Meeting Participation Sucks!

While commuting this morning, I was listening to an editorial piece on the concerns about students not raising their hand during class at school. Apparently, a local school has decided to no longer have students raise their hands to offer an answer. They feel there’s an issue with only some students answering. Their solution was a simple one. Teachers will randomly choose students and ask for answers. On the surface it makes sense, I guess. Equal opportunity and all that. Unfortunately, I hate to tell them but it probably won’t work.


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I have experienced this in the business world as well. In meetings and training specifically. The same participants always answering and others rarely. To achieve more participation I would “pick” on an unaware participant to answer my well thought out question to only get a vague, non-specific, answer if any. Not the result I was looking for.

Are we missing the point?

Isn’t there a deeper question that should be asked? For instance… Why don’t students raise their hands in the first place? Or, in my case, why don’t all my sales professionals offer answers when a question is presented to the group?

What’s your answer environment?

Why don’t they participate? Obviously there could be a plethora of answers… like not being prepared for example. While some reasons can’t be controlled some can fortunately.

“There’s no way that if you get participation out of a person can they say you didn’t rock it.” -Jam Master Jay

What I have found is that upon analysis it might not always be the student that’s the issue. Below are my personal insights on a cou0ple of issues that I experienced and the effects they had on my class participation. I am sure many of you have had similar experiences.

Disenfranchised and being ostracized.

Issue 1: I can remember in 6th grade where I started to “get it”. I could not get my hand up fast enough. I was so motivated to show my new found knowledge. However, I started to get passed over and even totally ignored in an effort to give everyone a chance. My motivation deteriorated quickly as did my participation.

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Issue 2: When I gave an answer that the instructor didn’t like, I was made to feel less than. Eventually, I became fearsome of raising my hand.

These two issues are pretty commonplace amazingly. As an instructor it so easy to fall into the traps described above. So what to do?

Participation should be rewarded.

I’m not necessarily talking about throwing candy bars at participants although pretty fun. I’m talking about respecting your participants in general. While it might not make sense to give the answering opportunities to a few only it does make sense to offer ways for them to stay excited. Possibly having them do a training or presentation. A venue for continued success.

No one should feel less than when participating. This is why I have issues with mandatory participation in general. But if used… when someone answers, build up and don’t put down. Make them feel great for participating. If the answer is a little off topic help them bring it back in and congratulate them for a job well done.

Bottom line, how would you want to be treated by an instructor? With just a little more forethought and positive feedback your class participation could go through the roof!

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Chris Lott is a business solutions consultant with over 10 year’s sales management experience including business ownership, product management and marketing. He also owns and contributes to SalesBlog! and totallysales.


2 thoughts on “Meeting Participation Sucks!

  1. At a recent book club, I asked if anyone (14-participants) had any thoughts to share on the chapter we had just read (business book). I was met with silence. (This was a conference call, which makes it even tougher to get participation.) I broke the silence by saying, “Based on the lack of participation I can only assume you feel this book offers us no value and you want to move on to another book.” I was immediately met with several “No, no, the book is great. This chapter…etc.” This question was crafted based on the chapter we had just read and no one picked up on the fact that I was using this tactic. It got the conference call moving.

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