How many times have you facilitated a meeting where you shared all of the information that needed to be covered, only to have people messaging, emailing or calling with questions about the content an hour, a day or a week later? Frustrating right? Well, let's just stop for a minute and think about how much information is shared with the average worker. An SC Magazine article reports that workers are attending an average of 62 meetings per month and receiving an average of 304 emails per week. This doesn't include phones calls, instant messages, people popping their heads in office doorways, and the enormous amount of information shared with us via social media and traditional media. The term "information overload" is an understatement.

So how do you achieve the goals of your next meeting, in a meaningful way, that will stick with your audience? Let's examine 6 quick tips.

1. Start With Something Fun!

This may sound silly to some, but think about where your attendees just came from. Their mind is likely still thinking about the last email they read, or their to-do list, or what else is on their calendar for the day. You need to do something that will capture their attention in a positive way. A five minute exercise to get them out of their own mind can work wonders for both the attentiveness and the mood of the room. There are several sites on the internet that offer team building exercises. One of my favorites is: www.mindtools.com.

2. Define Your Why

Now that you have their attention, explain the purpose of the meeting and what the goal is for the time that you're together. More importantly, share the reason why you've chosen them to attend your meeting. And be sure you've actually chosen them for a reason, and you didn't just send out a blanket invitation. There should be a clear purpose behind an employee's attendance at a meeting. Call out the skills they're bringing to the table which make it important for them to be present and engaged.

3. Discuss Actions Up Front

If you've invited the correct people, the likelihood of accomplishing the goal and moving your process or project forward is highly likely. In that event, the attendees are going to have actions to complete and/or follow up on. If you are already aware of some of the needs, state that up front. If attendees think they may be on the hook to deliver an action or follow up on a task, they will have greater motivation to remain engaged and to capture any necessary notes and to ask meaningful questions. The statement can be as simple as, "There are several more tasks ahead of this team in the coming weeks and I fully expect each member of the team to play an active role. We'll discuss these items in more detail as we work through the content today."

4. Make the Session Interactive

You've started the meeting off on a positive note with a quick, easy and fun exercise. Now you need to avoid standing at the front of the room with a PowerPoint presentation, droning on and on about what you need from this team. Keep the momentum going by planning a couple more activities that engage the group and gives them a sense of ownership in the progress that will be made. The difference between these and the kick off activity, is that these activities should be structured in such a way that they actually accomplish some of the goals of the meeting. Some activities to consider based upon your meeting goals include: brainstorming, decision making, prioritizing, or vision casting. Our team calls this LUCKSTORMING and our activities are based upon years of experience with various business processes and platforms that we consult on daily.

5. Vary the Medium of Communication

PhoneAll too often meetings are consumed with talk, talk and more talk. And you have the over-sharers and the timid ones, who naturally are always in contrast with one another. The shy ones don't talk because the talkers won't stop talking. Or there's a situation between leadership and subordinates, or you name it… the group doesn’t feel like they're standing on equal ground. Help participants overcome this by varying the ways in which they are "talking", "listening" and "responding". Consider asking attendees to write their thoughts down and post them for others to read, draw out their ideas, walk up to a board and vote on a series of items, or if you want to get really crazy, role play current state processes, or act out a future state scenario so that others can see a visual representation of the idea. By giving a variety of methods throughout the meeting, you're more likely to hear what the quiet person has to say, and to temper the ones who tend to be dominant talkers.

6. Allow For Structured Responses

We just discussed various methods for attendees to share their thoughts or ideas without feeling overwhelmed or put on the spot. Let's not ruin it by allowing people to comment at will on the ideas being shared. Try to provide structure around responses, giving everyone an equal opportunity to express agreement or concerns or to ask questions. There are many ways to do this. A couple of my favorites are Round Robin Responses and Three Fingers. Using Round Robin, each person gets one minute at the close of any given exercise to ask questions or provide feedback. If something warrants deeper discussion, put it in the parking lot until everyone has had an opportunity to speak. Then, time permitting, you can circle back to the parked items for further debate. With Three Fingers, you simply ask folks to respond by holding up one finger if they agree, two fingers if they disagree and three fingers if they have a question. Address those with three fingers first, as answering their question may allow them to then agree or disagree. Address those in disagreement next to see if you can respond to their concerns.

While these six tips don't guarantee 100% participation or active listeners, they'll likely take you at least one step closer. To continue refining your process, ask for feedback at the close of each session. Learn about what the team enjoyed and found useful, versus what they found confusing or uncomfortable. Gathering their feedback and putting it to good use in your next meeting continues to demonstrate to them that you value their time and their input.

Do you have some tried and true methods to ensure active listening is occurring? If so, please share them here, we love to put new ideas to work!