When it comes to garnering participation in meetings, there are many pieces to the puzzle, and several different ways to make them fit.

Some pieces will work well to get you started, for example:

  • Let participants know that you want their input.
  • Be clear in the introduction for each topic what input you are looking for.
  • Master using these two questions: What do you think? and Where are you on this issue?

But there is one important piece that I consider to be a game-changer, and that is the idea of calling on people.

This doesn’t mean making a general invitation to the group at the start of the meeting – this means calling on individuals directly, and throughout the meeting.

We tend not to do this because it seems reminiscent of being called on in school and worrying about having the right answer. It carries over into today’s meetings because we don’t want to be uncomfortable or make anyone else uncomfortable.

But this is one place where choosing comfort is not working out.

“Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.”

— Neale Donald Walsch, American author

Being willing to be uncomfortable is what gives you access to leadership and to being engaged in life.

After a workshop on meetings, I received two comments from participants. The first comes from Shawnee who, realizes she has more to contribute:


This is the phrase that has become really important to me: If you are invited or asked to speak, you are obligated to respond.

I am a pretty quiet person who I’ve been told is very hard to read. I spend a lot of time waiting until it is my turn to speak, which hardly ever comes. My boyfriend asks me all the time what I am thinking, and my typical response is, ‘I don’t know.’ I can tell that it really frustrates him and probably a lot of other people as well. I have been making a conscious effort to give my boyfriend a solid response. I’ve also set a goal to speak at least once in every meeting.


The second comment comes from a Todd, a supervisor who has embraced the notion of calling on people:


I have intentionally focused on calling on people strategically and gently—perhaps those who are quiet or seem frustrated…It’s like magic—an awesome tool.


People have valuable input, if you give them a chance to voice it. Of course, it’s also important to remember that people take things personally—so, as Todd suggests, you can do this gently. Just use an inviting tone and be sincere.


Camille, would you like to add to our discussion?

Josh, I know this will impact your group, any thoughts? 

Carmen, you’ve got the most experience in the group. Do you have any concerns about what we are proposing?

Henry, I’d love to hear your thoughts about this.


For the next two weeks, try this:

  • Notice who hasn’t spoken yet in the conversation.
  • Notice people who look like they are eager to ask a question or make a comment.
  • Look for an opportunity in every meeting to call on someone directly and see what happens.