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Three questions to resuscitate a dying meeting

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How often do you leave a meeting, bleary eyed, brain flickering between life and death, thinking, “That was a HUGE waste of my time!" These feelings result from a lack of engagement with the discussion, feeling at a loss for what the meeting's intended outcomes were or, quite likely, getting annoyed when a PM hijacks a meeting with a flurry of acronyms. Whatever the reason, when it’s your meeting to facilitate, don’t provoke a similar brain-dead apathy—try asking these three questions and using an “insta-poll” to spark conversation, get everyone engaged and bring a meeting back to life.

It goes something like this: When you’re sensing a lack of engagement ask everyone to write down the following three questions (or modify to suit your needs):

  1. Do you feel you understand what we are trying to achieve?
  2. Do you have clarity about your work and are you confident in its completion?
  3. When you leave here, do you know how the take the first action toward achieving your objectives?

After everyone has written down the three questions, ask them to jot down their response on a scale from one to 10—one being “No, not at all” and 10 being “Yes, absolutely.” After all have written an answer, go through each question and ask everyone who wrote 10 to raise their hands. Work down the scoring ladder, having people raise their hand for each score. When everyone has raised their hand once, revisit the sevens. Stop and strike up a conversation with those who ranked a seven or below. Ask what clarity they need or how they can feel more supported--while making it clear you truly appreciate their honesty.

This tool can get people asking important questions, move a conversation forward and make sure people leave a meeting talking about next steps…instead of how confused they felt.

When you sense fatigue, confusion or a lack of engagement during a meeting, what techniques help you win back the room?

Mark Micheli is Special Projects Editor for Government Executive Media Group. He's the editor of Excellence in Government Online and contributes to GovExec, NextGov and Defense One. Previously, he worked on national security and emergency management issues with the US Treasury Department and the Department of Homeland Security. He's a graduate of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs and studied at Drake University.

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