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Meeting Manners

By Nancy R. Mitchell, The Etiquette Advocate

It is safe to say that Woody Allen wasn't referring to business meetings when he said, "Eighty percent of success is showing up."

A great deal more is required to produce a successful meeting--preparation, organization, skillful execution and follow-up. And, there is one more key element of this formula that will help to improve the overall experience for meeting stakeholders--etiquette.  By improving their meeting manners, hosts and participants can insure that meetings run smoothly. So, when you're polishing your next PowerPoint presentation, take a few minutes to polish your manners, as well.

Here are some guidelines that will help you to be certain your meeting manners measure up:


  1. If an agenda is sent in advance of a meeting, read it and prepare, if necessary. Don't waste the time of the host or other participants by attending a meeting unprepared.
  2. Arrive on time. If an unforeseen circumstance causes you to arrive late, quietly slip into a chair and do not interrupt the discussion or presentation. If an opportunity presents itself for you to apologize briefly (perhaps as you begin your first contribution to the discussion), do so. At the very least, try to make eye contact with the meeting host and silently mouth, "I'm sorry." Explain your tardiness to the host at the end of the meeting.
  3. Stand behind your chair at the meeting table until you are invited to take a seat.  Introduce yourself to others as they approach their seats. For any number of reasons, a meeting organizer may have planned a specific seating arrangement.  It is embarrassing for all concerned if you have to be asked to move to another chair once you have seated yourself.
  4. If business cards are exchanged prior to the beginning of a meeting, you may arrange them in front of you on the conference table in the order that people are seated at the table.  This will help you to keep names, titles and affiliations clear in your mind. Do not write on the cards during the meeting.
  5. Do not place personal belongings on the table when you take your seat--cell phone, BlackBerry, pager, handbag, briefcase. Place these items under your chair or in an empty chair pushed under the table. You may place a notebook, pad of paper or a portfolio on the table with the meeting agenda. When meeting with someone for the first time or when meeting in a venue for the first time, don't arrive with a water bottle or coffee cup. By doing so, you are demonstrating a lack of respect for a person or organization by being too informal at the beginning of a relationship. If the meeting organizers offer food or beverage, you may accept. However, if you are ill at ease in the new surroundings or nervous prior to a presentation, it is best to skip the accoutrements and focus on your agenda. International Protocol Tip:  In certain cultures, you will offend a host by not accepting this hospitality. Do your homework prior to dealing with clients and colleagues from other countries.
  6. Turn off electronic devices when entering a meeting room. If you have forgotten to do so and your phone rings during a meeting, immediately apologize and say, "I am so sorry.  I thought I had turned it off." Then, reach down (because you have placed the phone in your handbag or briefcase under your chair) and, without looking at the display or answering to explain to the caller that you can't talk, turn it off. If you are expecting a critical business call during a meeting, explain this to the host prior to the start of the meeting, place the phone on vibrate and keep it out of sight in your pocket or lap, and quietly excuse yourself from the room when the call comes in.
  7. Don't interrupt others when they are speaking and don't monopolize a discussion. If you have been allotted 10 minutes on the agenda, don't speak for 12.
  8. Don't place a tape recorder on the table to tape the proceedings, even if only for the purpose of note taking, without clearing it in advance with the meeting host or organizer. If taping is approved, inform participants.
  9. Stay to the end of the meeting unless you have informed the host in advance that you must leave early.
  10. Remove all items you have brought into a meeting room or placed on a meeting table. Offer to assist the meeting organizer to clear away meeting materials and trash.


  1. Prepare and distribute an agenda prior to the meeting. This indicates that you are organized and that you respect the participants and their time. Also, it sets a no-nonsense tone for the meeting.
  2. Arrive early in order to set up the room, test equipment, distribute handouts, and greet and seat participants. Make certain that the temperature of the room is comfortable.
  3. Start the meeting on time.  Show respect for the participants who managed to arrive on time, and set a precedent for punctual meetings.
  4. Introduce everyone in the room, including support personnel who may be there to assist with equipment or note taking. It is rude not to do so. If you do not know everyone in the room, you may say, "Let's introduce ourselves before we begin."
  5. Ask a participant or a member of your team to serve as meeting facilitator in order to keep to the schedule and agenda. Designate a note-taker and, after the meeting, distribute the notes to all participants. If you plan to tape the proceedings for any reason, inform participants before the meeting begins.
  6. Give a brief overview of the meeting agenda and state the goal or desired outcome.
  7. Ask participants to turn off cell phones, BlackBerrys, or pagers during the meeting.
  8. If food or beverages are served, include healthy options. Offer food that is easy to eat during a meeting. For long meetings, schedule a sufficient number of breaks. The first break after lunch should be one hour into the afternoon session.
  9. End on time. Do not assume that participants can remain beyond the end time that was announced. Also, if you run over your allotted time, you will impact the meeting that may follow yours.
  10. Remove all meeting materials, equipment and trash from the meeting room.

So, when you are preparing for your next meeting, be it the weekly team pow-wow or a make-it-or-break-it presentation to a potential client, put manners on your agenda.

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