Silent Participants

People are quiet in meetings for different reasons. Some people are reticent by nature. Others are fearful that their opinions will be ridiculed and dismissed. Some are not comfortable speaking if they don't know for sure who everyone is. Some don't care.

It's your role as a group leader to try to engage everyone.

How to get individuals to talk and contribute

Some strategies the group leader or chair can take to engage everyone include:

  1. Ask people to create name tents for themselves (writing on front and back). We often assume that everyone knows who the other members or participants are and it is often not so.

  2. Ask a question early in the meeting that most people can respond to and the go round robin asking for responses. (E.g., at a planning retreat, ask, "What is one thing you accomplished this past year in which you take a great deal of satisfaction.")

  3. Give people five minutes to write down their ideas or thoughts in a silent brainstorm before opening the general discussion.

  4. Break into small groups or pairs to discuss aspects of an issue before opening the general discussion. Be sure the questions or issue to be discussed is clear. Ask the groups what they came up with.

  5. For a special meeting such as a planning retreat, create a timeline on the wall of the department or committee or office and ask people to initial when they started with the organization and what was happening in the world at the time. This gives new people a sense of the history of the group, allows the veterans of the group to be recognized, and allows even very shy people to participate by getting up and writing on the timeline.

  6. For perennially quiet participants, the chair may discuss with the individual in private the importance of everyone's ideas, saying something like, "I noticed you haven't said much about the move, but I'd like to hear what you think about it." Then encourage the person to share those thoughts within the meeting. You can prompt a response at the next meeting by saying, "Leslie has an interesting idea for expediting the move. Will you explain it Leslie?" This may "break the sound barrier" for certain shy people.

  7. By visually recording all the ideas in a brainstorming session, the chair or facilitator emphasizes the importance of everyone's contributions and helps stimulate participation. Holding critiquing of the brainstormed ideas until all have been listed can also be a powerful motivator for reticent participants.