In a screenwriting class I took in college I learned that the first 10 minutes of a movie, which is called “the hook,” is the most important part. That’s because people generally decide whether they like a movie—which determines whether they will be fully engaged in it—during those first 10 minutes. I think the same thing happens during meetings. If we can hook people at the beginning, we will engage them and get more from them, in terms of active participation and involvement.
So how do we do that? The same way screenwriters do: give people a reason to care. The challenge of a screenwriter is to give audience members a compelling reason to be invested in the outcome of a story and its characters. If movie-goers don’t really care about what is going on in the story and how it turns out, they’re not going to be engaged.
In a meeting, a leader should hook team members by reminding them what is at stake. “I realize this seems like just another meeting, but let me remind you why we need to make good decisions today. And let’s understand all the bad things that could happen if we make poor ones.” The leader’s job is to get clear and creative about the stakes of decision-making, both in the short- and long-term. And, yes, every meeting will involve meaningful stakes, either involving customers, competitors or employees.
What should you do if you really can’t think of any negative consequences that will happen if people check out and make bad decisions during a meeting? If that is truly the case, then be a hero and cancel the meeting. Otherwise, hook people by giving them a reason to care.