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The Ticket to Higher Participation

The major question is not whether to use participation, but HOW.” – Laura Spencer

If you partner with, lead or manage a community initiative – we think it’s a safe bet that you attend your fair share of meetings. Meetings are how most initiatives get things done. Yet they can also be where nothing gets done because people aren’t engaged or committed.  Sometimes what is missing in these meetings is a lack of active, interesting and meaningful participation activities. 


Some of the strongest participation frustrations we hear are:

“The right people aren’t at the table.”

“People aren’t coming to meetings anymore.”

“It’s always the same people and we struggle with engagement.”

“People don’t really share their ideas.”

They’ve never come to a meeting but we need their perspective.”


So what’s the ticket to higher participation?

We don’t mean to be glib…but the fact is that increasing opportunities to participate will improve participation.

Increasing opportunities to participate will improve participation.

We’re not talking about having more meetings – definitely not if participation tends to be low. We are talking about creating more and different opportunities for interaction within a meeting.

The participation issue isn’t a people problem but a meeting design problem. And the consequences are interconnected with buy-in, commitment, contribution and…results! Look for solutions in meeting design and meeting techniques to foster interaction as one important way to have your work together make a difference.

Think back to the meetings you have attended over the last couple of months and ask yourself: Did everyone speak? Did you feel heard? Was anyone showing signs of disengagement (on their phone, side chatter)? Have there been gaps in attendance from key players? Did you look forward to these meetings? Was the agenda full of updates and information or did it include a chance to be innovative and productive together?


When it comes to participatory meeting techniques, we draw from our toolbox full of creative processes such as:

  • Collage or play-dough exercises used to create vision statements.
  • Props and toys; for example, we often use blocks to discuss the difference between collaboration and cooperation.
  • Flip Charts (or fancy graphic recording) to keep people’s visual attention and open up the right/creative side of the brain.
  • Bouncy balls and talking sticks to signal when it is someone else’s turn to share/talk during an agenda. They also keep people awake and on their toes, too.
  • Sticky notes: writing, sharing and sticking!
  • Strategic plan scavenger hunts around town – seriously out of the box!
  • Champagne toasts to create and commit to mission statements.
  • Comedy clips or cartoons to bring issues alive in an indirect way.
  • Pairs, triads and every combination of small groups possible.

There are many, many, many more. Some are simple tweaks to what you are already likely doing, some push the boundaries. Some get participants out of their comfort zone…some push US out of our comfort zone.

Click here to receive our (free) pre-meeting checklist of 15 Actions to Make Meetings More Meaningful! 


Designing meeting interactions can be about fun, but fun is different for everyone. It’s important to know your group and know your own leadership style so that you can pick the techniques that will 1) work for you and 2) STRETCH but not hinder engagement. A bit of discomfort and a bit of a stretch is good, but if you push too far, people may put up walls that no creative process is going to get through.

With every process we try to bring humour, humility and let our personality quirks shine. We certainly admit to when an activity “bombs” or doesn’t quite land which brings an authenticity that keeps things light and real (and boy does that help when dealing with complex issues).

Creativity, fun and interaction are not all about gimmicks, games, role plays and props, they are also about how people approach one another and work together. Your ticket to higher participation, maximized engagement, and expanded collective thinking is a meaningful meeting.

A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinctions between his work and his play, his labour and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing and leaves others to determine whether he is working and playing.”

L.P. Jacks, Education Through Recreation.

At the End of the Day

The benefits of embedding more interaction into your meetings are significant and can lead to meeting outcomes that transform meetings into a movement.

  • Extraordinary fuller dialogue that captures many voices
  • Engaged WHOLE brain activity (left and right brain thinking)
  • A spirit of play – which is key to creating a meeting culture of innovation
  • Increased shared experience and co-created meaning
  • Less daunting complexity and more creative solutions
  • A spirit of celebration and “can do” attitudes
  • Enriched relationships (often resulting in shared leadership/ownership)
  • Expanded and reframed challenges
  • A new kind of commitment that moves things forward and gets things done!

Boost group interaction, add a dash of fun and grab your ticket to higher participation.



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