Rather than assume a meeting will be dull and draining, think about how meetings can engage the brain and energize attendees. You don’t need to make big changes to improve engagement in the room. Here are some ideas to energize your meetings and your brain:
- Include and engage people. There’s an old adage that brains work when they’re turned on. Yet, in many meetings, it’s really easy to zone out; your brain is not asked to do anything more than keep your eyes open. In a lot of meetings, people sit as witnesses for 90 percent of the time while watching someone else speak. This might mean building in more questions to presentations, doing fewer update-and-report meetings, or building in more small group discussions to larger meetings. And, as an absolute first step to having more energizing meetings, it’s making sure that there’s really a reason to drag someone into a meeting in the first place if that person doesn’t have a good reason to be there.
- Make people feel valued. There’s a lot of attention now to the little dopamine reactions we get from social acceptance and appreciation – although we mostly hear about it in the context of the number of likes we get on social media. But the same ideas apply to meetings: if people feel valued, it sends a signal to the brain. If you’re running a meeting, it’s not hard to build in specific time to appreciate people. You can also be more mindful about giving credit where it’s due and focusing on the people who are making things happen rather than things are simply happening.
- Let in the light. If you’ve ever sat in a cubicle, conference room or training session that feels like it’s set in a prison, and you come away feeling drained, then you understand how our physical environment affects the way our brain works in meetings. Think about environments where your brain is firing happily. Maybe that’s outside, in a colorful room, or just a space with windows.
- Eliminate brain blockers. A good way to help the brain engage in meeting content is to keep it from sending out SOS signals about issues that are more evolutionary demanding. A good example is food: If you’re in a meeting and you’re hungry, it’s not exactly brain-friendly. Either eat beforehand or make sure there’s food in the meeting – and healthy food at that! Similarly, while sleep may be something that is out of the control of a manager, one can decide not to schedule meetings back-to-back-to-back and thereby physically wear out employees from that grind.
- Find the right introvert/extrovert balance. Depending on how we’re wired, it can be more difficult to be in a meeting if it goes against what makes us feel naturally energized. Asking introverts to present a lot of extroverts to remain calm won’t get the best results from a team. There are formats better suited to each type, but even calling a short break in the middle of a longer meeting can give each personality a chance to regroup and re-energize in the way that feels right, be it chatting with someone or taking a few minutes on one’s own.
- Challenge the brain. Ask people to us their brains in new and different ways. For example, rather than asking incremental questions, prompt people to think of big, bold solutions. If you want to add a minor new feature to a product, think instead about how a bold stroke could re-imagine the whole product.
- Vary the routine. The brain gets good at recycling routines; it puts us on autopilot. How much do we ask from the brain when we’re sitting through a weekly staff meeting that hasn’t changed in a decade? Changing the format of the meeting can take us off autopilot and lead to more energizing meetings. Also, introducing little exercises, prompts and stimuli can lead to different thinking; a common technique is showing people photos or products and asking them to connect those different, outside things to the issues being discussed in the meeting.