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7 project kickoff meeting ideas to keep energy high
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7 project kickoff meeting ideas to keep energy high

Discover ideas for how to bake engagement and participation into your kickoff meeting to keep people focused and the energy high.

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Kickoff meetings are the launchpad for a successful project, but not all meetings are created equal. Imagine a kickoff meeting brimming with energy and enthusiasm, with everyone actively engaged and contributing. Then, flip it and imagine one where people are disengaged and counting the seconds till it ends. 

What made the difference? Well, in the first example, the project manager’s kickoff meeting ideas meant engagement was baked into the agenda, turning it from a top-down information dump into a dynamic, interactive forum for teamwork. 

Kickoff meetings may have a serious purpose, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make them interactive and engaging. And we don’t just mean using icebreakers or “fun” virtual backgrounds. Read on to discover seven kickoff meeting ideas that go beyond the generic, allowing you to keep people engaged without eating into productive meeting time. 

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7 ways to make your project kickoff meeting engaging and interactive 

Infusing energy into your kickoff meeting doesn’t have to distract you from serious meeting goals. Here’s how to run a project kickoff meeting so it’s interactive and engaging from the word go.    

1. Co-create the agenda 

Creating your project kickoff meeting agenda in collaboration with your project team, leadership, and clients can boost ownership of topics and, therefore, make team meetings more engaging and get people participating. It also ensures you incorporate diverse needs and viewpoints and stand a better chance of meeting client expectations. 

Imagine a team embarking on developing a new product or product update for an ecommerce client. By inviting team members to contribute to the meeting agenda, the team lead ensures a comprehensive range of  topics, such as user experience and technical challenges, are covered. 

To get input, share a survey or your draft agenda in your Switchboard project room and invite people to answer a survey or add comments anywhere on the document using comment threads. 

By co-creating the agenda, you change the energy of the meeting, turning it from a top-down information dump to an interactive, collaborative forum. 

“People feel a lot more buy-in with meetings when they help come up with the agenda.” Jordan Hirsch, CEO, Lead Trainer & Coach, FishTree
Switchboard comment thread on a PDF.
Start a comment thread on any item in your Switchboard room to communicate in context.

2. Make the kickoff meeting shorter

People’s energy naturally starts to flag during long meetings, so keeping it short–and discussions concise–helps keep your kickoff meeting engaging and focused. It also respects people’s time and workloads.  

To keep your meeting snappy: 

  • Share materials beforehand: Create an asynchronous work culture where it’s normal to expect people to review background information, like your project plan, beforehand. This lets you save meeting time for discussion and decision-making.
  • Prioritize agenda items: Cover critical topics that you need the team’s input on first and push secondary ones to follow-up communications if necessary.
  • Don’t try to cover too much: Most kickoffs try to cram too much in. Remember that this is a high-level introduction to the project and minor details should be worked out in subsequent meetings. 
  • Be flexible: If everyone’s animated by a particular topic, be prepared to let the discussion continue rather than cutting it short because the agenda says it’s time to move on. This is where your prioritized agenda comes in handy so you can decide what to cut later.  
  • Practice good time management: Time box agenda items and use a timer to stay on track. If you’re meeting in Switchboard, everyone can see the timer, so it helps keep contributions focused. 

All this helps make your kickoff meetings more dynamic and efficient, setting the tone for subsequent meetings and teamwork.  

Check out this post to learn more about how long a kickoff meeting should be.

Pro tip: Share project documents in your Switchboard room so everyone can absorb the information on their own time rather than spending valuable meeting time on readouts.     
Switchboard room with documents and notes.
Add any browser-based app, file, or document to your Switchboard room and it’ll stay right where you left it.

3. Get team members involved and contributing    

More than just presenting information, your kickoff is a chance to gather a wide range of inputs and foster collaborative problem solving, setting the stage for better teamwork. 

