Meetings

How to Open a Meeting: from Icebreakers to Executive Tactics

A few suggestions to bring people together and get them bought in.

Only 17% of employees actually enjoy the meetings they attend. So, how do we change up everyone’s expectations? Start at the beginning. You can kick things off by easing social tensions with an icebreaker or by capturing the room’s attention like Steve Jobs and other execs. We put together a few examples for each scenario to have you opening meetings with vim and vigor.

 

source: Kaamran Hafeez, The New Yorker

You’ll first want to identify what type of meeting you’re hosting, the amount of time you have, and the personalities you have present. With a lot of higher-ups and a chock-full agenda of serious topics, it’s maybe not the best place to open with “What’s your favorite ice cream?” But, if you are gathering together a fun-loving team of associates that don’t sit together full time, it could be a great opportunity to loosen everyone up with an icebreaker.

When you could use an icebreaker:

  • Trainings, seminars, workshops
  • When new hires join the team
  • Team meetings that involve team members from other offices or remote employees
  • New vendor or client (assuming client would feel comfortable)
  • Quarterly or biannual meetings with vendors or clients (assuming client would feel comfortable)
  • Meetings where the camaraderie is an important element to the success of the meeting (planning meetings, creative brainstorming in large groups)

What you could use as an icebreaker:

Tip! It’s helpful to relate this to the subject matter of the meeting or industry you are in.

  • What’s your favorite _____?
    This could be as simple as pizza, ice cream, or hobby.
  • 2 Truths and a Lie
    Have everyone rattle off 2 truths and 1 lie and have the group guess which one’s the odd one out.
  • Share a unique fact from childhood
    Invite people to share fun facts from their younger days — whether it’s a funny story or a wild accomplishment. These ones usually stick in everyone’s memory for years to come, with laughs.
  • Human Bingo
    Take turns filling in a bingo card of random facts and accomplishments. It takes some time to set up but it’s best to cater this to your audience by coming up with the bingo block content as the meeting host. Examples could include “speaks another language” or “won a state championship.”
  • Describe a memorable career moment
    This encourages people to share something they’re proud of and can sometimes incorporate praise of their peers.
  • What’s your spirit animal?
    Tap into pop culture and ask a slightly ironic question like this one that you might find in recent Tweets or forums.

At chat software provider LivePerson, leaders decided that meetings were a good opportunity for staff members to get to know each other better. Using a technique called “connection before content,” the leader poses a question at the start of a meeting designed to get people out of their comfort zones. For example, “What are your doubts about something you’re working on?” The exercise has been so effective that the company shared the idea with its customers.

Tip! Sometimes you can start with an icebreaker and follow up with an attention-grabbing opener, like one of the executives’ examples below. 

When you could use a direct and/or attention-grabbing opener:

  • Any meeting with multiple senior leadership members
  • A financial, legal, or HR discussion
  • Meetings where a primary product, service, or process is the focus of the meeting

What you could use as a direct and/or attention-grabbing opener:

  • WIIFM?
    Define the “what’s in it for me” for attendees so they are bought in from the beginning.
  • Display your passion

(Steve) Jobs was well known as an excellent presenter, and his skills are on full display in his introductory speech. He uses repetition well. He’s enthusiastic. He’s natural. But most important, he believes what he’s saying, and he’s not afraid to put himself out there. If you don’t get passionate about your idea, no one else will.

  • Determine the outcome
    Sheryl Sandberg credits Mark Zuckerberg with advising her. “We try to be clear about our goal when we sit down for a meeting — are we in the room to make a decision or to have a discussion?” 
  • Get the product right out on the table
    Or, like Sara Blakely of Spanx, on your person. She often starts product focused meetings with a very open fit and evaluation session.

The rest of the meeting is in your hands. Hopefully, by the time you get to the meat, you’ll have created new social bonds and opened everyone’s eyes to the meeting’s potential. Oftentimes, you can tell how your speech is being received by reading body language. Then the question becomes, how do you end a meeting? More to come on that, but you can read here about how Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, ends meetings subtly…with a concert.

And if you want to jazz up the meeting rooms themselves, see what we’re made of.