Will you finish reading this article? Unfortunately, it’s not likely.
The website growth experts at SUMO analyzed 650,000 readers and found only 20% of people reach the end of an online article.
This statistic confirms something that I know is true about me and I bet it’s true about you and every member of your team. Time and energy are precious; thus, we make decisions quickly as to whether or not to engage in anything – be it an article, video, or a meeting.
When you are the leader of a meeting, this reality is frustrating. You need your team engaged. You need their insight and their best energy focused on achieving success. Yet, despite your best efforts, during meetings you grow frustrated as your distracted team answers email with one hand under the conference table.
As the leader, what are you to do?
There is an answer to this conundrum. When you lead a meeting, your strongest weapon in the battle against wandering minds is a great introduction.
How you start a meeting determines the duration and depth of your team’s engagement.
A great introduction to a meeting does three things:
- Gains Attention
- Raises Tension
- Provides Transition
Here is how you can do all three.
When your team walks into a meeting, every person in the room is already juggling more than they can handle. Their brains are busy. Some are already bothered this meeting is happening as it stops them from accomplishing seemingly more important tasks. As the leader, you have a small window to convince your team it is worth their time to stop attending to everything else and to give their sole attention to the topic at hand.
Conventional wisdom says to gain attention with a quote, a surprising fact or statistic, or a story. Indeed, these can be effective at gaining attention, but they will not maintain engagement for long.
To engage your team beyond the start of the meeting, gain attention by marking the start of the meeting with a greeting, quote, fact, or statistic, and then take another step.
We listen to the voice we think will solve our most pressing need. Or as the skilled communicator Andy Stanley puts it, “tension gains attention.”
If we need to advance our career, we listen to the leadership guru. If we need a better relationship, we read the latest book on the topic. If we need to remodel, we turn on HGTV.
Similarly, your team engages when they understand the problem at hand and believe the said problem affects them personally. Knowledge of a problem that affects you as an individual creates tension that causes you to act.
It is your task as the leader to convince your team that the topic at hand is a challenge worth their time and energy.
As you prepare for your meeting, ask the following questions:
- What is the problem or challenge this meeting addresses?
- Does my team sense that this problem or challenge is crucial to their success? If not, how can I help them feel the weight of this issue?
There is a reason every episode of a Netflix show ends with a cliffhanger. Tension keeps us engaged.
Build tension that keeps your team engaged by clearly define the problem and its importance, and then you are ready to transition.
The final element of a good introduction is often short, but necessary.
After you have raised tension there is one final question to answer - what am I asking my team to do in this meeting to move us toward a solution?
Now that you have a defined problem and everyone understands its importance, the team is looking to you as the leader to know what they are to do next. At the end of your introduction, transition the team to the first step in resolving the tension.
Many of our meetings begin without these elements.
A typical meeting or call starts like this, “Ok, um, hi everyone . . . I just . . . before we begin, I just wanted to take a moment and say thank you for being here. I know everyone is busy.
Ah, I think most of you know why we’re here, but I’ll put the agenda on the screen [pause for keystroke to change the slide and the reflexive glance at the screen to make sure the correct slide is now visible].
As you can see, we have a few housekeeping items and then if we have time, we can begin discussing the new check out process on our competitor’s website and then Karen is planning to share about some ideas we have for our own website. Sound good?”
When you hear this, unless you are fully invested in the topic prior to the meeting, your brain will begin to wander. It will remind you that you have more important things to do.
A well-crafted introduction frames the meeting something like this . . .
“Good morning everyone. I’ve invited you here because I have good news!”
“Today our largest competitor implemented a new check out process on their website. It is more user-friendly and efficient than what they had before and you can argue it is a better system than what currently exists on our website.”
“The good news is about one year ago our team developed a similar process. We did not implement it at the time because we recognized that while it has some amazing benefits, it also has a few serious limitations. Our team has developed what we are convinced is an even better process and you are here today for the next 90 minutes to discuss its implementation.”
A Final Note
Your introduction at your next meeting does not need to be long, only 2-3 minutes, but to keep your team engaged it does need to be purposeful.
Work to build an introduction that gains attention, raises tension, and provides transition.
The extra minutes you spend crafting a proper introduction are well worth the gain in participation you will experience.