Employee participation in meetings is often important to send consistent messages to a company's workforce and to draw new and creative ideas from staff members. Encouraging employees to attend and contribute to meetings however, in particular when they are optional, is not always an easy task. Taking some steps to both inform and support employees, along with some entertaining activities thrown in, can aid in the persuasion. With a track record of successful meetings, you may find that employees will begin to volunteer to come.

Schedule the meeting at a time when most employees will be available to attend and at a location that is convenient. Scheduling conflicts often pose a barrier to meeting attendance. Removing this barrier and providing ease of access to the meeting site eliminates two reasons employees may cite for not going to the meeting. If the subject of the meeting is not urgent, schedule it for a slow time of year when employees are not busy with clients or projects. This way you'll be more likely to not only gain the employees' attendance, but their attention.

Emphasize the value of the meeting to employees and inform them in advance of its subject matter. Distribute a detailed agenda to everyone and highlight points that ask for employee input. Employees will be more likely to attend a meeting if they know that the input will come in part from themselves and their colleagues. Include as a supplement to the agenda all information required for employees to make effective contributions.

Build a history of effective meetings that employees enjoy attending and during which their input has been listened to. This history will make it easier to convince employees to attend a meeting in the future. Listen to employees during discussions and include their comments in the post-meeting minutes. If changes have been made as a result of something an employee has suggested, make that known. Even if comments of all employees are not used later, acknowledge the general nature of all contributions in the publicly available minutes so employees can see they have been heard.

Include hands-on activities during meetings so the change of pace will act as an incentive to attend. If a training session is offered on a new version of the company's software, ask general-knowledge and pop-culture trivia questions during the session and offer prizes such as pieces of candy for correct answers. If you prefer to stay on topic, have meeting participants break into groups and work on exercises that engages what they are learning. Give prizes to the group finished first. Be creative with games and activities to keep people interested.

Offer incentives to attend meetings, such as snacks and even door prizes. Sometimes the line "refreshments provided" in a distributed agenda is enough to get employees to attend a meeting. For those who need a bit of an extra push, the chance to take home some company swag might just do the trick.