Business Meeting Etiquette Part 1: You, The Participant

I’m surprised by how many inquiries I’ve received lately from clients and others about how to behave at meetings. More people while in meetings are viewing emails, texting, holding side conversations, and plainly not paying attention. Because of this problem, I am dedicating two newsletters to this topic, starting with how to behave as a participant of a meeting. In Part 2 I’ll cover what to do if you’re the chair or facilitator of a meeting.

1.   Be prepared. When you receive a request to attend a meeting, know why the meeting is necessary, who called it, who else is attending, and be clear about what results or outcomes are expected. Review the agenda and figure   out what is expected of you and what you should contribute beyond simply attending. In other words, take a proactive, leadership role by always learning exactly what is going to happen at a meeting. Never show up cold.

2.   Organize your materials. No later than two weeks before an important meeting, set up a temporary file or location to organize and set aside all information needed for this meeting. Make sure you include a pad and pen.

3.   Synchronize your clock. Bookmark and use either the official U.S. time site of is or for the world as your “official” guide when setting your clock and alarm. Absolutely stop what you are doing at least 15 minutes before the time you need to leave the office to get to the meeting on time. Use this time to gather all the information you need and to visit the restroom to check your appearance. If you are speaking at this meeting, take at least an extra 15 to 30 minutes to review your notes and practice your presentation.

4.   Be on time. For an out-of-the-office meeting, arrive at the meeting location at least ten minutes ahead of the meeting time. For in-house meetings, get there about five minutes ahead. Use this time to get nicely settled and relaxed. Perhaps visit the restroom one more time to check your appearance, or get a cup of coffee or water for the meeting. You always want to be relaxed and prepared when the meeting begins, not harried because you just rushed in.

5.   Seating arrangements: Depending on the level of formality, seating may be designated. If you are unsure, ask the chair where to sit. In the American style, the meeting the chair sits at the end of a long rectangular table, with all participants on either side. The most senior person or guest speaker sits to the right of the chair. At international meetings, the chair typically sits at the center of the table, with participants seated on either the same side (usually senior staff), or opposite the chair (other guests and participants).

6.   Stay focused on the meeting: It’s easy to get distracted, but your job is to stay attentive to the flow of the agenda and discussions. You never know when you may be called upon for your thoughts. Do not hold side conversations. At most slip someone a note saying, “Let’s talk after the meeting about…” Do not succumb to the temptation to check email, take a phone call or text messages. Turn all electronic devices to vibrate or turn them off completely… and leave them off. If you and everyone else gives their undivided attention to the meeting, it will result in higher productivity. Maybe you’ll even get out faster because everyone is focused. Do everything in your power to keep your mind occupied, so you won’t doze off or be tempted to make side comments with the person next to you.

7.   Be a good team player. Once the chair or group has made a decision on something, get with the program and make that decision turn out positively, even when–and especially when-the decision was contrary to your opinion and overall vote.

Never complain afterwards about the decisions made, items discussed, or against specific people at the meeting. Air grievances with the chair, or perhaps with the specific individual who concerns you.

8.   Other meeting etiquette tips:

•      Keep an open mind to all ideas and comments shared. Don’t attack a suggestion by saying things such as, “That’s a dumb idea” or  “That won’t work.”

•      Especially important for high level and international meetings, allow more senior level individuals to contribute and speak first, before you and others.

•      When speaking, do not go on and on. Get to the point and end your comments.

•      When arriving late, quietly take a seat. Express your apology at the next appropriate break.

•      Be familiar with the general principles of Robert’s Rules of Order. Typically all meetings follow this format. The higher the level of formality, the higher the expectation that all participants be aware of how it works.

•      Never interrupt or talk over anyone else. Allow the other person to finish his or her comments before you chime in. Raise your hand to be acknowledged by the chair before speaking, if that is the correct style. Don’t just jump in, unless you know this is an acceptable practice.

•      Address all comments to the chair, even when responding to someone else’s comment, unless doing so is an acceptable practice within that group culture.

•      Being a welcomed participant of any meeting requires you to be aware and adaptable to the many nuances, styles, and cultures. At the first meeting, remain silent until you are sure that when you choose to speak, your words will be well received.

•      As the saying goes, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” It is inappropriate to share  meeting information with others. Consider all discussions and information confidential, unless otherwise stated. When in doubt, ask the chair.

•      Keep your cool. Don’t take things personally or find offense to comments. Remain calm.  Never raise  your voice; always speak in a professional, low and even manner of voice and tone.

•      Last and most importantly… Absolutely no electronic devices! Contrary to popular practice, it is not appropriate to check email, text, or take cell phone calls during a meeting.  Your 100% focus should be on the meeting, not on other activities.  As you enter the meeting room, do check and turn off—or to vibrate—all electronic devices.

QUESTION: What other items do you have to add to this list?  Do let us hear from you by locating this article at  You may also reach us at  If you enjoyed this article and want more, subscribe to our “Etiquette Tip of the Month” newsletter—at no charge—filled with great monthly tips on all sorts of topics from international business and social etiquette and protocol to everyday life subjects.  It will be great to have you as a member of our happy family of subscribers at you have other tips you think would be appropriate to this article, please let me hear from you. Your help will be most appreciated.

Happy Practicing!

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