The Critical First 5 Minutes: How to Start Your Meeting Off in the Right Direction

Whether you are a comedian, a football coach, or an executive in the boardroom—whatever kind of meeting you're are holding—the first five minutes are critical. You can capture the listener’s attention for the long haul or send them off into daydream land in an instant. (No pressure!)

So, what’s a meeting organizer to do—and not do?

If you don’t want people playing with their smartphones, looking at their watches, doodling on scratch paper and otherwise not listening to a word you say, set the tone early, start out with a bang and engage them from the get go. Here’s how:

1. Give everyone a heads up. Have a plan for your meeting and send it out in advance. You’ll drive higher engagement if people have some time to think about your objectives in the meeting before they sit at the table.

2. Always start on time. Don’t punish the rest of the room because one or two—or a few people—are late. It’s not fair to the early-comers, and you’ll lose them before you even get going. Remember, everyone’s time is prized and if you start late you could breed resentment as your group dreads the spillover’s impact into their jam-packed schedules. Indeed, they are less likely to engage in conversation just to keep the meeting running on time.

3. Launch out with an impressive stat or a pithy quote. It works for speeches. It works for articles. And it works in meetings. Just make sure the stat or quote is relevant to the meeting your holding so it sparks ideas and conversation rather than taking you on a time-wasting rabbit trail.

4. Tell an anecdote. Much like a statistic or quote, stories engage people. Whether it’s laughable or shocking, telling a story that pertains to the topic of your meeting demands attention.

5. Start on a positive note. If you roll out with negativity, bad reports, correction and the like, you’re setting the wrong tone and people will zone out or be too nervous about the shoe dropping on their toes to fully engage.

6. Watch your expressions. If you come in angry, upset, look tired or send the wrong non-verbal cues, you are going to cover the room with a bad vibe. Be sure to come in upbeat an and positive, even if you have difficult news to share. Watch your body language and expressions. They speak volumes.

7. Be real. Rather than reading your meeting notes in a robotic fashion, connect with the people you are sharing with. Be real. Be you. A conversational tone is more engaging than a formal tone in most settings.

8. Open the door. Early on, let people know you’ll want to hear their feedback on the concepts and ideas discussed after you share them. This will encourage them to pay attention because most people love sharing their opinions—and you need to hear them. 


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