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As a follower of Paul Axtell, I have recently been working my way through some of his articles on the HBR. As Enswarm’s core philosophy of ‘Killing meetings’ is resonating with our growing customer base Axtell’s article on How To Design Meeting People Want To Attend struck a chord with me.

His article describes how meetings people want to attend can be summed up in 6 headings.

  1. Work hard on being present.
  2. Demonstrate empathy.
  3. Set up and manage the conversation.
  4. Leave enough time on every topic to allow broad participation.
  5. Include everyone

After reading the article a number of times I found myself asking  whether this was the best way to hold a meeting.

This article examines each of Axtell’s points in order to uncover whether we can hold meetings even more efficiently than he suggests.

Work Hard On Being Present

Work hard on being present is almost too obvious. When you are in meetings but not present it’s the equivalent of looking at your phone whilst someone is talking to you.

Are you even listening?

The problem with being present in a meeting is it’s easier said than done. At any one meeting we are thinking about Emails we need to send, people waiting on documents, meetings later that week and people to follow up with before we even start being present in the meeting we’re attending.

Unfortunately, being present is no longer as simple as closing the meeting room door. If we look at our working life we are often juggling many tasks at once making steady progress on them all. This actually suits the way our brains work. In this article by Professor Art Kohn he explains that the average attention span of an american adult ranges from 5 to 20 minutes.

Our brains just aren’t capable of being present for long periods of time. This is where Enswarm is a game changer.

Enswarm is present when you are. It provides you with structured virtual meeting that delivers all the relevant information in an easy to understand and easy to filter format. So that you can login, engage and add value in a more natural way.

Demonstrate Empathy

I couldn’t agree more with this point. In the corporate world empathy is generally seen as a soft skill that we co do without. We have all heard stories about the career man or woman who isn’t afraid to tread on a few people on the way to the top.

We are expected to look at these people as the way things should be done. That individuals’ emotions are irrelevant with respect to progress.

In reality it’s not that simple. We cannot expect people to fully express themselves, to get the best ideas, best teams, best leadership or the best results if people do not feel valued. This is where empathy is a hugely underestimated soft skill.

In the words of psychologist Carl Rogers “We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind is one of the most potent forces for change that I know.”

Think about a time when you felt appreciated and respected. Was your performance better or worse?

Manage The Conversation

We have all been in meetings that descend into shouting matches so managing the conversation is vital.

In his article Paul identified the rules for managing conversation as:

  • avoid using technology unless it is pertinent to the topics
  • avoid any distracting behavior — verbal or nonverbal
  • listen and respect people when they’re speaking
  • invite others to speak if their view needs to be heard

Dania Dunlap-Hurden from business2community also speaks about structure for meeting success explaining that when you follow a regular structured meeting agenda, your team will know what to expect in each meeting, and you’ll be able to keep discussion focused on your top priorities.

The problem with this? For every meeting we have been in that descends into a shouting match we have all been in 10x more meetings where people keep quiet, don’t contribute and countdown the 60 minutes until they can leave.

After all that, the bosses idea is the one you move forward with because they are in charge. Even if you already know its flawed.

We know that a structure is needed but how do we overcome lack of engagement or decision by authority? By going digital and anonymity.

By anonymising contributions to the meeting, we no longer know who has made which suggestion. This is exactly what Enswarm has done. All contributions are completely anonymous which provides a structure for everyone to have their say. Creating conversations that would never happen in a traditional meeting.

All contributions are then scored by the meeting members enabling the Enswarm algorithms to present the highest value output or actions.


Holybrook Associates

“Enswarm helped us support our clients in collaborating and improving their organisations and completely exceeded our expectations. We are so impressed by the capabilities it offers we are now building Enswarm into our events and consultancy services.”

Rachel Eden, Director


Include Enough Time

Time is something we all need more of. The recommendation is to put 20% fewer items on the agenda and allow 20% more time for each item. This i feel is an excellent point, especially when  coupled with a strong meeting chair or facilitator who can stop people going off on tangents.

I would also suggest a solution that meetings need to be on demand. In our regular lives solutions are often found through a series of shorter conversation that move the subject forward.

Why not apply this same structure to meetings?

That is exactly what we have done within Enswarm. The platform allows you to break down the agenda into individual “Enswarms”, which lets you dedicate more time to each item (Some people allow a full week!)

As the sessions are on demand, it generates a natural response from the attendees. The result is a more productive idea generating process. With higher value actions.

Which is the aim of any meeting.

Include Everyone

I really like the inclusive style of conversation that Paul advocates to ensure “people become more likely to notice who hasn’t spoken yet”. The only problem is it can be difficult to create this environment without a renowned expert like Paul to show you the way.

By Using Enswarm the meeting chair or facilitator can clearly see who has contributed and who has not. Creating the perfect opportunity to invite people into the conversation using the gentle and strategic approach identified by Paul.

Final Thoughts

It’s true that high quality conversations focused on participation, open debate and a feeling of being truly valued deliver the best results.

By building on the work of thought leaders Enswarm has been able to overcome the final barriers to meetings loved by your team whilst simultaneously delivering high value and actionable output.