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Inspire peak performance with meetings that are energizing and creative

By Aarti Shah

RISMEDIA, Nov. 21, 2007 Innovative companiesaren’t shy about communicating in new ways, such as using instant messaging, BlackBerry pings and even social networks. Yet when it comes to the standard office meeting, even progressive companies find themselves stuck in an old rut.

You can blame repetitive managers or the unfocused agendas, but the word meeting has become code for “time waster.” But despite the bad rap, getting the team together can-and should-be an energizing and motivating effort. The key, experts suggest, is more creativity, but even this is must be done carefully.

For instance, the word “icebreaker” has itself become almost as dreaded as the meeting itself. Yet there are some icebreakers that can set the tone for a motivational meeting that aren’t awkward or embarrassing, says David Greenberg, a professional presentation coach and author of How to Conduct Incredibly Productive Meetings and Teambuilding Games and Icebreakers.

When choosing icebreakers managers should consider how well team members know each other. Some crowd-pleasing icebreakers include having individuals in the group reveal an interesting fact, such as the role he or she played in a middle-school theatre production, or the number of siblings they have.

“The more you know about people beyond work, the more inclined you are to like them and want to spend time with them,” Greenberg advises.

Managers also shouldn’t shy away from playing games to get staff to participate in meetings. For instance, give playing cards to participants when they contribute, and at the end of the meeting give a simple prize to the person with the best hand, Greenberg suggests.

And lose the PowerPoint. The numbing lull of bland, text-laden templates have been blamed for everything from the Challenger disaster to the modern-day siesta. “Allow conversations to take place instead of lectures,” Greenberg adds.

Charlie Johnson, principal at Creativity Engineering, a company that trains clients to use improv during presentations, suggests managers give ho-hum meetings an added twist.

But go beyond the obvious surprises, like holding the meeting outside or setting up the seats differently, and do something more creative. For instance, Johnson suggests an improv game where someone tells three short anecdotes, with two being true and one being made up. The other participants then guess which of the stories is false.

And make sure you mix up these games to keep them fresh.

“Have a person each time be responsible for making the meeting more interesting,” he adds. “It forces you to be more creative.” For instance, the selected person could bring a show-and-tell item representing a department, or try to stump participants with a riddle.

It’s also crucial to keep the mood of the meeting positive.

“Often times people get into these meetings and they’re so used to blocking people. We really try to focus on the phase ‘Yes, and …,'” he adds.

But others say an overly positive tone can bore attendees, and what people actually want is spirited debate that honestly resolves issues. Francisco Dao, founder of, advises opting for these candid discussions — even if it makes people squirm at first.

“Really promote conflict above political correctness,” says Dao. “People are so afraid of hurting each other’s feelings that you get into this apology over progress mode.”

Reaching that level of candor isn’t easy, but managers can set the tone. Another surefire way to keep staff motivated is limiting meetings to issues that are actually pressing. “You want people to have the mindset of — ‘they’re calling a meeting, there must be something big going on,’ ” Dao adds.

In this age of telecommuting and dispersed teams, meetings via conference call are on the rise. But Dao advises managers to make an extra effort to keep these engaging. “Everything that is bad about meetings that are face-to-face, are magnified tenfold by a conference call meeting,” he warns. “Meetings are about interaction, and interaction is far more than a voice on a line.”

Keep employees who are joining by teleconference engaged by asking their feedback directly during meetings, and making sure they feel comfortable chiming in — even though they can’t see their teammates.

And of course let participants give their feedback.

“Listen and they will tell you,” Greenberg says. “People are pretty smart, so take advantage of the intelligence of your teammates.”