Sometimes I ask people, "What's a large group to you?" Some people say "Six people." Others might say, "Over 500 feels big to me." We all have different comfort levels where group size is concerned, and too often meeting facilitators or managers don't acknowledge that.
The tip I'm going to offer today, "Turn and Talk," makes the group feel a little smaller and brings people's best thinking to the surface.
Before you introduce a topic for discussion (I hope there's discussion happening in your meetings, not just announcements!), give participants a chance to talk in pairs. Let's say your project team is meeting and you're about to discuss whether or not to push a deadline back. Before jumping in, you can say something like, "Turn to the person next to you and talk to them about how this project is going for you. Do you need more time? What do you think is best for our customer?" Give the pairs 5-10 minutes to talk (depending on the complexity of the question), then bring them back together. You can either let people jump in with what they heard and learned, or you can do something more structured like have participants share with the group what they heard from their partner.
"Turn and Talk" Advantages:
- The comments made in the larger group will be more articulate and more scripted
- Everyone will have had a chance to "warm up," to wrap their brains around the issue
- Conversations will happen that might not have otherwise
- Participants who generally talk a lot will have been forced to listen for a few minutes
- Participants who tend to be quieter will have had more airtime
- You will almost certainly have an easier time making a final decision
P.S. I've been doing some form of this technique for years, but stole this term from my son's kindergarten teacher. She used "Turn and Talk" to great effect with five-year olds that were reluctant to interact. If it can happen in that kindergarten class, I'm positive you can have some success with it at work!