Published: 16/06/2005, Volume II5, No. 5960 Page 44

It is a sobering fact that 90 per cent of staff never contribute at meetings.

Ensuring effective participation can be tough, but it is an essential skill for any facilitator who wants to avoid a meeting being dominated by a few big personalities.

Ashridge Business School programme director Pam Jones advises managers to be mindful of quieter members, especially young people and newcomers.

'There are two types of people in meetings: some will open their mouths and speak for the sake of it, others are more reflective and like to think out their contribution in their heads before speaking out, ' she says.

Pam's first tip is to get people involved in creating the agenda, giving the introverted the chance to think issues through in advance. Seating arrangements are also key: boardroom layouts are out as they isolate those at the bottom of the table. Instead Pam suggests a round table, or a simple circle of chairs.

Once the meeting has kicked off, the chair's work really begins.

If a less dominant person makes a suggestion, make sure it does not just fade away. Seek clarifications for quieter members or ask follow-up questions, says Pam. 'One of the problems is that people often raise an idea and then it gets lost, ' she says. 'Someone might say 'I have an idea for spending the budget' and an automatic response is often 'yes, but. . .'.

Instead, encourage people to say ''yes, and. . .' followed by 'perhaps we can look at this area for a moment'.' Inevitably there will always be someone willing to spot the negative in any scenario. 'You need to be aware that it is happening, ' says Pam. 'The most valuable skill a chair has is the ability to summarise, make sure that everyone understands what is going on and then move on. If someone is dominating, step in and summarise for them. 'X, Y and Z was interesting, now what has the next person got to say?'' Rebecca Coombes