What is the most important thing to do at the start of a meeting?  Go over ground rules? …Boring!  Introduce everyone to each other?  Important, but probably not first.  Review the agenda?  Probably the MOST common error!

So what IS the most effective way to start meetings? Consider this – at the beginning of a meeting, people typically want to know two things.

  • Why am I here?
  • Why should I care?

So to really engage your participants, and set your meeting up for success, put yourself in their place and be sure to answer those two questions before facilitating the rest of the meeting. To help ensure that the two questions are answered well, Leadership Strategies uses the abbreviations I.E.E.I. as a reminder of the things to include in your opening to start a meeting. Learn additional leadership tips from our experts by registering for our webinars.

Inform  –  Excite  –  Empower  –  Involve

Inform – Let the participants know the purpose of the meeting and the product to be produced.

Excite – Explain the benefits of the meeting and why this meeting should be important to them.

Empower – Describe the role they will play or the authority that has been given to them.

Involve – Get them involved immediately through an engagement question that furthers the meeting purpose.

Unfortunately, meeting leaders often start meetings by reviewing the agenda (here’s your agenda guide) and diving straight into the first agenda item. As a result, participants often aren’t sure of the purpose of the meeting, the products to be produced, why the meeting is beneficial, or why the meeting should be important to them. In essence, meetings often begin with an ineffective start that can negatively affect the rest of the meeting.

We believe effective facilitation techniques include the following elements:

  • Start the meeting on time.
  • Your opening words (IEEI).
  • Confirm the agenda.
  • Review the ground rules.
  • Review the parking boards.
  • Make introductions if needed.

The start can take as little as five minutes and as long as forty-five minutes or more depending on the size of the group, the length of the meeting, and the steps you use. You should adjust the list as appropriate for the meetings you lead.

To help you with your opening, we’re going to dig a little deeper into the parts of IEEI.

Inform

We recommend that meeting facilitators use words like the following at the beginning of meetings.

“The purpose of this meeting is…When we are done, we will walk away with…”

What a great way to start a meeting! These words inform everyone of why we are here (purpose) and what we will have when we are done (product).

These words help get everyone on the same page.

Excite

The excite segment is the part of IEEI that is most often overlooked by meeting leaders. The goal of the excite segment is to answer the question, “Why should I care?” Without the excite, you may have people in the room, but are they really at the table?

How do you excite? You excite by making statements that answer the question for them, “What’s in it for me?” Compare these two sample openings. Which one does the better job of exciting?

Excite Sample I

  • Good morning, it’s a pleasure to be here this morning.
  • Let me start by reviewing why we are here.
  • The purpose of this meeting is to fix our hiring process. When we are done we will have three things: a diagram that shows how the new hiring process will work, a list of benefits of the new process, and a step-by-step plan for getting this new process implemented.
  • What is exciting about this? If we are successful, we will walk away with a new hiring process that will help our organization get the right people hired and get them hired quickly.

Excite Sample II

  • Good morning, it’s a pleasure to be here this morning.
  • Let me start by reviewing why we are here.
  • The purpose of this meeting is to fix our hiring process. When we are done we will have three things: a diagram that shows how the new hiring process will work, a list of benefits of the new process, and a step-by-step plan for getting this new process implemented.
  • What is exciting about this? Today you may have people on your staff who don’t have the skills or the attitude you need. As a result, you are having to work much harder to make up for what they aren’t doing. This is your opportunity to put strategies in place to ensure that you get the people you need to get the work done.

The second sample is by far the better excite statement.  It does a better job of describing the benefits to the person.  But did you notice one other thing? Count the number of times the words “you” or “your” show up in the excite statements.

A key secret to getting people excited about participating in a meeting is to explain what is in it for them. And you can help ensure you do this well by including the words “you” or “your” at least four times in the excite portion of the IEEI.

Empower

The goal in empowering participants is to ensure that they are clear on the power they have while in the meeting. When people feel empowered, they tend to be less hesitant to participate in discussion and more willing to offer their thoughts and ideas.

Below are three samples of empowering. Often a single, focused, empowering statement is adequate. Other times you may find that multiple statements are needed to empower a group that is used to being told what to do.

Empower Examples

  • You all were hand-picked by your managers to serve on this hiring process task force because they felt you had the understanding of what is needed and the vision to create something much better than we currently have.
  • The organization is looking to each of you to bring the ideas and the focus that will create a much better higher process.
  • While we are not the final decision makers, the Leadership Team is looking to this team to create a recommendation with the justification needed to bring our hiring process to the next level and beyond.

Involve

After delivering the opening, consider getting the participants immediately involved. Why? The involvement step engages everyone quickly and prepares them for the rest of the meeting.

How do you involve participants early in a meeting? For some teams, it is best to start with a question that is focused on the task at hand. For other teams, it may be more appropriate to start with a question that takes more of a people-focus. Consider the following samples:

Involve Examples

  • Key Topics Approach
    • Think about the meeting purpose.
    • If we are going to accomplish this purpose, there are probably specific topics that you know we need to cover, specific issues that we have to address, or maybe specific ideas that we should discuss.
    • Let’s build the list. If we are going to be successful today, what topics do we need to talk about?
  • Personal Outcomes Approach
    • Let’s assume this meeting was highly successful.
    • Think about the things that resulted, the outcomes that occurred, and the things that would make you say, “This was a great meeting.”
    • Let’s build the list. Given our purpose and products, what are the outcomes you personally would like to see come out of today’s meeting?
  • One-minute Check-in Approach
    • It has been several days since we were all together. Let’s start with each person giving a quick one-minute check-in.
    • We were last together on [date]. Since that time, there probably have been one or more significant events that have occurred in your personal or professional life.
    • Consider the major events that have occurred and pick one that was significant for you. Let’s go around the room. What is a significant event that has happened to you since we were last together?

Using the IEEI approach will help you facilitate highly effective meetings with openings that inform, excite, empower and involve. If you are looking for more facilitation training, contact Leadership Strategies today.

Michael Wilkinson is the CEO of Leadership Strategies – The Facilitation Company, and a much sought after trainer, facilitator and speaker.  He is a Certified Master Facilitator and a Certified Professional Facilitator.  As a past president of the Southeast Association of Facilitators and a board member of the National Institute of Facilitation, Michael is a national leader in the facilitation industry.  You can get more tips from either of Michael’s books, The Secrets of Facilitation, The Executive Guide to Facilitating Strategy or The Secrets to Masterful Meetings.