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Movement by design: Increase engagement during meetings

May 31, 2017

Have you heard about the latest toy, the fidget spinner? It’s a simple $20+ device for people who like to keep their fingers busy. Spinners and cubes are a must for the tween set, and they’re also selling out to adults, according to the KeloLand Media Group. What’s the attraction? Fidget spinners, and similar devices, claim to help people deal with anxiety and nervous energy to keep their focus.

“There’s evidence that if you stimulate multiple senses, you are more likely to retain information and process it,” says Tedi Asher, the staff neuroscientist at the Peabody Essex Museum. People who like to keep their fingers busy—and that’s all of us these days—are trying to retain and process information and keep their anxiety manageable.

It’s impolite to tap away on a phone, a gadget that releases nervous energy, during a meeting. But if we ban cell phones, how can we address the loss of focus that results from sitting still in meetings and presentations?

Attention + Movement = Focus

The good news is that there are quick and easy ways for us to move the dial. We can follow the example set by TED Talks, which are 18 minutes long for a reason—long enough to be serious, and short enough to hold people’s attention. Why not emulate these and ensure that presentations are broken into 10–20 minute segments, with movement during and in between?

Also, you can stimulate multiple senses by leveraging a mix of small motor movement (gadget-like activities) and gross motor movement (walking, stretching, etc.) such as:

  • During a presentation:
    • Every 2 or 3 minutes, ask people to raise their hands—first if they agree with you, then ask them to raise their hands if they don’t agree with you.
    • Include polls that ask for opinions rather than true/false facts. Encourage people to raise their hands as they vote and note responses.
    • After you make a few major points, ask people to move to one side of the room if they have questions. Ask those who don’t have questions to move to another side of the room.
    • Play a round of move: Ask people to move to a new chair if they have ever experienced what you have discussed.
    • Ask people to smile if they agree with you and frown if they don’t.
    • After a period of 10–20 minutes, encourage people to stand up and walk around. If you’re feeling adventuresome, you could play music or designate a pace—fast, slow. Lead the group in moving their arms as they walk.
  • After a presentation, ask people to quickly move to another spot, find a partner, and exchange thinking while standing, if possible.
  • Have your presentations in different parts of the room. Encourage the group to stand around the presentation and move from presentation to presentation as a group.
  • As you end your meeting, encourage people to take a long walk to their next appointment, even if it means being a minute or two late.
  • Encourage people to schedule appointments so that they have 5–10 minutes for movement before sitting down and listening.

I would be remiss if I didn’t offer suggestions for getting everyone to move. But before that, why don’t you raise your hands above your head, stretch, and turn right and left?

Remote People Need to Move Too

Because remote populations have to join events through phones or computers, they are usually hunched over a device. The good news is that they can relieve some anxiety by typing or interacting with the computer, which will act like a fidget device. The bad news is that if you ask them to only listen and look—a common scenario—you risk having them create their own “fidget device” by multitasking. Try engaging them more by keeping their fingers and bodies busy:

  • In invitations, remind people to take a walk before joining.
  • Use a platform that allows for both chat and participation through the use of emoticons, checks, X marks, and “yes” and “no” icons. Remember, small motor movement is better than simply staring at a screen because it increases focus, retention and memory.
  • Ask questions throughout your presentation and have participants type their responses.
  • Have a resource who is responsible for monitoring and encouraging participation from remote attendees.
  • Include scheduled breaks to stand and stretch and remind remote participants that they are included. If you can have a video stream of the presenter stretching, ask participants to follow.
  • Remind remote participants to take a brief walk and move after the presentation and between segments. When a new segment begins, ask them to raise their hands if they moved between segments and note how they are accelerating memory and learning.

Movement Challenged Participants

  1. Pay attention to who is in the room and their capabilities—there may be people in wheelchairs, crutches or casts. And, people may have movement challenges that are invisible to the eye.
  2. Allow space for people in wheelchairs and other prosthetics to move or stretch comfortably.
  3. Assure people who are movement challenged that they do not have to move if they don’t wish to, but that you encourage it. This is true for everyone; movement is a suggestion to accelerate learning, not a requirement for employment.
  4. Most people know what movement is right for them. Publicly state that you are open to suggestions for how to get everyone to move.

Cultural Differences Matter

Some cultures have prohibitions against certain people waving their arms or stretching in public places. For example, people who are in a room with their manager may not feel comfortable stretching publicly. Please be attentive to the cultural restrictions that may be in play wherever you are.

Try out some of these techniques and share your experience with us. Have you noticed more productive meetings? Are they ending on a positive note? Are you noticing more innovative and stimulating thinking?

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