People feel uneasy when they don't know what to expect. This can be applied to a meeting context. When a participant doesn't know what to expect from others and what is expected from them – they are likely to feel anxious, and you need to do something about it.
First of all, based on your goal and agenda, you need to figure out who you need in the room, so there is enough brain capacity gathered to make the decisions needed and collect the information wanted, but not too many to make it uncontrollable.
Giving participants a specific role to play will further increase focus and engagement. You may consider the following roles:
First, a facilitator. They guide the discussion, making sure all items of the agenda are addressed, and decisions are made. This is a good role for someone who is developing leadership skills and practicing neutrality. Often as a meeting organizer, you will need to perform this role, but sometimes especially when the conversation is promising to become hard, you may involve an external facilitator.
A scribe, which is another role, is someone who captures notes, key ideas, and decisions and makes them available for the participants afterward. This also gives a way to participate with people who tend to be shy.
A timekeeper – another role – helps the discussion move along efficiently by keeping an eye on the watch and making sure the activities do not exceed the allocated time boxes.
Finally, contributor and subject matter experts. They keep the discussion lively and on track.
An expert is a person invited to share knowledge about a particular subject or domain area. It is important to let people know they are invited as subject matter experts on a particular topic, so they can be prepared to talk about the matters important for the meeting. If your agenda is well structured and the meeting is lengthy, you may consider asking an expert to attend just a part of the meeting, keeping their contribution focused and not having them being bored for the rest of the session.
Once you've got the list, ensure your people are available. And that means they are not on leave, they are not busy on other important projects or assignments, or there are no other big meetings around the same time – you want the people to be present not only physically, but also mentally.
If they don't have the headspace for your topic, you'd rather reschedule the thing anyway – it is not going to be productive.
To select the date and time, you can use standard office tools like calendar planners or web-apps that let people coordinate time slots, such as.Doodle.com. You should never assume people are just available without checking.
Once the meeting is booked, you need to do your best to increase the show-up rate! The best way to do it is to state the goals and agenda upfront and answer one simple question for each attendee: "What is in it for me?".
If your meeting invites answer this question for the target audience, this is the best you can do to get them interested and involved.
Add to it considerations for travel. Plan how people will get to the meeting. If everybody is in the same office – great, just tell them the room number. What if someone is in a different office or in a different city? Make sure you give them enough time to get to the meeting and come back if needed. Think if you need to organise transportation?
If some or all people are joining remotely, make sure a phone line or digital meeting invite ready.
Finally, plan the breaks. If the meeting is longer than an hour, consider making a 5-10 minutes break every 60 to 90 minutes. Make sure the people have space to stretch their legs and get some fresh air and a change of scenery.
After having planned the external logistics, focus on the internal one. If you've got multiple facilitators or speakers, plan the handover. Who is sharing the screen, who is clicking through slides, who presents after whom?
As a home task, think about some meetings you have recently attended. Which meeting roles were involved? How was the logistics organized? What could have been improved?
We'll speak soon. Thank you.