A well-run meeting is a thing of beauty whereas a poorly run meeting makes everyone feel like they have wasted time and energy. One of the best techniques to ensure you have engagement from a broad group of participants is to source topics from the participants themselves. There is a higher likelihood that participants will engage if they feel like they had some part in the creation of the meeting.
This can sound super easy to do but there are some best practices that can help you source the real topics that your meeting participants actually want to discuss. This guide will walk you through a few best practices for sourcing great agenda items from your meeting participants.
As a meeting organizer, you will need to make sure you have time to assemble any necessary supporting materials ahead of the meeting. This means that you need to have a pretty good idea of what topics will be covered. With that in mind, it would be best to make sure you have suggested topics from your participants at least 24 hours before the meeting, with a best case of 48 hours or more.
In order to give participants enough time to brainstorm topics they may want addressed in the meeting, we suggest giving them 24 to 48 hours to submit suggestions. This will give each participant enough time to think about what is top of mind for them to ensure that they are suggesting the most relevant topics for discussion. This means that you will have to get word out to your participants at least a few days ahead of the scheduled meeting time. We recommend shooting for requesting topics a week ahead of the meeting.
This process of sourcing topics from participants can lead to crickets if you don’t provide enough context. Make it easy for your participants to suggest items!
The best way to provide guidance for participants on what to suggest is to first lay out the purpose and the goals of the meeting, and then, within that framework, lay out a few topics you are planning on covering. Once attendees understand the purpose of the meeting and the main topics, they will be better primed to suggest topics that fit in with the goals of the meeting.
As the meeting organizer, you will need to be the ultimate decision maker on what topics you want to discuss in your meeting. Once you have sourced a number of different topics from the meeting participants, you will have to stack rank which topics best fit the goals and objectives of the meeting.
This can be the most difficult part, because if you have done a good job engaging your participants to provide agenda topic ideas, you may find yourself with a long list of ideas! However, you have to remember that most meetings can really only be effective if they are limited to include only three to five major topics. If you are strapped for time, you want the number of topics to be even fewer.
One of the techniques you can use here is to look for opportunities to combine suggested topics that are adjacent. This can be tricky, but you may find some similar themes amongst the suggestions from your meeting participants which you can use to create discussion items that meet the needs of many.
There is nothing more demoralizing than doing work that goes unnoticed, so never be the meeting organizer that doesn’t acknowledge participants that took the time to suggest agenda items ahead of time. At the very least, be sure to send a personal thank you to every participant that suggested a topic.
From there, you basically have three options: keep, discard, or edit. For any suggested agenda item that you are going to keep as a topic, make sure you acknowledge the participant that suggested the item, both ahead of time, and, if you are comfortable with it, in the meeting itself. This is great positive reinforcement because you can make the person who suggested the topic feel like a rock star for adding a great item to your agenda.
For any agenda item that you are doing to discard, we highly recommend that you let the participant who submitted the topic know why you are not including the agenda item in the meeting. It could be that it is too complex of a topic or it could be that you don’t think that item is important for the upcoming meeting. Either way, it is really important that you let the participant know why. Even better would be to suggest some one on one time with the participant to better understand the topic or let the participant know that you may add the topic to a future discussion.
Finally, if you want to slightly edit the topic item submitted, work directly with the participant to hone in on the item to better shape it. You may need additional detail or you may want to reduce the scope, but try to not make major changes to the topic that was suggested, especially without looping in the person that made the suggestion in the first place.
Outside of these best practices, there are also other techniques that you can use to source and rank different topics. Some people create a self service option for their participants where they can submit a topic for every other participant to see and upvote or downvote. This technique can work really well for recurring team meetings where everyone is familiar with the topics that are typically productive to discuss.
Another way to get topics is to frame your ask as an opportunity to suggest questions. This can feel a bit more approachable than a topic because it can be very specific, whereas topics and agenda items can often feel broad in their scope. By sourcing key questions from your participants, you can really understand what is on your mind.
As a meeting organizer, you are responsible for ensuring you are driving inclusive and active participation from your meeting attendees. A great way to create this type of engagement is to source agenda topics from the participants. By leveraging our best practices, you can host a meeting that is sure to be highly engaging.