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Business Meetings

In most organizations, meetings of all types consume an excessive amount of everyone’s time and energy. Your challenge is to maximize your own effectiveness as a participant in meetings and to contribute to their overall productivity as best you can. When you are in a position to convene and chair meetings yourself, you will be able to maximize their usefulness and minimize the amount of time wasted by them.
Meetings should be held as sparingly as possible. If there is any doubt about the need for a meeting, do not hold it. Meetings are unquestionably the number one time-waster at organizations throughout the world.
All Business Meetings
Here are some ground rules that apply to all business meetings:
  • Meetings should only be held to accomplish a specific purpose of some consequence. Before you convene a meeting, know exactly what results you want to achieve. The three most valid reasons for a meeting are to deal with a problem, issue or opportunity; discuss progress being made; and communicate something significant.
  • When you are inviting people to attend a meeting, explain the purpose for the meeting to each of the participants beforehand. If any special preparation is required prior to the meeting, make sure they understand that.
  • Limit the frequency of meetings and the time spent in them. Business meeting rarely should take longer than one hour. Do not hold meetings to convey a false sense of involvement on the part of others. If you have a responsibility to do something on your own, do not hold a meeting to avoid your own need to deal with the issue.
  • Always, always be on time for all meetings, especially when you are chairing them. Keeping people waiting not only sends the rude message that you think your time is more valuable than theirs, but also gives the impression that you are disorganized and inefficient at managing your own time. In most cases, it is best to arrive five minutes early so you can briefly greet people and get settled before the meeting starts.
  • Whenever you are involved in any type of meeting, turn off all phones, notebook computers and tablets. For sit-down meetings, put them away as opposed to placing them on the table in front of you. Extend to everyone attending the simple but important courtesy of your undivided attention. Never check on your messages or send text messages when you are in a meeting. It is rude to do so. I am also not in favor of anyone taking notes on a notebook computer or tablet during a meeting as it is distracting to everyone else. In the case of meetings being held in your office or room, ensure that all other phones are turned off and have messages taken if you do not have a voice message system. In addition, try to make sure no one outside interrupts the meeting.
  • Avoid holding meetings on the afternoon of the last workday in the week when everyone’s minds are mainly on what they are going to be doing on the weekend. Similarly, it usually is best not to call meetings at the start of the first day in the workweek when most people are anxious to begin organizing their work for the week.
Your Meeting Conduct
When you are attending a meeting, follow these practices:
  • Stand up whenever someone in a senior position or the person chairing a meeting first enters the room.
  • Watch your body language in meetings. Do not fidget, move around a lot in your chair, tap things or point at someone with a pen. Your posture should be composed and convey both self-confidence and your interest in what everyone is saying. Do not overtly look at your watch during meetings.
  • Listen actively at meetings. Maintain steady eye contact with the person speaking. Avoid getting distracted while someone is talking. Do not interrupt speakers. Let them finish what they have to say.
  • Pick the right time to make a comment or ask a question, such as when there is a pause in the discussion and you are able to attract the attention of most participants at the meeting. If you can, prepare what you want to say, ask or recommend beforehand and have some facts or points available to support it. If you are unsure what to say or realize your thinking is fuzzy on the issue being discussed, keep silent. Also, do not feel compelled to comment on every subject raised at the meeting.
  • Remember, it is not just what you say that counts, it is also how you say it. Your posture, the positive sparkle in your eyes, the sense of conviction in your voice — all are critical to you truly being heard and taken seriously. When you speak, keep your hands away from your mouth.
  • Never lose control and let your emotions take over what you are saying, regardless of the provocation or situation. On the other hand, it is definitely OK, even desirable, to put some emotion and enthusiasm in your voice when you are speaking. If you sense that you are becoming overly emotional or losing your temper, excuse yourself from the meeting in order to regain your composure before continuing any discussion.
  • When meetings get deadlocked or stalled over disagreements and heated issues, do not be afraid to propose ways to resolve differences or make recommendations for everyone’s consideration. Often, the most valued people at meetings are those individuals who are skillful at defusing tension and finding compromises that satisfy opposing sides.
  • Following any meeting at which important subjects were discussed, it is always good business practice to make your own notes on the key points to keep for future reference. This is especially important if you were assigned responsibility for any task or project.
  • Do not chew gum or smoke at a meeting even if you are told it is OK to do so.
One of the best ways to stand out from your peers is to take an active role in participating in the meetings you attend. Rather than just sitting there passively, ask yourself, “What can I do or say that will add greater value to the discussion and improve the quality of the decisions being made?” Avoid grandstanding when you do so.
Informal Meetings
If you want to meet with someone, it is best to go to their office to do so as opposed to asking them to come to your office. If it is impossible to have a private discussion in their office or work area, pick a neutral private office or room to do so.
When someone such as your supervisor or a customer asks you to a meeting, follow their lead in whether you take off your jacket and have something to drink if it is offered. If more than two of you are attending the meeting, try to pick the most centrally located chair opposite your supervisor or the customer but do not sit down until he or she does so.
