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We are people people.

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and have passion for our profession

Want to engage people during meetings? Try these 6 tips.

face to face meetings

Great tips on increasing engagement during meetings — like, bring food!

I once heard a generational expert say that people my age prefer face-to-face meetings over phone calls or email. That seems like a broad generalization to make about 76 million Americans, but I will say that a meeting doesn’t have to be a waste of time – if all those involved in a project or decision are participating.

I learned a lot about leading meetings during the two terms I served on the council of a church with more than 4,000 members and an annual operating budget of more than $1 million. The church was growing rapidly, which meant the council needed to reach consensus on a series of issues related to property, staffing and resources.

Every year, when new council members started their terms, the senior pastor laid down the ground rules: “If you have something to say, say it here, not in a meeting after the meeting in the church parking lot.” He also said, “Debate all you want during the meeting, but when we leave this room, we stand united.” Those are good rules when you have volunteers making decisions in matters that members care deeply about. Truth be told, those are good rules for any group.

The pastor started every council meeting by asking each person to offer a brief joy and concern. I’ve noticed that people who speak early on in meetings tend to participate more throughout the meeting, so I started using the joys-and-concerns tactic at work. I started meetings by asking each participant to briefly share something on their minds: It could be anything – news about a client, a rapidly approaching deadline, a sick dog – you name it. Take five minutes to let people say what’s on their mind and you clear the way for productive participation, plus you become aware of other issues that may need your attention.

When major decisions were about to be put to a vote, the pastor asked each person to comment. When people know they will be asked to articulate a response – more than a yea or nay – they tend to consider it more carefully. More than once, after going around the table and hearing others’ responses, someone would say, “Wait. I’ve changed my mind.” Yes, the meetings could run late, but the decisions were solid.

Other suggestions, based on countless hours spent in meetings:

Prepare people to participate. Send a brief agenda with the topics you want to discuss and specific goals for the meeting. Tell participants how they can contribute. For example, if “leadership retreat” is an agenda item, consider writing “make a decision about the retreat destination – bring one or two location suggestions.”

Offer food. There is something almost magical about breaking bread together that helps people open up. I think it’s hardwired into our makeup to feel more at ease with people we share nourishment with, so bring doughnuts.

Encourage everyone to be fully present. If people are looking at their laptops, whispering in a side conversation, texting or passing notes (it happens!), you’re going to find people have less and less to say because they perceive that others aren’t listening.

Give people the freedom to fail. If the environment doesn’t allow for human error, humans will stop participating. “The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one,” said Elbert Hubbard. People engage with the group when they feel safe.

Practice the Golden Rule. Encourage participants to treat others as they wish to be treated. Just as parents are encouraged to separate the behavior from the child, people sometimes need to be reminded to challenge the idea, not the person. Taunting or putting someone down in front of others is not acceptable.

End on a high note. I won’t suggest you end every meeting with a prayer, as the church council did, although you might want to say a silent one. Instead, wrap up by explaining what the next steps are, acknowledging the group’s accomplishment and recognizing the value of everyone’s contribution. Everyone will leave the room feeling like their time was well spent.

Comment, call or email me (hey, we could even meet!) with your tips for making meetings time well spent.

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A little hand-holding goes a long way toward member engagement

According to the Corporate Leadership Council, employees with lower engagement levels are four times more likely to leave their jobs than those who are highly engaged. Do you think the same can be said of our members? Those who we can get engaged will stay with us over the long haul while those who never feel a connection will move on fairly quickly?

I hear people talking about member engagement all the time. It’s definitely a hot topic for associations right now and it’s an important one. As our members have more and more things competing for their attention and dollars, it’s critical that we get them to feel a connection to our organization — to engage with us and their peers. The theory, of course, is that the more engaged a member is, the better our chances of having them stay with the association when renewal time comes along.

There are so many ways to involve and engage our members in our association. We can ask them to serve on committees, offer them the opportunity to attend programs where they learn and network with their peers, invite them to present at conferences and educational events and build online communities for their use.

One of the things our association partner, the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives (WSAE) will be focusing on this year is member engagement. We’re targeting their online community as one of the places we’ll start. Some believe that if you build an online community, people will flock to it and it will flourish with little to no intervention. I’ve worked with several organizations that have started online communities and I have yet to see this work without some gentle pushes from leadership and staff.

Some of the many things we’ll be doing in 2014 to increase participation on wsae.org include assisting leadership in becoming visible in the community, encouraging people to blog, utilizing it to communicate with committees and the board, making announcements and carrying on education program discussions long after the event has ended.

We often overlook the need to start with the basics when getting an online community up and running or trying to pump some energy into an existing community. First, we need to make sure all members know the community is available and encourage them to create their online profiles. WSAE is running ads in its magazine and newsletter that spell out exactly how to login and set up a profile. We’ll also encourage them to set up a daily or weekly digest, so they have new postings delivered to their inbox automatically. We’ll also be running questions that have been posted to the community in the association’s newsletter. We’ll share the topic question, but direct them to the website for the answer.

How will we know if our efforts are successful? The system we use tracks engagement and offers reports. We’ll be selecting some key metrics to measure our progress and see if we achieve our goals. I’ll let you know how it goes!

If you’re looking for a place to see what your peers are doing or pose a question, join me on the Member Engagement – For Online Community and Membership Professionals group on LinkedIn. There are over 2,100 members discussing all kinds of engagement issues. It’s always interesting to join a group and then see how many people you know that are already participating. I guarantee you’ll find peers dealing with some of the same issues you do.

What about your member engagement? Have you done something that’s worked particularly well or maybe something you’d never try again? I’d love to hear what you do or are thinking of doing to engage your members, and I know others would too.

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