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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Management

4 Ways to Start Meetings That Grab People's Attention (and Never Let it Go)

If you say the word “meeting” to your team, you’re much more likely to be met with groans and murmurs of “Why?” rather than a “Heck yeah! We can’t wait!”

One of the reasons a lot of meetings tend to go over so badly is because they don’t start right. As you’ve probably noticed, the first few minutes often set the tone for the remainder of it. If it doesn’t have a strong start, your team members zone out or get off track. And you know nothing feels worse than leading a discussion and seeing people start sneaking glances at their phone.

Of course, if you’ve taken the time to prepare, you can avoid this. After all, your meetings shouldn’t just be happening on autopilot. You don’t need to start each one by just launching into the agenda and rambling on. Instead, you can kick it off in a variety of ways.

1. Tell Everyone What the Meeting’s About

Most people are tuned in to WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?). To engage the attendees, you first need to remind them why they’re sitting in a room with you, being pulled away from their work. Yes, you probably mentioned something when you set up the meeting, but it’s always good to re-state the purpose. (Hint: If you can’t come up with a compelling purpose, you should probably cancel the meeting.)

Then, follow it up with why your team’s specifically there to discuss this matter. You don’t need to point to each member and share why he or she’s needed in the meeting, but you do need to make it clear that everyone’s there for a reason. “As the company’s marketing team, it’s up to us to come up with three solid ideas to grow our audience next quarter” or “Everyone in this room was recommended by your manager due to your organization skills.” (Again, if there’s someone in the meeting who doesn’t have a purpose, don’t make him or her attend.)

2. Encourage Positivity

How you start the meeting tends to dictate how the rest of it goes. If the meeting begins with complaining, griping, and whining, it could very well end that way, too. On the other hand, if you open with optimism, it can have a positive impact on the remainder of the discussion.

You could ask your team members to each share something that is going well (or try another kind of icebreaker). Or, if the group’s too large, you could start by praising the group for a recent accomplishment—whether it’s big or small. No matter what’s happening within your company or your department, it’s key to start the conversation on an uplifting note. Otherwise people start to associate meetings with lectures, bad news, and disappointing reports.

3. Share a Surprising Statistic or Poignant Quote

A startling statistic or insightful quote isn’t just a good opener for a speech; it can also be the fodder for a great discussion. Let your team have a few minutes to discuss what it means before moving onto the meeting’s main purpose.

Obviously, it should be a stat or quote that somehow relates to the content of the overall meeting. Maybe it’s numbers from the company’s recent growth projections, or perhaps it’s a shocking quote from a new industry study. Whatever it may be, it should be relevant enough to keep your team focused and on-track.

4. Tell a Story

A story can teach a moral, instill an important lesson, or even get people laughing. The best part about it is that it’s not coming from your own mouth, which softens “the blow” (if blow softening is needed).

Like a quote or a stat, you should share a story that relates to the meeting somehow. However, you have a little more flexibility here. For example, you could share a success story; something that went well with a client, or a team member who went above and beyond the call of duty. Or you can talk about something you read recently involving an incredibly successful product rollout that made you re-think the strategy you initially laid out. People tend to relate well to an anecdote regardless of the context. Not to mention that it gets the heart involved in the thought process, instead of just the mind.

A good meeting is a bit of an art form, so give yourself some time to figure out the flow. Things may not go perfectly the first time, but there’s always room for improvement if you put effort into making it work.

Photo of meeting courtesy of Shutterstock.