Pardon the expression, but they say that a leopard cannot change his or her spots. You are not going to convert quiet people into aggressive extroverts who dominate a meeting. However, there are simple steps that you can take to increase the velocity of contributions from quiet people.

Interview Your Participants, Especially Quiet People

It is so important, especially with quiet people, to establish a connection before the meeting. When you speak with participants in advance, transfer ownership of the deliverable by establishing the importance of their contribution. Emphasize the roles in a workshop, especially the protection of participants provided by the facilitator.

Break-out Sessions Draw Out Quiet People

Using break-out sessions gives quiet people permission to speak freely. When they assemble in smaller teams, they are better able to have a conversation with fewer people than needing to speak to a larger group. They discover that they are not a “lone” voice giving them increased confidence to speak on behalf of “our team,” when otherwise they might remain quiet.

Non-verbal Solicitation Helps Quiet People Contribute

Increasing Meeting Contributions from Quiet People

Increasing Meeting Contributions from Quiet People

Actively seek and beseech the input of quiet people with open hands and eye contact. Let quiet people know in advance that you understand their meek nature. Use your eyes and hands to solicit input, especially at critical and appropriate moments. Therefore, you intend to approach quiet people with non-verbal signals to encourage their participation, with the absolute confidence that you will protect them by separating the value of their message from their personality. Emphasize that the facilitator protects the people first and then secures participants’ input because the content gathered serves the people, not the other way around.

Reinforce During Breaks

Constantly remind quiet people (in private) that their input is important and valued. Reinforce your role as protector and ask them if they have avoided making a contribution when, perhaps, they should have spoken. Ask quiet people if there is anything else that you can do, as facilitator, to make it easier for them to provide input.

Other Support for Quiet People

Consider other steps when all else fails. Instead of a spoken round-robin, ask everyone to write down their ideas on Post-It notes or other paper. Therefore, they can contribute their ideas anonymously. Consider asking a confederate (ie, another participant) to encourage participation by specifically referring to the quiet person, stating that they “would like to here Meek’s opinion.” And finally, please add your discoveries and comments below for the benefit of others.

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In conclusion, we dare you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

Facilitation Expert

Terrence Metz, CSM, PSPO, CSPF, is the Managing Director of MG RUSH Facilitation Training and Coaching, the acknowledged leader in structured facilitation training. His FAST Facilitation Best Practices blog features over 300 articles on facilitation skills and tools aimed at helping others lead faster, more productive meetings and workshops that yield higher quality decisions. His clients include Agilists, Scrum teams, program and project managers, senior officers, and the business analyst community among numerous private and public companies and global corporations. As an undergraduate of Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and MBA graduate from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, his professional experience has focused on process improvement and product development. He continually aspires to make it easier for others to succeed.

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4 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your important tips for inclusive participation Terrence. I agree that it is very important to connect before meetings and would encourage participants to consider in advance how they can contribute to the meeting/event. It engages and enables those potential contribuotrs who may not be comfortable participating on the spot, by giving advanced time to prepare and come to meetings with contributions or ideas they may be comfortable bringing forward. ~:)

    • You are so wise to value the importance of socializing and encouragement, privately, in advance of the meeting start. It’s also helpful in advance to provide a list of questions that will be asked during the meeting so that they can prepare responses on their own time. Unfortunately, most meeting managers do not prepare this thoroughly, and tend to “wing it” over the course of a meeting. When fortunate enough to attend a well prepared meeting or workshop, it is like a breath of fresh air, and invigorating to all.

      Thanks again Heather for taking your time and providing your insight.

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