Why and How to Design Meeting Openers

Warm-up exercises. People are seldom neutral about them. You may love them and find them the most enjoyable aspects of meetings. Or you may recognize their usefulness, but skip them when your agenda grows tight. Or, because you endured silly ones like, ‘What animal did your kindergarten teacher look like?’ you may arrive late to avoid them This article reviews the value of warm-up exercises and offers you best practices to help you design your openers to help your group achieve its meeting goals.

Warm-up exercises are useful for

  • Group building based on experiences
  • Building interpersonal relationships and
  • Creating group focus

And groups who focus do more. But the ultimate reason to include warm-up exercises is because they build trust. Trust creates speed. Trust, also, creates a willingness to take risks that improve group decision-making. Well-designed openers act like speed dating; they allow you to initiate relationships with a lot of people. Trust is more difficult to build in groups than one-on-one, because that’s how you create it, one person at a time. When 20 new people gather, each person needs to build 20 new relationships. Warm-up exercises lay the groundwork for current and future trust. With trust, relationships even grow under pressure; innovation is possible and solid decisions result. When trust exists, you can discuss sensitive materials, i.e., the grenade hiding in your garage, the elephant in the living room or the Holy Grail in your front pocket.

Best Practices

Here are nine tips to design openers that advance your meeting’s goals:

  • Use real work that ties into your meeting’s agenda, i.e., evaluate the last event held. What three components were the strongest features?
  • Involve self-disclosure, so, ‘I can know you a little better.’ Ask people to share their background, experience or beliefs about an agenda issue at hand.
  • Mix ’em up. For long-standing groups, people often claim they “know” everyone. Request they partner with someone with whom they never shared a meal one-on-one.
  • Help people with names, especially groups like boards, who meet infrequently
  • Stick to 15 minute or less
  • Start on time. When people arrive late, they notice and self-correct.
  • Avoid cute, focus on relevant and meaningful
  • For groups larger than seven, ask people to share one-on-one rather than with everyone
  • The more challenging the hour of day (i.e., late in the afternoon) the more desirable to include a physical aspect. Ask people to stand and move to a new partner or to stand to jot answers on a newsprint, etc.

At your meetings, use your openers to build your team, create innovative solutions, speed up your work and to achieve your goals.

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