Fun and interesting should be on every meeting facilitator’s goal list.
Comfort should be on the must have list.
If you want meeting participants to stay engaged and feel respected, you need to keep them physically comfortable.
What they need to remain comfortable isn’t a huge mystery. There are some pretty basic factors that you should monitor and manage.
They Need Space
Give them enough space. People don’t want to be crowded. If the meeting is going to last for a while, they want a place to lay out materials in front of them.
They also want a little elbow room. Interpersonal space is a big deal for some people. Don’t put them shoulder to shoulder, if you want them to feel comfortable.
They Need to Move
The butt is the first to go. Once it starts to ache, you’ve got a problem. People quickly lose interest in the meeting, as this physical distraction grabs hold of their attention.
What I like to do to remedy this problem is find reasons to get people up and moving at regular intervals. Maybe I ask someone to help out at a flip chart or pass around some written materials.
The easiest thing to do is to tell people at the start of the meeting that if they aren’t used to sitting and want to get up and lean against the wall, they should. This is particularly important for people who are up and active in their jobs. Nurses, retail associates, and production employees aren’t used to sitting at work. They need to keep moving.
If participants seem unwilling to take you up on your offer, remind them once in a while. Better yet, invite them to stand and stretch every 30 minutes or so.
Restroom Breaks Aren’t Optional
The next breaking point is the bladder. People can only hold it so long, and when time is up, they need to go. If the need is urgent, most will just leave the room on their own. There are others who don’t want to draw attention to themselves and will choose misery for as long as they possibly can. They are waiting for the break.
Two hours is the absolute limit on how long people should sit without taking a bathroom break. Every hour is probably closer to ideal. Better yet, keep your meetings short and focused, and this won’t be an issue.
Hungry Participants Are Distracted Participants
Hunger is another huge distraction. I’m not a fan of feeding people in meetings. I don’t think you want to condition people to attend only for the free food. And for folks working on controlling their weight, they might not appreciate the temptation.
Dealing with this issue is probably best addressed by scheduling the meeting so that it doesn’t go into the time when many people want to eat. I’m an early eater. Around eleven-thirty, my attention almost always turns toward lunch. If you want to keep my attention, get me out of there before my stomach tells me it’s time to go.
Sleepiness Is Hard to Resist
One of the most challenging discomforts is sleepiness. Some of it should be the responsibility of the participants to show up to work rested and ready for action. As a meeting leader, you can’t do much about people who purposely stay up too late or have sleep difficulties which they haven’t been able to resolve.
It’s on you when the sleepiness is brought on by boredom or poor timing on your part. Everyone knows that between one and two o’clock in the afternoon is a tough hour to have a meeting. Lunch is digesting and a call for a nap is strong in many people.
When possible, don’t schedule your meeting for that time. And when you do, be thinking about how to make things as active as possible. This is a great time for an emotional debate on a thorny subject. It’s not a good time for a background presentation.
Not too Hot | Not too Cold
You’re looking for just right.
This one is even harder to get right than dealing with sleepy participants. The problem is that everyone seems to have a different internal thermostat. One person is freezing while the next is sweltering.
Your best bet is to first determine whether or not you are a good judge of what constitutes a reasonable temperature. If generally you are comfortable in most places you go, you likely are. If you’re always cold or hot, you likely aren’t.
The question you need to answer is whether the meeting space is uncomfortably hot or cold for most people, and if it is, do something about it.
What Did I Miss?
Are there other comfort considerations you think a skilled meeting leader should pay attention to? If so, add a comment.