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Educational Design and Engagement

Educational Design and Engagement

Enriching the student learning experience & supporting development of on campus and online courses.

The happy meetings rainbow

woman holding balloons in front of wall with graffiti

© Lidya Nada (2018) CC0

In his talk at the UCD Gathering event last week, Spencer Turner summed up the universal complaints he’s heard repeatedly throughout his career about meetings and workshops.

I think we’re probably all familiar with problems like focus getting lost and conversations wandering off topic, calendars full of mysterious meetings we’re not sure why we’ve been asked to join, no actions and no follow-up, and the infamous ‘meetings about meetings’ conundrum.

Spencer talked about some of the ways we can design better (more enjoyable!) meetings that are timely, focused, and outcome-oriented.

I’ve summarised this into seven key ideas to create the happy meetings rainbow. I hope it will bring you joy both in the physical and virtual meeting world.


Start by finding out exactly who you need in your meeting. It might sound obvious, but your attendees should know why they’re needed, and should play a key role in achieving the desired outcome. Explain the value of the meeting, so that everyone is clear about what they can offer and what they will gain (and remember to let people know if their attendance is optional or not!)


Devise a clear structure/agenda that you communicate to attendees beforehand, with planned breaks if you’re running a long meeting or workshop (as we all know, endless coffee is the key to success). Lay out clearly what you hope to achieve and stick to the structure as much as possible so you’re more likely to reach the outcome you’ve planned for. If you’re leading, don’t be afraid to direct the group’s focus back to the agenda if (when!) needed.


As tempting as it is to provide sweet treats (chocolate muffins for breakfast, anyone?), your attendees will have more energy for longer if you offer healthy snacks. This is also a good idea when attending remotely. I’m not suggesting you cut out chocolate biccies altogether, but it’s definitely easier to smash the task at hand when you’re not struggling to climb out of a sugar slump! Also, if you can, why not get outdoors to meet? Socially distanced or virtually, it’s a good way to gather your thoughts, have a change of scene, and feel energised!


Rather than hitting the information overload button, use interactive activities to break things up and get people involved. Shorter presentations with breaks for questions and other interactive tasks can help keep everyone engaged. Ice-breakers and short group activities can be done whether you’re in a physical or virtual space. To liven things up, try using quick poll questions, a rapid group task, or a whiteboard for people to draw their ideas!


Working remotely, in different countries and time zones, brings new challenges, so it’s worth giving more thought to the time slot of your meeting. To put it into perspective, that classic 10am catch-up (Scotland time) is 5am in New York (sleep time), 11am in Norway (lunchtime), and 7.30pm in Adelaide (beer time)… so, as I say, give it some extra thought! It’s also worth questioning how long you actually need to achieve the outcome you want. It’s easy to default to 30 minutes or an hour, but could you get what you need in a quick 10-minute brainstorming session? Or email out key information first, then have a short follow-up?


Whether you’re physically in a room together, on Teams, Zoom or another space, it’s important that people know what kind of meeting it will be and what kind of engagement is expected. Ask questions at anytime? Group tasks in breakout rooms? Use the ‘raise hand’ button? Turn your camera on? Being clear at the start sets the tone, puts everyone at ease and leads to better engagement throughout (good vibes only).


One of the biggest complaints about meetings is not knowing what the actions are, who will follow up with the progress, or where they can find any notes. You should summarise clearly at the end, write notes up (nicely!), tell people where they can be found, and share them… then share them and tell people again!

(Image by Lidya Nada (2018) CC0)


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