3 Ways to immediately elevate group engagement

By Marianne Renner, Leadership Coach, Author, Speaker

If you lead groups you’ve inevitably experienced that awkward moment when you ask for comments, feedback or questions and the only sounds you hear are crickets.

Whether you’re leading a meeting, facilitating a workshop, or just trying to get your kids to talk at dinner, you can get anyone to engage.

The reason people struggle with engaging groups is because they don’t realize the underlying cause for the sounds of silence.

Although there are many potential causes for lack of engagement, here are 3 of the most common reasons and tips for addressing them.


3 Reasons Your Group Won’t Engage


Reason #1 Processing

Too often, facilitators ask a question but don’t give the group enough time to answer. 

Most people are uncomfortable with any amount of silence. We’re used to moving at such a fast pace, that even a split-second of silence feels like an eternity. As a leader of a group, you may ask a question and move on too quickly because the silence feels painful.

People process information at different rates. The group needs time to think about your question or formulate the answers in their minds. 

The solution

After asking the group a question, silently count to seven in your mind.  It will feel like an eternity for you. However, once you get to seven, you’ll more than likely hear from several participants.


Reason #2 Phrasing Questions

Often times participants lack engagement because of the way the facilitator phrases the question.

When the question is phrased in a common way, the participant pays no attention.

Here’s a great example. Have you ever been in an event when the facilitator asks “how is everyone doing today?”

That type of question will get crickets.

I have a friend who used to ask her son how his day was after school. Of course you know the answer to this, and so did he. “Fine.”

She started asking him instead to share one high and one low from his day. Now that she asks a fresh new question, she gets a fresh new answer every day.


Instead of asking how is everyone doing today, try to phrase your question in a unique way that captures attention.

For example, rather than ask everyone how they’re doing, try something like this: “shout out a word you would hear in a weather forecast that describes how you’re feeling today.”

You’ll see engagement go from zero to 100!



Reason #3 Psychological Safety

The third and perhaps most common reason groups don’t engage is because they lack psychological safety.

Psychological safety refers to a belief that what someone says will be accepted, respected, and embraced without judgment.

When people feel uncertain that their ideas will be accepted by the group, they lack psychological safety and are more likely to stay quiet.

They’re waiting for someone else to speak because they want to see what will happen. This is especially common among students who feel peer pressure, groups where people don’t know each other, or teams worried about how their leader will perceive them. 


As a facilitator you can build psychological safety by using a tool known as validation.

When someone speaks up, validate their comment. Follow up with comments like, “that’s a great insight, I’m so glad you mentioned that,” or “I appreciate your initiative and creativity with that response.”

This helps the participant feel more confident. It also sends a signal to the rest of the group that speaking up results in positive rewards. 


Understanding the reasons groups don’t engage will give you a huge advantage the next time you facilitate a meeting or event.

Download my DISC behavior style cheat sheet where you’ll learn key motivations and fears among different kinds of people that could impact engagement. Knowing what drives people will give you an advantage in engaging your teams and groups.

Learn more about facilitation.

1 reply
  1. Dan Miller
    Dan Miller says:

    Great tips. One of the things I’ve used after that awkward silence is to say: “One of the things people are most concerned with is…………(e.g. Can I expect to be successful without a college degree)………and then I answer that “question”. That typically opens the door for the next question.


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