5 super simple actions that get everyone’s brain in gear at meetings

Derek Robertson.jpg

Derek Robertson , CEO

(Chartered FCIPD, MCMI, MInstLM, NLP Practitioner and Coach) 

Author of The Great Cape Escapade (A Fable about effective meetings)

7 min read



According to Atlassian, ‘most employees attend 62 meetings each month, where half of them are a complete waste of time’.  I know that you and your participants yearn for meetings to be effective and fulfilling experiences. 

In all our meeting effectiveness research we’ve noticed a vital stage before tackling the agenda is missing.  It’s to get each participant’s brain in gear.

What is an effective meeting?

It’s one that achieves its purpose, finishes on time or earlier and has the participants feeling good about the experience.

And it improves the chair person’s personal brand.  If you run meetings with external folks it adds shine to your organisation’s brand too.

Here are five ingredients to make sure your participants are not just physically present at the meeting (in person or virtual) but are in the zone ready to fully participate.

The transition

It’s moving participants mentally from what they were doing to now give their best contributions to achieving the meeting’s purpose.

Everyday life transitions

  • If you’re are as old as me, you’ll remember the phrase “Heads down eyes closed”.  It transitions 8 year olds from play time mayhem to silently listening at story time.
  • How about a sports locker room?  It’s after warm up and the coach now uses their final words to channel everyone’s focus to doing their respective jobs to win the match.

In meetings

It’s from the appointed start time.  You’ll have seen the chair who offers a quick “Welcome everyone” and then dives straight into the agenda.

The effective chair doesn’t.  They invest a few moments to help everyone transition from what they were doing, thinking and behaving to get into the zone to best achieve the meeting’s purpose on time or earlier.

Just think about any normal group of participants:

  • One is out of breath and flustered having rushed to get there on time
  • One is still replaying a difficult disciplinary meeting from earlier in the day
  • One is flushed with a recent success basking in the happy endorphins rushing through their body
  • One is present in the meeting but pre-occupied with their budget meeting that comes afterward.

The 5 ingredients of an Über start

You’ll need to click here to see why we call it an Über start.

#1 Start on time regardless

Unless you have compelling reasons, you should start on time . . . every time.  And you already know why.  It lets everyone know your serious about having a professional meeting, making best use of everyone’s time.  It’s the right thing to do.

#2 Make eye contact with everyone

This is straight out of the presenters’ play book.  Doing it means you connect with everyone and begin to establish rapport.  Remember you’re not giving the hard stare or the lazy eye, just connect with people.

#3 Have all participants speak straight away

Two big reasons here are:

  1. Research tells us that the longer people go in a new environment without speaking, the harder it is for them to make their first contribution.  It’s important for people to hear their own voice in new surroundings.
  2. Participants arrive with other stuff on their minds.  Asking about something that breaks their current mentality helps transition them to focusing on your meeting.

A simple question such as, ‘One thing on your mind as you were coming here’.  You can download plenty more here.

#4 Walk through the agenda

It sounds a bit crazy but it’s worth it.  You’re continuing to help participants make the transition, show how much you are in control of the meeting process and get ready to give their best.  Your participants too will now feel positive about the meeting.

Practical things you do here include:

  • Clearly stating the meeting's purpose
  • Pointing out doing word (share, decide, present, etc.) in each agenda item and its time allocation.  This helps manage their behaviour and heads off any conflict
  • Helping people prepare their contributions by confirming what you will be looking for
  • Getting across the relative priorities of each agenda item
  • Mapping out clearly what you are to achieve together and the timescales.  That helps people stay on point.

It all takes perhaps 90 seconds.  It’s a great investment.

#5 Remind participants of one important rule and role

To have consistently effective meetings you ought to have set of positive meeting behaviours.  To keep them in mind, it’s worth reminding the group about one (or maybe two) at the start of each meeting.

Your takeaways

  • These five straight forward practical stages in your Über start work just because you do them.
  • Keep reminding yourself of the prize.  The prize of you, your participants and your business.
  • Remember too that with meetings, “You’re pushing against an open door” because everyone longs for them to be a good use of their time.

Final thought

Cure the effective meeting disease in your organisation and you will be a boardroom hero.  Decide to do it one meeting at a time.  Perhaps use our SÜPERB Meetings programmes to help you?

So why Mary Poppins?

She tells us, “Well begun is half done.”

Your next action

Check out the following sources and downloads:

  1. A meetings calculator to work out the potential for ROI at your organisation.
  2. Check out our Meetings book here
  3. Download our Ultimate Guide to Meetings
  4. Download our 20 transition activities handout