How to Get 100% Participation

By Heather Baldwin

Meetings depend on exchanges of ideas and the participation of everyone in the group. After all, if one person is dominating the discussion, you’re only getting one person’s view about solving the problem of, say, the stagnating sales with which everyone is wrestling. Yet, often it’s the quieter members of a group, who may be concerned their input will be ridiculed or dismissed, who provide some of the best ideas. So how can you draw everyone into the discussion at your next meeting? In their book Running a Meeting That Works, Robert Miller and Marilyn Pincus offer the following Do’s and Don’ts for encouraging participation:

DO give credit and thanks where they are due. “You can foster a sense of security and confidence in a meeting by being sure to acknowledge to the group your awareness and appreciation of someone’s idea,” write Miller and Pincus.

DON’T dominate the discussion. Your role is to moderate, not to dominate. Sure, you can offer an idea or two, but otherwise you should concentrate on stimulating discussion, which means asking questions, not offering solutions.

DO let it be known that differences of opinion are welcome, and then treat those differences as discussion points, not springboards for arguments.

DON’T get personal. In other words, address ideas, not personalities. “It’s desirable to accept the wide range of personalities in the room,” write Miller and Pincus, “but quite unacceptable to bring those personalities into the conversation,” as in – “I know you’re shy, Bob, but don’t you have something to offer to this discussion?”

DO let it be known from the outset that you expect everyone’s participation by smiling, making eye contact, asking questions and keeping comments brief.

DO be aware of individual talents and successes to increase participation. “It’s always nice to be recognized for having a skill or knowledge, and a smart leader knows that acknowledging an individual’s expertise is a good way to draw that person into a discussion,” Miller and Pincus write. For instance: “George, you’ve been very successful in selling to the dot-com community. Are we on the right track here? What’s your opinion?”