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May 24, 2013 by Vanessa Fiorido in PM Best Practices & News

How to Get People to Pay Attention During Meetings

They say that the average person fears public speaking more than death. But there is one thing that’s even worse than public speaking. What comes after. Every project manager knows it—that horrible moment at the end of a meeting, when the question floor is open, yet the room remains silent. You look up from your notes and your heart sinks…all the attendees are sleeping.

As a project manager, every now again—like it or not— you need to hold a meeting. Rather than dread the event, take control of your fear and check out the top 10 ways to get people to pay attention during meetings.

  1. Schedule wisely: unless you’re Justin Bieber serenading a group of teenage girls, nothing you say will win over a crowd before 9am. Check everyone’s calendars and try to find a block of time where people won’t be drifting off or eyeing the clock to go home.
  2. Check the room temperature: too hot and people will fall asleep. Remember your number 1 goal and that’s to take all measures to keep everyone awake!
  3. Make it a laptop free event: it’s just too hard to compete with Facebook or Randy’s NHL Fantasy League standings. Instead, ask one meeting attendant to take notes and get that person to email the notes or share them to everyone else in a Google doc or a project management software system afterward.
  4. Prepare a strong opener: catch people’s attention right away with a fun anecdote, joke, or interesting attention getter. Your opening will set the tone for the meeting, so work early to prove that the meeting will be worth everyone’s time.
  5. Keep it short: after your charming opener, state how long the meeting will be—and never make it over an hour! Knowing a meeting will be short provides a huge sigh of relief to everyone in the room. If you’re feeling adventurous, assign one person to the keep time, and promise that for every minute the meeting goes extra that you will donate a dollar toward catering the next work party.
  6. Provide coffee: not only will it keep everyone awake, but studies say that we transpose the warmth of the drink to the person who provided the hot beverage. By providing coffee alone, your audience is more awake and you’re more warm and likable.
  7. Encourage participation: ask for comments and questions throughout to distance the meeting’s likeness to a boring university lecture.  Plus, if people know beforehand that they are expected to contribute, they are more apt to pay attention during the meeting so they have an idea on how to structure their intelligent input.
  8. Inject humor: even bad jokes are better than no jokes at all. The easiest way to get people’s attention is to not be boring. Neither your professionalism nor your meeting’s integrity will be compromised by a joke or two, so have a bit of fun.
  9. Make eye contact: not with the back wall, but evenly with all the people in the room. It’s easy for your voice to turn into the teacher’s from Charlie Brown if you’re not actively engaging the people at your meeting.
  10. Use visuals: charts and bullet points are much better at commanding attention than most people, so use visuals when you can. Don’t over-rely on them though, a good visual should add to a presentation—not steal the show.

Do you have any tips on how to throw a good meeting? Leave them in the comments below.

Image credit, Flickr, Amarand Agasi

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vanessa-fiorido
Vanessa Fiorido

Vanessa Fiorido watches a lot of YouTube at work. Sometimes she blogs about project management.

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