Eight Tips for Managing Meeting Participants

In some meetings we get people who are keen and enthusiastic and love to express their ideas – repeatedly.

It’s always good to get participation and input, we need to make sure that all people are given the opportunity to participate. Below are some ideas (generated by members of the Australasian Facilitators Network) to help manage ‘over-participators’.

1. Reinforce meeting purpose
It is often best to start off by saying what the meeting will achieve, and then ask people what their expectations are. This helps to streamline their thinking around expectations. They may want to challenge what the meeting is about, or amplify some areas of the planned meeting at the beginning.)

2. Clarify expectations
Ensuring that every meeting has a satisfying expectations section: at the beginning of the meeting  a brief discussion in twos or threes about what people expect from the meeting followed by general feedback from that discussion.

This allows people to get things off their chest, and chat to someone else, hear their own voice, clarify their thoughts, recognise that everyone is there with a reason or an agenda or a set of expectations. It also helps to focus the meeting in the direction that it needs to head. Giving people this chance allows some who would be disruptive later to have their say early on.

3. Use ground rules
Set ground-rules at the beginning. Suggest rules such as “everyone participates, no-one dominates”; “be an active listener”; “listen as an ally”. Discuss what these will actually mean within the session prior to commencing. Help the group to adopt these and to take responsibility for applying them.

You could also use something like: “some people find it easy to talk in sessions, and some don’t – so I will be asking those who find it easy to hold back a little to allow others to speak, and those who find it more difficult to make an effort to have their say”. This is a general and non-threatening opening for hearing the more quiet people and giving yourself permission to remind people of this later.

4. Validate
A useful approach to validation is to say “you clearly have some experience in this area, can you give us a specific example of where this has worked for you?” Validate the response. “Thankyou, now I’d like to bring others into this discussion” by asking the group “Now that we’ve heard from “Peter” what do others think of what “Peter” has said or “what other experience have you had that may add to our discussion?”  Then spread the discussion using a variety of facilitation techniques

5. Encourage group discussion
Use pairs or small group discussion.  Give tasks/discussion topics to pairs (“turn to the person next to you and discuss the topic for a few minutes”) and then ask for feedback from each or some pairs. Do the same with groups of 3-4.

6. Problem solve
Use creative problem solving techniques to clarify the problem you are attempting to solve. Then using post-it notes or A4 sheets use ideation strategies such as brainstorming, mind maps, end of story, storytelling, synectics etc with 1 idea on each from the group members placed on the wall. Get group members to sort into categories, evaluate and then select solutions for development and implementation.

7. Make a friend
During the breaks talk with “Peter”, lean more about him, validate his experience then, hear what his feelings are about how the session is progressing and what he thinks of what others are saying. Be a coach and help him to listen and learn.

8. Use a direct response
Deal with the actual issue when it happens. You can make a general statement like “there might be some people who have not yet had a chance to speak”. Then if that doesn’t help the very vocal people or person to be quiet, you could direct a request at that person or people: “please could you hold that comment and see if someone who hasn’t yet commented has something to say”.

Andrew Huffer

Andrew Huffer has over 25 years experience in working with organisations, businesses, managers and communities and at a state, national and international level. He designs and delivers specialist engagement processes, with a focus on facilitating open decision making processes and skill development of clients. He has delivered presentations and workshops at a number of state, national and international conferences.

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