Think of it as a workshop rather than a traditional meeting: Regular opportunities for participation keep the energy high and team members more invested in meeting–and project–outcomes. Here’s how: 

  • Engage people early: Hirsch says, “If you get people contributing, even in writing, at the top of a meeting, they're more likely to contribute again later on.” Ways to do this include opening with an icebreaker, quick red/yellow/green check-in or teambuilding activity, or by making the first section interactive. 
  • Opt for hands-on over lectures: Wherever possible, make sessions interactive. For example, by workshopping or crowdsourcing information. When you do need to present, make it as interactive as possible by inviting questions, input, and feedback. Hirsch says, "You're not just there to tell people something. You need to know what questions they have about it, what surprised them, what resonated, what they disagree with, that kind of thing.” 
  • Ask, don’t tell: Build alignment around goals, challenges, etc. by inviting team members’ perspectives rather than dictating to them. This, says Hirsch, can reveal some surprising results: “You have all this back and forth as the project's ramping up. All the documents get signed, of course we know what the goals are. Then, you get in the room and ask people and you're hearing different things.” 
  • Draw people out: Use activities to uncover team members’ opinions rather than asking outright as this reveals more, and more varied, information. For example, try imagining the success, failure, or impact of the project after completion—and what went right or wrong. “Anchors and propellers” is another exercise that helps identify factors that could hinder progress (anchors) or accelerate it (propellers) so you can develop mitigation strategies. 
  • Build in reflection and discussion time: Small group breakout sessions and activities like “think, pair, share” allow quieter team members to process and contribute without the pressure of doing it in front of the whole group. This allows diverse perspectives to surface, leading to more thoughtful, valuable contributions. For example, you could have team members debate user pains in pairs before sharing their thoughts with the whole team. When you do debate as a group, use techniques like round-robin to ensure everyone has an equal chance to contribute. 
  • Accommodate different learning and communication styles: Not everyone shines in a large group, so some quiet thinking, writing, or drawing time empowers introverts to contribute. Hirsch suggests opening “with the big question you’re trying to answer in the meeting. Then, ask everybody to take a few minutes to do some quiet writing. You’re giving time for introverts and quieter people to warm up a bit. They don't have to talk immediately; they're not influenced by extroverts…. it's all about that balance of talking, writing, thinking, reading so everyone has some time in their personal comfort zone.” 
  • Use visual aids and tools: Visual elements make it easier to convey complex information, brainstorm, and break up long chunks of text or presentations, which helps keep energy high. For example, you could use a digital whiteboard to map out the timeline and milestones for your project so everyone can visualize dependencies and hand-offs between phases. Or explore workflows and tasks in your project management tool. You can also work through disagreements by writing them up on the board. This externalizes and depersonalizes them since, says Hirsch, "you're getting people to disagree with the board instead of with each other.” 
  • Gather feedback: Use polls and surveys to crowdsource information, gauge team sentiment, vote, or rank things in order of importance. This democratizes and can speed up decision-making, avoiding lengthy or one-sided debates.

4. Mix up activities 

As we’ve seen, using a range of activities can help boost engagement, participation and energy levels. Switching activities and changing the pace can also spark creativity and novel solutions. 

To do this, use some of the activity types mentioned above, alternating between them throughout the agenda. You should also tailor activities and be prepared to adjust on the fly to match the group’s energy and dynamics. 

Hirsch recommends having "a library of activities you can pull from. Not everyone will respond well to ‘madlibs’ cards. If it's a serious, buttoned-down group, there are different ways to structure it so you match their energy. If a project team is already familiar with each other and aligned on goals then, rather than defining those, play them back and ask ‘Is this still correct? Great, let's move on to what might go wrong.’ Skip around and pick and choose based on where the team’s at.” 

“Using different formats gets more interesting information shared in the meeting and helps accommodate different styles and neurodiverse people. The standard meeting favors people like me, like ‘I'll just start talking and figure out what I want to say.’ Then you have people who are like, ‘Please don't call on me.’ Having some quiet time can be valuable for them and it gets you better ideas in the end because you're caring for more people.” Jordan Hirsch, CEO, Lead Trainer & Coach, FishTree
Switchboard room with apps and a poll.
Switchboard lets you pull up all the tools your project team needs-–with no need for integrations. You can also use polls, surveys, and the voting app to take the temperature.
Source: Switchboard

5. Avoid “idle hands”   

People have a lot on their minds (like all the work they’re not getting to while they’re in a meeting) and wandering attention can affect the group’s energy. Here’s how to keep them focused on your meeting instead and make for a more active, dynamic session:

