A set of involved and engaged members is what makes a meeting effective. However more often than not facilitators struggle to keep the balance of participation from each member optimal. Driven by their inherent personality traits, some participants may be overpoweringly vocal while others may just keep silent even though they have some exceptional contributions to bring to the meeting table.
How do you ensure that none of the valuable inputs are lost in the silence of some timid participants, or the sense of confidence and trust is not harmed behind the decibels of an overtly vocal member?
In this blog I will discuss some of the techniques which can be deployed to bring about a balance of participation in a discussion such that the meeting’s desired goal is met.
What fences up active participation?
Before plunging into ways to make members of a group participate in a meeting what we need to comprehend is the reason why there’s lack of participation. Some of the essential questions to ask are:
- Is there enough clarity on what is being discussed?
- Do the members relate to the topic?
- Do they feel valuable enough?
- Is there any kind of stage fright or public speaking fear?
- Are there members who are extremely expressive who can sabotage participation from the quieter members?
- Is there an unsaid hierarchy playing around in the room – with some senior and junior members of a team and the latter being reluctant to speak in front of the senior?
- What is the level of trust and openness in the group?
There is a constant spontaneity that the facilitator has to work with to shift focus from an over participation member to a less participation one, how to alter topics which is relevant to the discussion such that there is more participation.
Many a times re scripting comments or suggestion to make them sound worthwhile can boost up the morale of the non-participating members.
The facilitator has to ultimately ensure that the meeting has the following characteristics:
Ensure that each participant’s reflections are recorded so there are enough unique perspectives logged in. As facilitators we not only need to understand distinctive personalities comprising a group but many a time we may need to make the participants aware of their own personality traits in terms of the value they bring to a meeting, or environment that comfort or challenge them.
Some of the ways to get each member know the other are:
- Effective ice breaker or a powerful introduction
- Clarity on intent of the meeting and expectations from the participants
- Use inclusive words like we, us
- Intervene with questions to make different participants answer
- Understand when to be abrupt and when to allow participants enough time to gather their thoughts to respond to questions
- Ensure respect and trust is taken seriously during the course of the meeting
Productive & Progressive
Guidance on how to react and respond to other participants with divergent viewpoints helps making the group more accommodating to diversity and opens up scope for productive and progressive discussions. This also saves the group from deviating into pointless arguments.
Setting ground rules and clarifying the goals of a meeting helps in creating awareness among the participants the kind of behavior that is expected from them. Stating of examples of the different types of behavior within a group helps in subtly bringing home the message of the kind of attitude one is expected to have or avoid.
Personal examples and experiences help adding authenticity to message the facilitator is trying to put across.
Emphasize on the necessity of multiplicity of thoughts and standpoints for the meeting to reach its desired objective. State the nuances of constructive and destructive group behavior at the outset, so the participants know where to draw the line.
It’s all about creating a relaxed and secured environment where the participants feel comfortable to express their opinions which might vary or be contrary to another viewpoint in the group.
A lot of confidence is generated when participants are clear about the topic under discussion, its goals and outcomes.
Some of the ways to inspire maximum participation are:
- Recording and listening to each comment or suggestion
- When appropriate delving deeper into a comment and throwing questions back to the group based on a participant’s comment helps boosting energy
- Many a times if the facilitator is unaware of a certain aspect, he/she can admit that and ask for help from a group member who has knowledge on the topic being discussed
- Inclusion of the group from the planning phase and implementing feasible suggestions helps in increasing the engagement and also creating a basic awareness among all participants about what will add value to the meeting
- Breaking larger groups into smaller units also help the more shy participants to open up and contribute
- For ones who wouldn’t talk at all during the sessions, activities like asking the group to write down their opinions and suggestion on post-its help in recording divergent thought processes
- Straight questions or request for reaction on others’ viewpoint to non participating members helps in getting them involved and also gauging their level of interest and understanding of the topic.
It’s all about creatively playing the group together. It can be done through games and exercises where each one gets an opportunity to mingle and interact with the rest of the group and the facilitator as well.
This also aids the facilitator to understand the mood and varied personalities comprising the group.
The trick of the trade is how the facilitator keeps divergent personalities in a group together and contributing constantly to the meeting.
It calls for a lot of agility to keep the mental map of who has said what and keep quoting those as and when necessary. That greatly contributes in spreading a feeling of being important and needed across the group.