The point of a business meeting is to have all of the participants put their heads together to develop useful new ideas and solutions. Well, that can’t really happen if your meetings are dominated by a few people who feel they need to talk at length on just about every subject. Shy participants who don’t ever speak up and try to avoid attention keep your meetings from reaching their full potential. If you want your meetings to be truly productive, you need to learn how to redirect the nonstop talkers without losing their support and how to get the shy participants to speak up.
Solve Both Problems at Once with a Simple Request
If you know your team, you know what the problems will be before the meeting even starts. And if you know that, you can use one problem to solve the other. Before the meeting, go to the people who usually try to dominate the meetings for their help. Tell them about your problem getting the quieter participants to contribute and ask them to help get the quiet ones to contribute. You see, the big talkers often act that way because they want attention, and by enlisting their help, you are giving it to them. By making them feel important, you can get them to stop hogging the spotlight voluntarily and solve your shy participant problem for you.
Distract the Loudmouths
You can also try simple distraction. When the loudmouths start trying to dominate the meeting, give them something to keep them too busy to talk. Have them take the minutes for the meeting, go fetch something from another room, deliver messages, and anything else you can come up with. While they are busy, turn to drawing out the shy ones.
Direct the Meeting without Saying a Word
People are hardwired to respond strongly to eye contact and facial expressions. Avoid eye contact with the people who talk too much. By keeping them from receiving even tacit permission to speak, you make them less likely to hijack the meeting. Remember, though, that completely ignoring them sends a strong message of disapproval, which could end up alienating a useful member of your team. At the same time, keep making direct eye contact with the quiet ones, and let your facial expressions silently ask them, “So, what do you think about that?”
Don’t Be Afraid to Interrupt or Ask for Contributions
Sometimes, just being direct works best. When someone keeps on talking at the expense of everyone else, just interrupt them and say that you need to hear from someone else, too. Ask silent participants for contributions directly by asking questions like, “How do you think that will play out?” or “Do you think that’s a workable timetable?” If your quiet participants respond only with short, safe replies, respond with encouragement for them to say more.
Use Sequential Participation
You can sometimes get more equal participation by using a sequential participation meeting process, where you assign everyone a particular time to speak. While this system does have problems, such as not allowing enough exploration of promising ideas, it might be just what you need.
A business meeting’s no good if it’s dominated by just one or two people. With a little practice at these techniques, you can rein in the loudmouths and get the participation of the quiet ones without upsetting or alienating anyone. You’ll hold much more effective meetings as a result.