How To Create An Engaging Meeting

The art of holding people’s attention and not wasting their time.
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Meetings can often feel like a huge time waster, which divides your day into productive and non-productive. You have better things to do than attend or lead a team meeting, right?

Our negative experiences with meetings remind us that they often run longer than expected, are not engaging, and usually contain information that one could deliver via text. Meetings are essential to productivity and employee engagement.

As people come back to the office and others are still working virtually, meetings don’t have to be terrible. If you are hosting a session for your team, whether a daily huddle, weekly gathering, or a quarterly shareholders update, you are responsible for bringing it to life.

Here are a few ways to improve your next one.


Every meeting that you host should have a theme. Themes help you stay creative with mundane topics. A weekly catch-up meeting usually serves the same purpose; communicating information and answering questions. That is pretty dull. Necessary, but annoying. Creating a theme around that weekly meeting will engage your staff and reinvigorate them.

A theme can come in the form of a song, a film, a core value, a service standard, a preference, or one of your passions. Give your meeting a name. Call it the Weekly Surprise, where every week you share a new piece of information. Do something surprising, like placing egg-shells all over the floor in the meeting room to discuss the topic of a “fragile” economy.

Choose your favorite core value and theme every meeting towards building that one value. If Character is significant to you, then close each session with a character analysis. Have your team take a personality test together, and every week allow a team member to share their results. This idea will work well for virtual meetings.

Success Stories: Playlist Meetings

I had a general manager who themed his weekly department head meeting by having each person share a song in their music library. He called them Playlist Meetings. In these meetings, a distinctive song plays at the start, and everyone has to guess whose musical inspiration it portrays. Team members learned more about each other’s music tastes and served as a great ice breaker each week. The term playlist was also a catalyst towards their weekly discussions concerning what was on the playbooks for the next several days.

Food & Music

Coffee is mandatory at face to face meetings. If you are in a virtual meeting, you should have a coffee mug in the frame and e-mail everyone a digital Starbucks gift card. Coffee is relaxing. It stimulates the brain and connects people. If your team doesn’t drink coffee, then you should be serving something at your meeting. Homemade products are better, but if you have to buy pastries, that will suffice. Get to know your team’s preferences. If you have a Vegan employee, make sure you have an option for them. Meetings can stir up emotions or bring about stress due to their nature, but the food is there to tether the group, creating a comfortable atmosphere.

Speaking of which, no one should ever walk into a meeting room in complete silence. It is very awkward. Music should be playing that ties back to your theme. If it is an online meeting, why not have music playing in the background, at a much lower volume. Music helps the brain fire neurons in rhythm. It can jolt your “post-lunch crowd” to an awakened state of mind, making it easier to spark conversations, share ideas, and generate creative solutions to problems.

Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin explains the connection between music and the brain.

Success Stories: Cookies

I led a group of thirty-two department trainers. With every meeting that I scheduled, I made sure there were enough cookies for everyone. These were not ordinary cookies, but ones prepared by our hotel’s bakery utilizing a secret recipe.

I ordered double the amount and provided takeaway tins to share with the rest of their department. Even though it was a department trainer meeting, I would get all of my managers to attend with their trainers just because of the cookies.


Compensate your staff for attending the meeting. If employees are hourly workers, allow them to clock in. If they are on salary, then offer some reward at the meeting. Intrinsic motivation is not as prevalent as you might assume. People need a reason to be there other than the fact that “it is part of their job.” That may be true, but we are living less and less in the world of Mad Men.

Don Draper on Compensation

In many cases, the food will satisfy as the reward, but you can also get creative by handing out prizes for top performers or merely recognizing the team for a successful week.

Success Stories: Paws

At my current organization, we have a service standard about creating a “Positive Work Environment.” Each week at our corporate huddle, we hand out a bear called Paws, which is given from colleague to colleague to showcase who has helped build a positive work environment. Monday meetings can seem like a drab, but it is fun to attend and see who is receiving Paws for living out the standard that week.

Trim the Fat

Do not let your meetings run past an hour. If your session needs to be longer than that, schedule it accordingly and provide a plan to those attending. You will be able to stay on topic.

Sometimes other concerns hijack your meeting; this comes with the natural progression of conversation and brainstorming. Be wary if this happens. It will be best to put a pin in that discussion and inform your team that another meeting will cover that topic. You want to stick to the specified meeting time and, when possible, end earlier. Everyone has a priority list, so respect their time.

Games can be fun at meetings, but they should not be gap-fillers or time-wasters. They should connect to your theme and serve a purpose. Games are great for team building or used as a training tool, but should never feel random. For virtual meetings, games can take a long time, so think about the purpose before you send people on a scavenger hunt in their own homes.

Success Stories: Prologues

At one of my organizations, we called our huddles “prologues” because they provided the background information before our service story began. I designed our prologues to be 3–7 minutes. Each manager had a “prologue” sheet that they had to fill out and deliver the information within that time frame. Any “prologue” under three minutes felt rushed, and anything over seven minutes was wasting time. The “prologue” covered everything they needed to discuss within the huddle, including team member recognition, a service standard, problem areas from the day prior, and ways to improve service. The staff was allowed to ask any questions during the prologue to help create a better service experience for guests.

The team would attend the “prologues” more frequently or check the communication board to determine what information was shared. They knew the plan and the time frame, so we could meet their expectations of communication.

Allow Team Customization

You do not need to be the sole designer of the meeting. Allowing your team to take charge opens the door for creativity. It will help you discover your team’s hidden leaders, forcing them out of the mundane and reengaging them. Giving someone authority over a team meeting is also an incredible empowerment tactic.

Success Stories: Hazard Communications Zombie Huddle

The team members in one of our departments were in charge of their daily huddle, and rather than doing something traditional, they did something extraordinary. Discussing the topic of hazard communications, they turned their design studio into a zombie zone. It was creative, fun, and out of the box. Talk about Theme!

Not all meetings are created equal. Some will have to be last minute, over the phone, or via Skype. You can keep them lively and exciting. Try at least one of these tactics in your next meeting and see if your team dynamic changes. You will be pleasantly surprised.

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