It can seem like you can spend more time in meetings talking about what needs to be done rather than actually getting things done. But meetings are a necessary part of collaboration and communication when managing projects, and stakeholders need to be engaged to make meetings fruitful. Here are five strategies to help increase stakeholder engagement.

1. Keep meetings to under 50 minutes

This does not mean all meetings need to be 50 minutes, they can be shorter – and should be whenever possible to allow stakeholders to maximize their time. When scheduling a meeting, build in the assumption that all stakeholders have more work to do and less time available to sit in meetings. You may find many stakeholders are pleasantly surprised to see a meeting invite for 45, 30, or 20 minutes compared to a one-hour meeting. Also, make sure to send out an agenda well in advance that tells stakeholders the purpose of the meeting and what will be covered. This helps them to come fully prepared and reduces wasted time.

2. Only invite stakeholders who need to be in attendance

Regardless of how large a project may be, not every meeting requires that all stakeholders be in attendance. There are times when it makes sense to invite only those directly impacted stakeholders and to send out minutes of the meeting to other stakeholders to keep them in the loop. By doing this, you are showing respect for all the stakeholders’ time, allowing them to keep moving things along, but still keeping them up to date with new developments. This also helps create a higher degree of engagement when their attendance is requested in a meeting.

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3. Open each meeting with a fun or interesting activity

Many people walk into a meeting anticipating they will be bored to some extent. You can make meetings interesting for stakeholders by opening with a fun, or at least an interesting, activity that involves their participation in some way. Some activities may include asking everyone to come prepared to share the funniest thing that ever happened to them, or the most amazing act of kindness they can find in the news, then vote on the best story and hand out a small prize. (For other activity examples, see: 6 ideas for activities that strengthen team communication and cooperation.)

By opening a meeting this way it helps stakeholders establish and maintain a connection to each other that does not feel like work and further bonds team members to each other and the project goals. Opening meetings with an activity can create a sense of excitement or interest around future meetings. If stakeholders are able to derive a sense of enjoyment, humor, or a higher degree of interest, they are likely to be more engaged in current and future meetings.

4. Take a page out of scrum meetings

Create the need for movement and focus by holding a portion of the meeting in a standing position. When stakeholders are standing, they are less likely to ramble on, and more likely to become laser focused on key points. The reason I say only ‘a portion’ is simple: if a meeting is 50 minutes, then standing for this length of time is counterproductive, and will cause stakeholders to become frustrated and lose interest. Encourage standing for no more than 15 minutes. Standing encourages blood flow and circulation to the body, helps wake people up, increases metabolism, and helps increase productivity and engagement.

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5. Less talking, more listening

As a project manager you are a facilitator, as such, it makes sense to guide and encourage discussion between stakeholders, rather than having them spend an entire meeting listening to you talk. Various stakeholders will be the subject matter experts – after all, this is why they have been invited to a meeting. Their attendance is not enough: their participation, knowledge and experience is vital to the success of the meeting and the project. Stakeholders should not need to spend the full duration of a meeting just listening. It will likely result in them wondering why their attendance was necessary if they did not actually participate in discussions. When stakeholders are interacting, discussing issues, sharing ideas, and finding solutions, then they are likely to be more engaged and vested in the outcomes.

In your next meeting, use these strategies to increase stakeholder engagement and productivity.

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