Whenever assignments are being given to you or you are being asked to participate in a project, make certain you clearly understand what you are being asked to do. If there is any ambiguity or uncertainty in your mind, do not hesitate to ask for clarification. Often, it is a good idea for you to ask if you can give your understanding of what was said. Then, paraphrase back in your own words the instructions given to you, the expectations your superior has performance-wise, and the deadlines involved. This way any misunderstandings can be avoided.
If someone in your organization is coming to your office and you only want to hold a brief meeting, come out from behind your desk and remain standing when the other person arrives. This will signal that you want to have a short discussion so the two of you can resume working afterwards.
When you are having a sit-down meeting in your office, come out from behind your desk and sit in a chair facing the person with whom you are meeting. This will improve the chances of having an open, constructive discussion.
If someone from outside your office is coming to meet with you, either go to the reception area yourself to greet your visitor or ask someone to escort that person to your office or the meeting room. Whenever a guest comes to your office, get up and walk around your desk so you can greet that individual with a warm handshake.
Formal Meetings
When you are invited to attend a formal meeting, study the agenda beforehand to determine what advance preparation you should do. Bring a writing pad and pen to the meeting so you can take notes if necessary.
Where you sit at such meetings is important to your ability to influence the meeting. Call it positioning. That is why you always need to arrive about ten minutes early. With a circular, square or short rectangular table, the best positioning is to take a chair on the opposite side of the table facing the chairperson. In the case of a long rectangular table, the best positioning is in the middle of either of the long sides of the table. If a meeting room has windows, I prefer to sit facing the windows unless the sun will be shining in my eyes.
As soon as you arrive, say hello to those you know, go into the meeting room, select your seat, and place your papers and pad immediately in front of it. Then, walk over and introduce yourself to anyone you do not know, including any special guests present, before the meeting starts. Greet people in a friendly manner with a warm smile.
If you are sitting down in the meeting room, stand up when the chairperson or any special guests enter the room. When the chairperson looks your way, smile and nod a greeting. Follow the chairperson’s lead in terms of the casualness of the meeting. If the chairperson removes his or her jacket, I usually do so myself as a small gesture of affinity.
Actively listen to the people speaking at the meeting. This means looking them in the eye most of the time they are talking. If you want to speak up, wait for a pause in the discussion, raise your right hand slightly and, looking at the chairperson, say: “Mr. Chairman [or “Madame Chair], may I ask a question [or make a comment] on this?” In a less formal meeting, you can just address the chairperson by name.
If the chairperson responds positively to your request to speak, be direct and get to the point right away. Do not ramble, beat around the bush, or in effect make a speech. While you are speaking, make eye contact with the people around the table, starting and ending with the chairperson if you can. Do not be worried about being nervous when you start speaking. Lots of people are nervous when they do so. Your nervousness will usually go away.
While the meeting is going on, do not chat with the people sitting beside you. Keep your attention on whomever is speaking. If there is any chance of you having to use the bathroom during the meeting, always do so before the meeting starts as opposed to having to excuse yourself from the meeting when it is in progress.
The use of videoconferencing for meetings is certain to increase as the technology improves and decreases in cost. The ultimate goal of the suppliers of videoconferencing systems is to create a lifelike meeting experience that all but eliminates the sense on the part of participants of being in different locations. While a few such systems have recently become available, only large organizations can afford their high equipment, installation and operating cost.
Most of the previous points on meetings are also applicable to participating in videoconferences. Here are some additional recommendations to keep in mind regarding videoconferencing:
  • Arrive sufficiently ahead of time to enable yourself to become familiar with the control panel before the meeting starts.
  • For a good video image, wear solid-colored clothes. Do not wear any article of clothing that is a bright color, such as red, or has a busy pattern. Also avoid wearing striped articles of clothing and any glitzy jewelry.
  • Close the blinds on any windows in the videoconferencing room when it is sunny outside.
  • Turn off or mute your cellphone and any other PDA’s. The same applies to your office phone.
  • Minimize your motions and any fidgeting, such as playing with your fingers or touching your face or hair.
  • Stay engaged in the meeting by paying attention, making appropriate comments on the subjects being discussed and asking relevant questions.
  • Speak distinctly and somewhat more slowly than you normally do. Address participants by name when you are speaking to someone and maintain eye contact when you do so.
  • Refrain from conducting side conversations with anyone sitting next to you.
  • Raise your hand to the chairperson when you wish to speak or say in a slightly raised voice, "May I comment (or ask a question) on that subject?"
  • Avoid coughing or sneezing into the microphone.
When you are chairing a videoconference meeting, begin by introducing the attendees, stating the purpose of the meeting, and saying how long you expect the meeting to take. End the meeting by summarizing any conclusions reached, reiterating any agreed upon action to be taken, and thanking the participants for attending. Afterwards, arrange for the minutes of the meetings to be finalized and distributed to the participants.


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