I frustratedly sat in a leadership class last week.
Lots of work sat on my to do list and my email inbox grew every day I didn’t have access to quiet time to research and respond.
I listened, of course, if nothing else out of societal politeness. Normally I love these things but the week had high potential to be a bear. I craved four hours to read documents and dig out.
Then the trainers used this quote from Peter Block, a well known author and consultant:
Relationship and connectedness are the pre-condition for change. Every meeting, every process, every training program has to get people connected first. Otherwise, the content falls on deaf ears.
I love that.
And I get that too. Don’t you?
How often have you sat in a meeting with a roomful of people you don’t really know and the meeting organizer launches into hard core content. Let’s do this. How do we tackle this? What are the annual goals based on these projections? Solve world hunger.
Okay, maybe not the last one, but it feels like it when you jump into a meeting unconnected.
How do you, as a leader, fix the disconnect?
Here are three tips customized for the size of your audience:
For the “small” meeting (15 or less) – Get Them Talking! If there is a way to connect their personal experience to what the content will be, then you can engage them from the start. And once they share that, then they find unrealized commonalities.
I just had to run a fairly dull training on contracts for sales people. There were 10 people in the room who didn’t know each other. And I had to talk for two hours. UGH! Connectedness was going to be key to keep them awake. So I had them answer three questions: name, what their role was, and a memorable personal contract they signed. I realized that last one might be a bit of a stumper so I led with my own story. I didn’t learn to drive until after I graduated from law school and I bought my first car right before starting at my first job. That little Honda Civic cost me WAY more than it should have because I had no idea how to negotiate a car contract (thanks law school!) and got stuck with a big interest rate. Once they could see the day to day aspect of the content in their own life, the HOPE was they could connect to the learnings.
For the “medium” meeting (15-40ish) – Find A (Quick) Hook! One of my many struggles is frustration at inefficiency. I like to go fast. Answers given quickly. Problems solved expeditiously. Stepping into a meeting that meanders or doesn’t get to the point drives me up the wall. Slow down sister! (This month’s life “app” in Sunday School was patience – talk about a word I needed!)
Even though I can go TOO fast, you will also lose people if you spend a quarter of the meeting on building “connections.” When the room gets bigger, find easier ways to connect folks. Depending on the room structure, you can break folks up into groups. The leadership workshop I attended used the tables where we sat. Each of the six tables of five people discussed an engaging topic for a couple of minutes. Because our meeting was all day, the leader selected a couple of tables to have one person share the story or learning. If your meeting is only two hours, maybe those couple of minutes of connecting people in their proximity will prepare them to engage on content.
For the “large” meeting (conference crowds) – Get Them Writing! I’ve had the privilege of speaking at large conferences. Nothing is trickier than connecting with hundreds of attendees in a ballroom. They may have come to hear you, but they may have come to hear another speaker and they are just biding their time and will “get through” your talk. You have the power to turn that around.
I love to get folks writing. It’s easy when you’re at a conference when there are notepads or sticky notes. But even at most meetings participants come armed with a notebook. Find a way to personalize one aspect of the content and ask participants to write down X. Give them a minute to do it too. If it’s more than 30 minute keynote, you can even have them share a tidbit with their neighbor (don’t ask them to write down their biggest failure!).
At one speech, I had everyone write down one leadership characteristic as well as a person’s name they considered a leader. Then I asked them to rip out the sheet of paper, crumple it up, and bring it to the front to throw away. I wanted everyone to get rid of any preconceived notions they had of what leadership required and come to the next hour with a fresh perspective. The activity only took a couple of minutes and not only did it personalize the topic for them but it also got them up and moving. Long conferences are the worst. If you speak in the middle of the day, have people stand up, stretch, and tell the person sitting behind them their favorite song (or movie or pet or food)… Something to wake folks up and build a new connection.
So the next time you go tackle a meeting, bring connection before content. Whether it’s 5 or 500, you’ll find engagement soars once people feel part of something bigger.