Meeting Equality: How To Make Sure Everyone Gets Heard

When holding a meeting, you want all of the participants to feel welcomed and heard. Not only does this help everyone give their opinions and ideas, it grows the connections between coworkers and colleagues. ​

However, it may seem hard to make sure everyone is heard, especially in meetings with a larger number of people, or a meeting with introverted or remote participants.

If you’re ready to make sure everyone is heard during your meetings, here are six tips that will help.

1. Have fewer meetings or make them smaller.

It’s harder to hear 50 voices in a one hour meeting than it is to hear 10. By organizing smaller meetings, you can give more people the opportunity to speak without adding time to the meeting or cutting anyone off.

This is also an effective move to make if you have introverted or shy employees. They may feel more comfortable speaking in front of a smaller group of participants than in a larger group.

If you have a bigger team and still want to set up smaller gatherings -- try to keep from holding too many meetings. According to a recent survey from wireless presentation company Barco, 59 percent of employees feel less engaged when they have to attend multiple meetings every week.

2. Communicate ahead of time.

Let your team know the meeting agenda ahead of time to encourage thoughts and ideas to flow before you all talk together. It doesn’t have to be a detailed agenda, but just an email or sheet of paper giving a general idea of what you want to discuss in the meeting. Not only does this give them time to develop their own talking points, but it also keeps you from having to fill awkward silences or interrupt a long monologue by someone who keeps talking.

In the agenda, it’s also a good idea to add in a blurb saying you’d like for everyone to participate and that you want to make sure no view goes unexpressed. That way, you’re team understands that this meeting isn’t just for you to speak, but for all of the team to give their input as well.

Curt Cronin, the CEO of Ridgeline Partners and a former Navy SEAL, says giving people an agenda to think about ahead of time ensures everyone aligns around a common focus: “This transforms everyone at the meeting from a group of free agents into a team united around a shared set of values and goals.”

3. Ask for feedback.

One of the best ways to communicate is to ask open-ended questions. Request feedback on the latest project, role, or product. Have a discussion about what you’re looking for or what your participants need to accomplish during a task or project. This increases the odds that more people will voice their opinion and not stay silent.

One effective way to do this is by asking a question and going “around the table” or having everyone chime in one by one until everyone has been heard. Brian Scudamore, the founder and CEO of O2E Brands, holds daily meetings with a segment called “missing systems and opportunities.” He says, “Missing systems and opportunities is a chance for anyone to mention things that are broken, processes that could be better, and ask questions of managers and directors if necessary. It’s totally open -- we’ve had call center agents ask our COO tough questions, for example. The family-dinner style format keeps us all accountable.”

4. Use the right tools.

If you hold meetings virtually, or have remote team members, use tools that can allow each person the option to participate at their convenience. Using a tool like GoWall or GoToMeeting gives your remote participants the ability to “speak up” without feeling hidden behind their phones or computers.

GoWall gives everyone access to a digital note wall where people can post ideas. Any employee can like or comment on a note in real time, letting you see if they’re participating, even if they aren’t speaking. This can be done anonymously, so attendees can feel more confident in voicing their opinions without judgement.

GoToMeeting not only allows your remote workers the opportunity to chat while on the go or at home. This channel also uses business chat capabilities to talk before and after your meetings -- so you can collaborate without the formality of setting up a meeting every single time.

Using these tools allows everyone the opportunity to speak up, collaborate, and chime in at their convenience.

5. Assign roles.

This may be a bit easier when you have a smaller meeting, but assigning roles is another solid way to make sure everyone is heard. You can assign a role to each attendee for each topic or subject you have in the agenda.

For example, one person can be the main speaker while discussing the first item on the agenda. Another person can chime in during the next. While you can still ask for input from any attendee at any time, assigning roles to specific topics ensures that a greater percentage of participants get a chance to speak.

6. Ask for no interruptions.

At the beginning of the meeting, it can be beneficial to let everyone know that it’s vital to give every single team member the opportunity to speak. This means that if someone is talking -- no one should interrupt them. This also helps avoid issues like “Hepeating.”

While it’s okay to allow your participants to express their views after hearing others speak, but interrupting may make people uncomfortable. This may even cause people who don’t like confrontation to shut down and not want to speak up in the future.

Making your participants feel heard and appreciated is a great benefit to them and the company. If you’re looking to increase engagement in your meetings, these six tips are a great start.