“A dialogue leads to connection, which leads to trust, which leads to engagement.” Seth Godin
Whether you are conducting a meeting or facilitating a workshop that is face to face or virtual, its success depends upon participant engagement. And participant engagement is dependent on three factors: (1) their sense of psychological safety, (2) their interest and investment in the meeting goal or workshop topic, and (3) their opportunity to be actively involved.
Let’s consider each factor in turn.
- Psychological safety. Participants need to trust that they can openly express their thoughts and concerns. This sense of comfort will come from knowing that they are accepted and respected and that they will not be judged or criticized if they do or say something in error.
A meeting or workshop facilitator can create this environment by:
- welcoming the participants as valued members of the group,
- noting that their experience and expertise will enrich the discussions.
- giving them an opportunity to get to know each other,
- having them establish operating guidelines that emphasize collaboration, openness to new ideas, respectful interactions, and constructive feedback
- interacting with them as equals,
- encouraging them to speak up and actively listening to what they say,
- paying attention to nonverbal cues that indicate discomfort, and
- doing what is necessary to dispel that discomfort.
- Interest and Investment. Participants need to have a clear idea of what’s in it for them, how they will benefit from the outcome of the meeting or workshop. Their engagement will come naturally if the meeting goal or workshop topic provides immediate value, they have an active role, and are invested in the outcome.
A meeting or workshop facilitator can generate the participants’ interest and investment by:
- determining what their interests, needs, and expectations are,
- ensuring that the meeting goal or workshop topic is relevant to them,
- communicating this fact using clear and accessible language,
- involving peers to promote the event who can attest to the value of participating,
- making sure that only the appropriate people are invited to the event,
- creating an agenda designed to accomplish the stated outcome,
- giving them an active role in the proceedings,
- helping them feel invested in the outcome, and
- fulfilling their needs and expectations.
- Involvement. Participants need to feel welcome to contribute to discussions and decisions throughout the meeting or workshop. Their desire to be involved will increase as they see that their input is encouraged, valued, and given serious consideration.
A meeting or workshop facilitator can encourage participant involvement by:
- accommodating their schedules,
- making sure that the event is accessible,
- keeping the focus on the participants,
- creating a sense of community and collaboration,
- planning how to keep the participants involved throughout the event,
- using a variety of novel approaches and participative activities,
- setting up paired and small group discussions,
- ensuring that each participant has an equal opportunity to speak, and
- being considerate of how different personalities are comfortable participating.
It is true that face to face and virtual meetings and workshops differ in terms of the available formats and participative options. However, they can still create participant engagement by helping them to feel psychologically safe, interested, invested, and involved.
Questions: What impact do you feel that participant engagement has on the success of meetings and workshops? What other factors lead to participant engagement besides a feeling of psychological safety, interest, investment, and involvement?
May your learning be sweet- and safe.
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