Why Should You Worry about Business Meeting Etiquette?
Business meetings can sometimes seem to drag on forever. Sometimes very little progress is made during meetings. Other times, meetings run overtime. While there may be many different factors at work in these meetings, there is one key element that runs through all: business meeting etiquette. It is rude to run over on a meeting just as it is rude to show up late for a meeting. Many problems with meetings that run over, accomplish little, or drag on has to do with the level of etiquette being demonstrated.
Let’s face it, when people show up late for meetings, talk during the meeting, don’t follow the agenda, or stretch the meeting long past the allotted time, it demonstrates a disregard for other people’s feelings and the value of their own time and tasks to complete. In fact, even if the infraction doesn’t cause the meeting to drag on or go over time, a lack of etiquette can offend those at the meeting - and can even reflect back poorly on the meeting leader.
Consider Holding an Etiquette Enrichment Meeting
Before getting into specific infractions that may occur within your business meetings, it’s important to consider what you might want to do in order to get all individuals on the same page. Sometimes it is necessary to hold an etiquette meeting to raise problems that have been occurring within business meetings in your company causing issues in productivity. Make sure everyone knows they are expected to turn off their phones during meetings, arrive on time, and refrain from visiting with their neighbor. While you may be tempted to only include a list of etiquette expectations in a memo or in a training guide - holding an annual etiquette meeting can help make the following points salient in the minds of those in attendance.
Meeting Etiquette and Phones
In the previous section, I mentioned that turning off phones is an important part of maintaining professionalism and ensuring a successful business meeting. In truth, phone calls can cause a lot of gray areas when it comes to meeting etiquette. For instance, parents may wish to keep cell phones on should they receive an emergency call. On the other hand, a cell phone that goes off during a meeting can distract everyone. Here are some general rules for cell phones in meetings:
- Keep your phone on silent.
- If you must check the number on a call, do it in a manner that does not draw attention to your actions.
- Do not answer unimportant calls.
- Should a call be potentially urgent enough to need to answer it, politely excuse yourself from the meeting to do so.
- Once you’ve removed yourself, go to a location where your conversation will not distract others.
If you answer the phone and it is determined that the call is not urgent, then excuse yourself from the call in an expedient fashion. Keep the call short and to the point.
Always Provide Attendees with an Agenda
It’s important to provide your attendees with an agenda prior to the meeting. By creating an agenda, and sending it out in advance, you can let individuals know what will be discussed, give them an opportunity to research discussion points, and even provide an opportunity for individuals to get back to you with concerns about discussion points prior to the meeting.
Once you have provided an agenda to those attending the meeting, do not alter the agenda unless necessary. If you must alter a meeting agenda, you should send out a note to all participants with the updated agenda. There are different types of meetings, and each type of meeting has a type of agenda that goes with it.
Once you’ve created an agenda, it’s important to keep your meeting on track using the agenda. When you create the agenda, assign a particular time limit to each point on the agenda. This will help you to keep your meeting to a certain length. If any agenda point seems like it needs to run over, make a note of it, and either schedule a meeting for that point for later, or follow up with involved individuals separately.
Please continue reading onto the second page to learn more about proper etiquette for business meetings.
Arrive on Time and be Well-Prepared
It’s very important in holding an effective business meeting that you show up on time and prepared for your meeting. Additionally, make sure your employees show up on time and prepared. Whenever a business meeting is conducted, it is vital that you insist everyone arrives on time. One of the ways you can do this is have reminders sent out the day before the meeting and again the day of the meeting, approximately an hour before it is supposed to occur. Start the meeting at the scheduled time.
When it comes to having employees who are prepared, you have two options available to you: you can remind them to bring note paper and pencils, or you can provide note paper and pencils for their convenience. You should also provide copies of the agenda, since it is unlikely attendees will remember to print out their agenda and bring it to the meeting.
Keep Talking and Distractions to a Minimum
During a meeting nothing is more rude and disrespectful than talking while someone else is talking. Reiterate to your staff that you need full attention, that anyone else who needs to speak should have full attention, and that distractions should be kept to a minimum.
Should you be meeting virtually, that is using online meeting software, there should be no background noise. The radio should be turned off, there should be no television program making noise in the background, and any family members should be forewarned that a meeting is taking place.
Should there be distractions - either in a face to face meeting or in a virtual meeting - there should be steps taken immediately to eliminate the distraction as efficiently as possible. Once the distraction has been handled, regain the attention of the attendees immediately.
Follow Up on Action Items Immediately
During many meetings, especially in project management meetings, action items will come to your attention. You can use action item tracking forms during the meeting to track what will need to be done and who will need to do it. During the meeting, if you do not allow electronic gadgets into the meeting, you can then write down the action items that need to be taken care of, and the names of the individuals who have volunteered to take on the action items. Should the meeting be conducted with electronics and computers, you can immediately use one of your action item tracking software programs to assign tasks to individuals.
Once the meeting ends, then all loose ends must be tied up. It is absolutely vital that you follow through - be sure to follow up with each person to whom an action item has been assigned. Make sure that each team member understands what he or she has been assigned. Letting things go, or allowing them to disappear into the background, not only is poor form, but it can also lead to project failure. It’s important to do what you say you will do.
Do Not Leave Early
Finally, to maintain good business meeting etiquette, you should encourage attendees to stay for the full duration of the meeting. Unless there is a pressing emergency, it’s rude to leave a meeting early. Not only does leaving the meeting early leave individuals out in the dark when it comes to what was discussed for the remainder of the meeting, but it also sends the message that what is being said is not important enough to gain your attention and focus. Additionally, leaving early risks offending individuals who are speaking, and it can be incredibly distracting.
If you must leave, or if individuals must leave, they should not do so while someone is speaking. If you give a brief break halfway through the meeting, this will afford the opportunity for those who must leave to do so then (and will allow for restroom and water breaks as well). It might be a good idea to have a ten minute break every hour for especially long meetings to avoid people coming and going during the meeting.
Smith, G. M. (2000) “Eleven Commandments for Business Meeting Etiquette.” Intercom. Accessed 4/18/2011 at https://archive.stc.org/intercom/PDFs/2000/200002_29.pdf.