabled until the appropriate meeting. Here are four types:

  • Problem Definition – answers “what, who, how much, when, and why”

  • Bad news meetings – list issues/problems only. NO solutions are offered during these meetings.

  • Problem Solving – the “how” (done after the bad news meeting)

  • Alternative Approaches/Experiments- break out of the current bounds

No Free Riders

They were invited for a reason, so don’t let them get away without contributing! Encourage participation with statements such as “Does anyone have any more ideas to add?”. Practice active listening and summarize comments to elicit discussion. Also, this is where gamification techniques such as whiteboarding and silent brainwriting really shine. These techniques can get more ideas out of 20 minutes of silence than an hour of discussion!

Ask Questions

Encourage everyone, even the presenter, to ask questions. This keeps everyone engaged in the meeting and can help the meeting leaders stay focused. Try distributing bingo cards made up of question categories.


Humans are visual as well as verbal thinkers. Even people who “can’t draw” still can benefit from having visual stimulation kick start their thinking. If it’s not your meeting, talk to the meeting leader ahead of time, so they don’t think you are being rude. Dan Roam’s series of books are excellent resources.

Meetings do not always have to be an hour

Accomplish more in shorter meetings by matching meeting content and length. I set my default invite to 30 minutes. In his book, Death by Meeting, Patrick Lencioni recommends four different types of meetings analogous to the familiar lengths used in television programming. Additionally, these meeting lengths fit very well with agile and portfolio management techniques.

Meeting Format Length Analogy Agile/Portfolio Management technique
Daily Check-In 1-5 minutes Tweet/News story Agile Daily Stand up
Weekly Tactical 30 minutes Sit Com Spint/backlog review
Monthly Strategic (or Ad Hoc Strategic) 1 hour Drama Project status or portfolio review
Quarterly Review (off-site recommended!) 2 hour sessions (multiple) mini-series Quarterly budget review, quarterly strategic metric

Other tips:

  • Use a consistent, sensible process

  • Prepare materials in advance and rehearse key points before the meeting

  • Focus on issues beneficial to group discussion and how the team can resolve them

  • Avoid solving issues during bad news meetings

  • Prepare an agenda and stick to it. Include: Priorities, goals, sequence and expected participants

  • Go directly into the material during the meeting to avoid “ramp up” time.

  • Summarize at the end

  • Interactive notes – if you have Google Docs, Office 365 or other collaboration tool, share a document with all participants. Encourage them to add notes, questions and thoughts during the meeting. When the meeting ends you have instant meeting notes!

  • NOTE: All views and opinions are those of the author only and not official statements or endorsements of any public or private sector employer, organization or related entity.

Chaeny Emanavin is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Elizabeth Boaz

“gamification”? “silent brainwriting”? Am I horribly out of touch not to have heard these terms?

Priscilla Anderson

I loved your blog on meetings, I totally agree, and those are great suggestions. But what is gamification? I assume it is relating a task to a certain gaming program or function? I’m not a gamer, but I am familiar with planning tools, brainstorming, etc. Please elaborate…

Chaeny Emanavin

Hi. Excellent questions. I didn’t want my blog to be 1,000,000 pages long so I watered over some key points!

Gamification is basically applying game principles to other fields. Basically you give people rewards for achievements and mastering skills, info, etc. Good examples are likes on Facebook, badges in forums, Wikipedia or FourSquare. If you share your expertise by giving good advice, visit a location often you get a bunch of likes or earn badges like “Expert” or “Mayor”.

Brainwriting or “silent brainstorming” (I combined terms in the blog, but I ask for poetic license!) is a way to get everyone in a group to participate in idea generation. You give everyone paper to write an idea, then everyone passes to the right and elaborates on the idea passed to them. You do 3-4 rounds. This creates ideas and refinements of the idea more quickly than whiteboarding. The moderator does an affinity analysis to combine like ideas. It gives the introverts in the group an equal voice and really gets everyone engaged. I love the technique. I’ve had sullen groups suddenly come alive after one round of brainwriting. Try it! Here’s a really good resource: http://creatingminds.org/tools/brainwriting.htm

Elizabeth Boaz

Thanks…the original blog got me intrigued enough that I Googled “gamification” and “silent brainwriting”. As you’ve stated, silent brainwriting would be great for groups that have a lot of creative introverts.


Chaeny, thanks for your post. I am including how to conduct effective meetings as a part of the knowledge management initiative that I’m leading. This post will be extremely valuable as I create a simple template to share corporately.

Chaeny Emanavin

Hi Deadra. Thanks! I’d love to see the template when you’re done…if you’re allowed to share it. KM is going to be so important for all corporations (public and private) in the coming 5-10 years.

Terrence (Terry) Hill

Good tips! I would add that most meeting nowadays should have a virtual option for remote workers. This fosters an environment of inclusion and diversity. Virtual meetings can actually be MORE engaging, interactive, and productive than in-person meetings, if managed correctly. The technology is virtually free, especially when considering the savings in travel expense.

Chaeny Emanavin

Great point Terry. The key is to use good interactive tools during the meeting and sticking with it long enough to get people used to it, shake out technical issues, etc. You don’t have to run out and buy something expensive either. If you use WebEx, it has a built in whiteboard that the speaker and use and invite others to write/draw on as well. We use Google Apps for Government which has unbelievable useful tools for real-time collaboration in documents, chat and Hangouts. But that’s a blog for another time! 😉

Donna Dyer

I’m notorious in my office for staying in a meeting for 55 minutes. If it’s any longer, I’m useless and the topic is probably too big for the meeting. I also won’t stay in a meeting if the organizer doesn’t offer an agenda in the first 5 minutes. I like the idea of going off-site quarterly to discuss strategic planning, etc. Good advice!