When was the last time you multitasked in a meeting? Drifted off? Got annoyed? Wished you were anywhere else but there?
If any of that rings true for you, you’re not alone. In a Verizon Conferencing study, 91% of respondents admitted to daydreaming during meetings, and 39% said they’ve napped in them. Overall, research shows that employees waste a staggering 31 hours of unproductive time in meetings every month.
Most people walk away from meetings feeling unsatisfied because most meetings are designed to address the needs and thinking preferences of the meeting leader, not the people on the invite list. And when you design and lead a meeting with only your own preferences in mind, you’re bound to lose those who aren’t on your wavelength.
With attention at a premium in today’s world, keeping people engaged, even when they’re sitting right in front of you, is one of the biggest challenges you face as a meeting leader. Fortunately, we know a few things about the brain that can help. Try these tips to capture and keep your team’s attention—and keep their brains working.
1. Plan smarter. Before you blast out that calendar invite, consider what the team meeting needs to accomplish, who needs to be there, and how they prefer to think and approach the task at hand. Then consider what format will best serve those needs, and design and lead your meeting with that context in mind.
Being more intentional upfront means you might just discover that you don’t really need a formal meeting to accomplish your goals. One of the easiest ways to keep your team’s productivity high? Don’t make them waste their time sitting through unnecessary meetings.
2. Save the monologue. Your team members may have different perspectives and preferences on how they like interact or get the work done, but there’s one thing 92% percent of meeting attendees can agree on: They value meetings that provide them with an opportunity to contribute.
Plan time in the agenda for discussion, ask questions, and encourage people to not only participate but to also listen to others’ ideas without rushing to judgment. It’s the best way for everyone to benefit from the team’s diversity of thought.
And if you invite participation but only get silence in return? Try asking a few pointed or open-ended questions. A good memory device is the 4 Ps: What are we missing when we think about the purpose? The process? The people involved? Future possibilities?
3. Stop being boring! Here’s a simple but too-often overlooked fact about the brain: People don’t pay attention to boring things. Incorporate a variety of activities to provide the stimulus the brain needs to stay engaged.
For example, emotion enhances retention and builds deeper connection, so try using humor, novelty, video, and stories as appropriate. Switch it up by rotating facilitators, note-takers, and other roles. Bring in some outside players for a different view, especially when the team’s stuck on an issue or challenge.
4. Give ’em a break. If it’s going to be a long meeting, provide frequent breaks. This not only gives people time to check messages or follow up on other matters so they don’t feel distracted by them during the meeting, it’s also important for the brain. Memories strengthen during those periods of rest, even when we’re awake.
Let people know ahead of time when the breaks will be, but also be conscious of the pulse of the discussion or mood in the room. If people are getting restless—or if you’re wondering if everyone’s hung up the phone—that’s a sign that it’s either time for a break or time to mix things up.
5. Light up the brain with challenge—and a little physical activity: People tend to avoid discomfort, but that’s where learning happens. Your team will ultimately find better, more complete solutions to problems when it works through challenges rather than sidestepping them or waiting for someone to provide the “right” answer.
By the same token, exercise will literally get your team thinking, so if you have a complex project or meeting that will demand heavy mental processing, consider a walking meeting or conducting an activity that requires movement immediately beforehand.
You may or may not be spending 300,000 hours a year in meetings. It may just feel like it. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Rethink your team meeting plan, and everyone will get a lot more out of that time together.