Take the time to open your meeting properly. How meetings are opened portend how they proceed. A strong and clear opening sets the meeting up for success, while a weak opening invites disengagement, confusion, and disorder. As a meeting leader, it is essential that you graciously take control right from the start. People need to feel that they are in competent hands and that the leader is going to use their time well. It is your job as meeting leader to set the tone up front.
Meeting openings need to include:
Opening Welcome: Officially open the meeting. Thank the participants for attending.
Goals and objectives: Clearly state the meeting’s purpose, goals, and objectives. All too often people skip this critical piece which leaves participants either guessing at the objectives or bringing their own agenda to bear. Everybody needs to be super clear about the why and the what of this meeting!
Motivate and Inspire: After you express the goal, take a moment to motivate the people in the room to participate. You chose them for a reason. Let them know you need their expertise, input, and wisdom to accomplish the goal. Let them know right from the start that they are the right people needed to accomplish the goal. Get them energized to participate.
Introductions: Make sure people know who is “at the table.” Unless you are in a regular standing meeting or a team meeting, take the time to have participants introduce themselves. This not only helps build trust and relationships but also helps participants discover the expertise in the room.
Introduce Ground Rules: If you aren’t using ground rules, shame on you. (See #7 below!) Ground Rules (or meeting norms, participation agreements, etc.) are a critical element for effective meetings. Make sure everyone is clear about the ground rules.
Review the Agenda: Take a moment to review the agenda and disclose the road map for the meeting. This will help participants stay on topic and focused.
Icebreakers: Icebreakers are used when leaders need to energize and warm up participants. Like every conversation on the agenda, icebreakers need to have a purpose. The icebreaker should support accomplishing the meeting’s objective. For example, if you need to build relationship and trust among the group, then choose an icebreaker that is focused on that. But if your meeting is about problem-solving or brainstorming, then choose an icebreaker that gets the creative juices flowing.
Bottom line: icebreakers with no purpose will fall flat and may alienate participants right from the start.