By: Eris Weaver | Date: March 26, 2012 | Categories: Meetings & Facilitation

My last post looked at a variety of methods for closing a meeting.  Now let’s take a look at openings.

As meeting participants arrive, they bring with them the remnants of whatever they were doing or thinking about before they walked in the room. Each person needs to make a shift in focus, and how we set up the physical and mental space can help or hinder that process.

Make sure that the meeting room is easy to find and that all room preparations are finished. Have things like handouts, name tags, presentation materials, etc. all ready to go. Depending upon weather and the distance they have traveled, folks will need a few minutes to put away coats, go to the restroom, pour a cup of coffee, etc.  Build a few minutes for these activities into your game plan, so you don’t start out behind! (See my post on White Space for more on time management.)

I find it handy to have a moderately loud but pleasant bell or chime to call the meeting to order.  Once folks have sat down, there are a variety of opening methods to help focus the group even further.

Denise Green suggests  three-step process.  First is a brief check-in in which attendees share whatever is on their mind and what might be distracting them.  (Once acknowledged, these are easier to let go. ) Step two asks them to ground themselves by focusing on an immediate sensory experience in the room, such as the feeling of their feet on the floor or the sound of the clock. The third step introduces the desired outcomes of the meeting.

Before reviewing the specifics of the agenda, spend a moment focusing on the big picture: why are we having this meeting, and what do we hope to have accomplished by the end of it?

Some groups have a recurring, ritualized beginning and or ending, such as singing a song, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, or a moment of silence. Depending on the purpose of the meeting, another potential opening might be a short icebreaker or “getting to know you” type of game.

None of these openings need to take longer than ten or fifteen minutes.  Even with a packed agenda, spending this time bringing everyone’s awareness and focus into the room will pay off in greater attention and engagement.