  • Assign roles: Give people jobs like facilitator, note-taker, discussion leader, or timekeeper. This keeps them busy and focused and boosts investment in meeting outcomes.  
  • Stay visible: If you’re meeting online, follow virtual meeting best practices like keeping cameras on. This lets you spot if people start to disengage or multitask.  
  • Minimize distractions: During virtual meetings, ask people to close other tabs or make the meeting full-screen and turn off self-view. As Hirsch says, "There's a reason we don’t put mirrors on every surface: We weren't designed to look at ourselves for hours all day long.” For in-person meetings, ask people to leave their devices at the door, but be prepared to provide notepads, etc. if people can’t take notes on their laptop.  
  • Provide fidget items or ask people to bring them: Try using things like tubs of Play-Doh to keep hands occupied and off the keyboard.  
Switchboard room with apps, including whiteboard.
Use Switchboard’s built-in whiteboard or your favorite whiteboarding tool so visual thinkers can contribute.

6. Take a break

It’s hard to talk or listen for long periods, so regular breaks help maintain focus and energy. While people rest and recharge, they can also process information. This means they’ll return ready to contribute, leading to more productive discussions and running more effective meetings.  

Build short breaks every 1.5-2 hours and encourage people to step away from the meeting, move around, or do a mindfulness exercise, etc. During longer breaks, provide some discussion topics to be thinking about as this helps prevent them totally disconnecting. When you reconvene, kickoff with a brief recap or activity to help them transition back into the meeting mindset. 

7. Let people leave 

Allowing people to leave if they’re not involved in certain parts of your kickoff meeting avoids them disengaging and affecting the group’s energy. It also ensures subsequent discussions are more targeted and productive as all remaining know they need to be there.  

To do this, put group topics like goals and challenges high up on the agenda and save technical discussions for small groups later. You should also foster a company culture where leaving a meeting isn’t frowned upon but rather understood as a way to respect people’s time. 

“When people are allowed to leave when they would have naturally tuned out anyway, you get a reputation for holding meetings that are actually useful.” Jordan Hirsch, CEO, Lead Trainer & Coach, FishTree

Kickoff meeting ideas: Build engagement into the agenda to keep energy high 

As we’ve seen, the difference between a lackluster kickoff meeting and a dynamic one is down to how you structure the agenda and involve people. Do this right by co-creating the agenda, keeping the meeting short, building variety and participation into every session, and catering to everyone. Keep people focused and energy high by minimizing distractions, but give them a break now and again to recharge, or leave when the meeting is no longer relevant for them. 

By doing all this, project managers can ensure their meetings both fulfill their objectives and get participants energized, motivated, and eager to pitch in. 

When you meet in Switchboard, you’ve got all the features and functionality you need to put these tips into practice: Start by sharing materials in your project room before the call, so you can save meeting time for discussion. Then, use polls, surveys, open questions, and voting to keep them engaged and contributing. All of which makes for a more interactive, energizing exchange of ideas. 

Get people excited about your meetings.  
Switchboard lets you share materials asynchronously and work on them side by side in meetings, so you can spend less time on readouts and more on making progress. 
Sign up free

Frequently asked questions about kickoff meeting ideas 

What are activities for kickoff meetings? 

Kickoff meeting activities include icebreakers, stakeholder discussions, SWOT analysis, and collaboratively defining goals, roles, and risks. Activities like “future visioning” or “pre-mortems” where participants imagine themselves in the future looking back on last year’s successful or unsuccessful project can help get them motivated about success stories or surface potential roadblocks. 

What should a kickoff meeting include? 

A kickoff meeting should include:

  • Introduction of all stakeholders 
  • Presentation of the project plan, scope, budget and resources 
  • Overview of deliverables, milestones, and timelines 
  • Defining and aligning on goals, challenges, and roles and responsibilities 
  • Brainstorming risk mitigation strategies 
  • Outline tools and methodologies 
  • Regular breaks for long meetings 
  • A mix of activities, initiatives, and presentation types to keep people engaged 
  • Q&A 
  • Action items and next steps 

See here for a free kickoff meeting agenda template

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Get people excited about your meetings.

Switchboard lets you share materials asynchronously and work on them side by side in meetings, so you can spend less time on readouts and more on making progress.