Are Your Meetings Brutal or Beneficial? 7 Ways To Engage Attendees and Lead Meetings People Want to Attend

Dr. Sherene McHenry

It is estimated that the average professional squanders the equivalent of four work days every month in ineffective meetings. That’s 48 wasted work days annually per professional! Additionally, half of all meeting time is frittered away. Think of how much greater the averages would be if only academic settings were calculated. The bottom line is, wasted time is wasted productivity. It’s also a key contributor to squandered engagement.

Have you, like me, ever sat through meetings where people come and go at their leisure, engage in side bar conversations, do unrelated work, and take verbal jabs at each other? I’ve watched leaders at the highest ranks of major universities run totally unproductive, ineffective meetings that exacerbate rather than solve problems. What’s going on in meetings rampant with unprofessional behaviors? Is every attendee a bad hire? Selfish? Boorish? Unprofessional? Of course not. Bad behaviors abound when leaders under-function and fail to take leadership of their team or meeting.

Have you ever attended meetings that start on time, where people are civil and refreshments are served? Sounds much better, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, civility and refreshments weren’t enough to save the meetings of my former dean. At each and every Dean’s Advisory Council meeting, he talked at 12 bright, high functioning directors and department chairs for two hours. A colleague once whispered to me, “When is the advisory part?” Never! While far more polite, his meetings were spectacularly ineffective and frustrating.

Are your meetings effective? What about the meetings of your student leaders? Are attendees engaged? Solutions generated? Do people leave with a clear plan of action? If so, take a bow. You have a priceless skillset. If not, don’t despair. You and your students can learn to lead meetings like a rock star.

1 HAVE AN AGENDA. Distribute a tight, achievable agenda and pertinent information (pros and cons, applicable research, reports…) at least 3 days in advance. Doing so will enable your planners and introverts to prepare and contribute.

2 OWN YOUR MEETING. Project confidence, and wait until you have everyone’s attention before you begin. Otherwise you cue people that it’s ok to be inattentive. In addition, part of owning your meeting is starting and ending on time. Attendees will love you for valuing their time.

3 SET THE TONE. Meetings started with, “I know you all are busy, so I’m going to keep us on task and moving” are much more productive than those that don’t.

4 HALT SIDE CONVERSATIONS. Shut down side conversations with, “I ask that when someone is speaking we give them our full attention.” Then, as needed, interrupt with, “I want everyone to hear what is being said, Sam will you please repeat what you were saying.”

5 STAY ON TASK. Keep your meetings moving and focused with comments such as, “As fascinating as xyz is, let’s get back on task.” “We’ve digressed. Back to the business at hand…” “We’ll be addressing that later, thanks for bringing it up.” “I’d be happy to talk with anyone interested in xyz after the meeting.” “As that deals directly with xyz, let’s put it at the end of the meeting and free up everyone who isn’t involved.”

6 CUT OFF DOMINATORS. When someone drones on, repeats themselves, lectures or becomes aggressive, cut them off with comments such as, “I’m sorry to interrupt, but in the interest of time I’m going to cut you off so others can share as well.” “In two sentences what would you like us to remember?” “What action would you like us to take?” “The group is glazing over.” Redirect the focus away from them with comments such as, “I see several of you nodding.” “You look like you have something to say, Pete.”

7 DRAW OUT INTROVERTS. Introverts rarely if ever push their way into conversations. Harness their insights with comments like “Let’s hear from the rest of you.” “Shirley, you’re very involved, what are your thoughts?” “I see several of you nodding.” “Ron, Nancy or Ryan, what do you all think is the best course of action?” Let them pass and re-enforce their contributions and you’ll tap into wisdom that is otherwise inadvertently wasted.



Dr. Sherene McHenry is a former student affairs professional, turned full professor, turned full-time professional speaker, Dr. Sherene McHenry equips and inspires audiences to increase engagement, enhance effectiveness and diminish frustrations. Contact her at to learn more about how she can empower you, your staff and student leaders to be even more effective on a daily basis.

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