Three ways to make it easier for attendees to participate

How do we get people to participate at meetings?

We know that participants — people who are active learners — learn more, retain more, and retain more accurately than passive attendees. They are also far more likely to make valuable connections with their peers during the event.

Seth Godin describes a desirable meeting mindset:

What would happen…

if we chose to:

…Sit in the front row

Ask a hard question every time we go to a meeting…

All of these are choices, choices that require no one to choose us or give us permission.

Every time I find myself wishing for an external event, I realize that I’m way better off focusing on something I can control instead.
—Seth Godin, What Would Happen

This is all very well, but it begs the question: what can meeting designers do to make it easier for attendees to participate more at meetings? Here are three things we can do.

First, we need to model participation throughout our event. While in Spain last month, I was invited for dinner in a local family’s home. Besides being treated to amazing food, drink, and conversation, I was casually encouraged to use a branding iron to melt the sugar on our Crème Brûlée, and was politely asked to help wash the dishes. Being an active participant during the evening, even in these small ways, made me part of the experience rather than a passive consumer, and added significantly to my enjoyment and connection to the kind couple who had invited me into their home.

Second, people prefer to participate when they feel safe when doing so. There are many ways to increase attendees’ safety. Some examples: creating a culture of listening, agreeing on group-wide covenants, and providing process that is comfortable for introverts.

Finally, always remember that we can’t make people do anything. Ultimately what they do is their choice. So it’s important to convey that participation is always optional. Paradoxically, when attendees know they have the option to opt out they are more likely to participate.

What approaches have you used to make it easier for your attendees to participate? Share your ideas in the comments below!