Paul's Meeting Etiquette 101

Paul's Meeting Etiquette 101Getting the right people at the table may be the greatest success of any meeting. But after everyone arrives the wheels can quickly come off the whole experience if the participants go rogue. Many minds, opinions, and personalities are difficult enough to bring together for a cohesive team, and poor meeting skills shouldn't make it worse. People disdain meetings not because of the agenda, but because of how meetings are run. 

A meeting is a place where direction is given, ideas are shared, action steps conceived, and deadlines are given. Often the practice needs a little fine tuning if the meeting's objectives are to be reached. 

As someone who is involved in multitudes of meetings, I have found when meeting etiquette is honored by all its participants, meetings are much more productive. Below you will find the meeting etiquette my teams abide by.  Many have asked for me to share it. Here it is. I know these tips will make your meetings  more palatable!


Paul's Meeting Etiquette 101

Punctuality is the first order of business. Your timing should be on the spot, or on the dot.

Tardiness is another word for selfishness. If you are continually late to meetings, it signifies that you value your time more than you do the time of others. 

Apologies are in order if you are late. Even if you have a good reason, it is important to address your tardiness and apologize. Do not interrupt someone who is speaking when you arrive late, but at an appropriate moment make amends. 

If you are late, do not ask to be “caught up.”  It is your responsibility to learn about the items you missed after the meeting has concluded . . . but not by asking for another meeting.

Prepare an exit speech. If you need to leave the meeting before it is scheduled to conclude, address this before the meeting begins. A quick explanation of your time restriction will help those in attendance know what needs to be addressed to you before you exit.

Leave your phone behind. If a meeting is scheduled to be less than an hour, leave your phone behind. For lengthy meetings (those lasting a few hours or for the full work day), turn the ringer off on your phone and check it only on breaks.

Your phone should be felt, not heard. Never leave your phone out in the open, on the table, or in your hand. Never check it while the meeting is being conducted. Keep it on your person and switch the ringer to vibrate. 

Develop a state of emergency policy. In the case where you are expecting an urgent call (doctor or family emergency), make your emergency known at the beginning of the meeting and state that you will only step away if you receive that particular call.

The same rules apply anywhere you are conducting business: at business lunches, in the boardroom, at a meeting with vendors, etc. Checking your phone indicates you are not engaged, are more concerned about something other than the business or people at hand, and would rather be somewhere else.

“Taking notes” on your phone sounds like a good idea but looks like a bad one.

Do not hold court at a sidebar. It is bad protocol to engage in a “side” conversation while someone is addressing the entire group. Whispering comments, questions, or clarifications to the person next to you is distracting and rude. No one speaking should have to wonder about why you are whispering and holding court in the middle of their presentation or discussion. 

Know the who's who of the group. If you are meeting people for the first time at a meeting, take a moment to write down their names on your notepad. This practice will help you be able to address them by name during the meeting and help you recall their name and job title afterward.

Understand your place. Know your place in the hierarchy of the attendees. Let leaders lead. Let speakers speak. Be aware of your “peer match” and stay within those boundaries. Do not usurp a place of leadership, conversation, or order unless it is your role. Don’t pull focus by non-verbal expressions, sighs, or sounds. Heed this rule and you will always be welcome. Ignore this and you won’t be invited back.

Refrain from proofing. Do not proof or take notes on handouts, as this is very distracting for the one leading. Editing another’s work in a meeting is poor taste. If you need to make a note, do so by making an inconspicuous mark on the handout as you read along—come back and address it later. If you want to take a note, do so on another pad of paper—this appears as if you have a takeaway from what is being presented. No one likes to be proofed and judged LIVE in front of the team. 

Understand your role. Know the role you play in the group dynamic of the meeting. To lead? To follow? Speak? Listen? Contribute? Observe? Record? Stay in your lane of responsibility unless invited to comment. The value of your attendance is not measured by the quantity of your participation as much as the quality of your participation. 

Be mindful of the time. Honor the time you have been given by being prepared and using your time masterfully. Honor the time others have been given. If you are one who steps on time, people will be reluctant to give you the time.

A meeting is not a snack break. If snacks are provided, all the better. But if not, don’t bring yours. You will survive a meeting without bringing a drink and food. Bringing food, coffee, water, or other drinks to meetings is poor etiquette and unprofessional. If a day meeting of brainstorming is planned, then bringing something to drink is usually okay, but ask first. If planning a long meeting, give participants permission to bring food or drinks. 

Don’t hold the attendees hostage. If there are specific details in which only a portion of those in the meeting need to be involved, then set up a time to address those details separately with the appropriate people.

State your business. Never request a meeting without stating what it is regarding. It is common courtesy to allow others to know the nature of your request so they can prioritize its importance in their work schedule. 

Have an agenda prepared. No one should walk into a meeting and have no idea where they are headed. Depending on the importance of the meeting, you can distribute an agenda to all participants prior to the meeting. A thoughtfully crafted agenda will allow everyone to stay on message, cover the business you intended, understand where they will be needed, and recalibrate the session if the meeting goes longer than you had planned.

When meeting etiquette is first introduced, you will get some push back from your team. It might strike them as taking the personal out of the professional --but this was the problem in the first place with your meetings. However, stick to your guns and watch the frustration level of your meetings go from high to low in a matter of minutes. They will come to appreciate you and the etiquette you set forth. 

You can do this! 

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