Does everyone feel welcome at your meetings? Seven ideas for running inclusive meetings.

Meetings. Love them or hate them, they are a feature of working life for many people. For some, a working day can feel like a string of meetings with no time for any actual work. Imagine if aliens landed on earth, what would they think about all these people spending all their working days in rooms, or on video calls, having meetings about meetings?

Have you considered that a meeting might not be the best way to make the decisions you need to, get the inputs you require or to update people on vital information? Alternative approaches might make sure everyone feels included and that their time is respected. But if it must be a meeting, have you thought about how to make sure it is inclusive? Here are seven ideas for enabling input and participationg from everyone:

  1. What is the purpose of the meeting?

When you are deciding to have a meeting, are you using the format of a meeting purely because that’s how you always do things? Think about what the purpose is. Is it to get inputs from people, to make a decision, or to update people on some information? There might be a better way to do this which doesn’t require making a lot of people stop what they are doing to attend the meeting. Every time you are organising a meeting, ask yourself if it could have been an email, a call, collaborative software or another approach? And consider whether you need to introduce things like ‘no meeting days’ so people can concentrate on their work.

2. Who is coming to the meeting and why?

Are you inviting people for the sake of it, for their job title, or to make sure you have a big group of people at your meeting? It might be that you always invite the same people to your meetings, so you could be missing out on valuable perspectives from people you haven’t thought of including before. Think about what the meeting is for and who really needs to be there… and have a really good think about some different people in your organisation who could add a different perspective. Think about the rule of seven: if you are inviting more than seven people, question why that is. It’s likely you will have a better and more focused discussion without gathering a big group of people.

3. How are you preparing attendees for the meeting?

When you invite people to a meeting, do you send an agenda in advance? What about reading materials for people to prepare for the meeting? You need to think about all the different types of people coming to your meeting. Some people will need an agenda in advance, and notes to prepare. This could be because they are the type of person who needs to prepare in advance. Equally, it could be because they have a learning disability, or they are hearing impaired, or that English is not their first language, for example.

4. How does the meeting run so that everyone can speak?

Once the meeting starts, how do you run the meeting to make everyone feel welcome and heard? Do you ask each person to contribute, or do the same people get to speak for the longest in the meeting? Meetings are often talked about as a stage, where some people perform well and others don’t. Think about how fair the contributions in the meeting are, and the fact that you might have people there who do not feel comfortable speaking up, or who get interrupted when they do speak, and others who are comfortable dominating the meeting and holding the floor. This is even more important to think about for video meetings. Read our blog about running successful video meetings.

5. How is information presented?

Do you use slides or notes to present information in the meeting? Have you thought about all of the different types of people and their needs? Some people cannot take in information without pictures and colours, others need a lot of detail. You also need to think about any learning disabilities, visual or hearing impairments, or other factors that affect how people will view the information you present. Don’t forget, some of your team might have disabilities that they have not disclosed. And are you using inclusive language and tone and thinking about everyone? Our Inclusive Communications training course will help you more with this.

6. How do you handle disagreements?

If you’re getting a group of very different people together to discuss something important, there will be disagreements. Isn’t that the point? To get everyone together to meet and discuss those opposing views and make some decisions? Or it could be that you need a meeting to update different teams on something important and those teams will have different reactions to it. So how are you going to handle the discussion and disagreements? How are you going to make sure the conflicts do not intimidate anyone and that everyone feels they get to have their say? This needs thought and consideration, and if you are the meeting organiser you need to keep control of the meeting to ensure it’s a safe place for people to contribute

7. And what happens after the meeting?

And after all that, when you have completed your meeting, what happens next? Do you follow up with notes, actions and ask people for feedback? Or does nothing happen? The reality for most meetings is that there is no follow-up. Think about the fact that some people will not feel comfortable telling you what they think in the meeting. There are people who will need to reflect and come back to you later with their thoughts. To include everyone, make sure there is time and space for everyone to contribute their thoughts, even if that is after the meeting has finished.

Has that got you thinking? For help, thoughts and ideas, talk to us so we can help you reimagine how you run our meetings. Or take our Inclusive Communications training course to develop your skills in effectively interacting with colleagues and encouraging contributions from everyone.


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