Most meetings are dominated by a few big talkers who have a lot to say about everything. While they can be valuable contributors to your meetings, they can also silence some of your less confident team members. However, the quiet participants might have ideas that could contribute a lot to the meeting as well. To get the most out of your meetings, you need to control the energy of the big talkers without losing their enthusiasm and support, and also encourage the quiet participants to open up. Here’s how to handle the situation.
Ask for Contributions
When you notice that one of your team members is quiet, ask for a contribution by looking at that person and saying something like, “What do you think about that?” or “What results would you expect from this?” This is sometimes all that a quiet participant needs.
Sometimes, however, a quiet participant will respond with a tentative reply or by making only minor, safe points. He or she is just testing the atmosphere of the meeting. Respond positively and encourage the participant to elaborate as needed. Ask probing questions to explore for additional ideas.
Change the Process
If one or more people are dominating the conversation at the expense of others, try switching up the meeting process. You can get a more balanced dialogue with sequential participation, in which everyone has an appointed time to speak, one after another.
Get the Big Talkers to Help
You probably know who the big talkers are, and who is probably going to stay quiet. They act the same way in every meeting. Before your next meeting starts, ask the dominant participants for their help with the quiet ones during the meeting. Talk to them privately and say that you need their help developing some of the shyer members of the team. Ask them to encourage the quieter ones to speak up during the meeting.
You can also deal with the big talkers by giving them minor tasks to keep them busy. Ask them to run errands, take the minutes, distribute materials, deliver messages, and perform any logistical tasks that come up during the meeting.
Send Silent Messages
Make less eye contact with the big talkers. This creates a barrier to them speaking up and hijacking the conversation. Use this approach sparingly, though, and pair it with complimentary requests for help. Completely ignoring someone sends the message that you disapprove of them, which could change a useful team member into an adversary. With the quiet participants, sometimes all you need to do is make direct eye contact, pause, and let your expression ask, “What do you think?”
Discuss Just One point at a Time
Sometimes the more dominant participants will control a meeting by bringing up several points at once. End this practice by requiring participants to bring only one point at a time up for discussion, giving other people a chance to respond afterward. It is difficult for anybody to monopolize the discussion with this technique. The technique will also get more participation out of your quiet participants.
By using these techniques to rein in the big talkers and encourage the quiet participants, you can hold more effective meetings. After all, the point of a business meeting is to get the input of a lot of different people, not just the loudest few.