I was lucky. I entered the world of meetings when I joined my middle school’s student council, so I learned a lot about the importance of having an agenda and making the most of people’s time at a young age. Since then, I’ve literally been a part of hundreds if not thousands of meetings, but there’s still a heck of a lot I didn’t know about meeting etiquette until about a year into my business. Even so, I’ve been in meetings at locations that didn’t have water, ran two hours late, or had someone ask 45 minutes into the conversation, “Why did you call this meeting?” You don’t want to be blamed for those sort of situations. Curious about how others felt on the subject, I surveyed some professionals via Facebook and then had my fabulous interns do some research to come up with a meeting etiquette guide. Learn how to get the most of their one-on-one and group meetings.
Understand the goal of the meeting
The people you’re meeting with should be clear from the beginning why you want to meet and what to expect. Being on the same page will save everyone a lot of time and will allow you both to be prepared for your discussion. Someone once told me that just by stating the purpose of the meeting, you begin “occupying space in someone’s brain” to set the stage for an effective meeting.
Always offer something in return
Don’t make the meeting one-sided. I hope you never become the victim of a meeting that turns into someone wanting you to become their life coach, so think about what you can offer the other person. This may be simply paying for their meal or coffee, but it’s also providing advice or some sort of service. They’ve made themselves available to you so you should do the same. If you are on the receiving end of a business lunch/meeting, please do not order the most expensive thing on the menu and do not ask for a to-go box.
Be on time
You’ve asked for someone’s time so make the most of it. However, if you are going to be more than a few minutes late, let them know. If you are going to cancel, do so 24 hours in advance or as soon as possible the day of, preferably by phone. If you are running significantly late, apologize and make sure you pick up the tab. There have been two times in my life when I was running terribly late, and you bet I paid for that other person’s meal and apologized profusely! I also have a rule of thumb: I don’t meet with people who cancel the day-of twice in a row because… professionalism.
Do your research and don’t ask about things you can looked up online. But don’t hold back on asking questions. Even if it’s just a casual coffee, have some thoughtfully prepared questions to prevent an awkward situation. Depending on the meeting, have information to present or reference available. If you reference something you can’t immediately share with people, take note of it and send it to them after the meeting. Go here and here to read some more tips on how to best prepare for a productive meeting.
Jot down things you don’t want to forget. I have a major pet-peeve when people don’t take notes and then follow up with another meeting because they need more information-- and this happens more than you think. If you’re taking notes on a phone or laptop make it clear to the other person. Simply state at the beginning of the meeting that you’d like to take notes electronically. Also, be aware that this could create a boundary so make sure you are maintaining as much eye contact as possible.
Put your phone away
Unless it is an emergency, stay off of your phone and make sure the sound is off. It’s just plain rude to use your phone during a meeting-- and yet it happens all of the time. In fact, just make sure it’s out of your line of sight. If you are expecting an important call let them know at the beginning of the meeting in case you need to step out.
Use this time wisely
Remember, the person you are meeting with has taken time out of their day to meet with you, and that’s something you can’t ever give back. If requesting an in-person meeting, go to the location that’s most convenient for the other person-- and if they ask you for a meeting choose a few options that works best for you. Don’t schedule a one-hour in person meeting for something that could have been covered in a 15 minute phone call. While meeting in-person is nice if you don’t know someone, offer a phone meeting option if you already have a relationship with that person. And during your meeting be sure not to get sidetracked with personal topics. Make sure you end the meeting at the time you say it’s going to end and follow up with another meeting if necessary.
Send a thank you note
Let that person know you appreciate your time. Save time by gathering the information needed to send a thank you note (name, address, company, position, etc.) so you can draft this in advance. Save space to include specific insights or advice you found interesting or something you learned from them. In our digital world, a follow-up is expected but a hand-written one will set you apart. Send this within 24 to 48 hours of your meeting. Unsure of what to write? Check out this article.
Be mindful of general courtesies
Dress appropriately and make sure you’re not overly-perfumed or smelling of cigarette smoke. If you are hoping to impress the person you are meeting, don’t ruin it with things that are in your control. Make eye contact, be mindful of your body language and have a firm handshake. Also, always go the safe route: leave 30 minutes early instead of 10 and make sure you know how to get to your meeting. Also, this is a minor thing but I never want to be that person who asks for a pen. True story: I bombed my first post-college interview by showing up late because I missed my exit and nervously spending way too much time fumbling around my purse, trying to find a pen. That experience scarred me.
Set up the logistics
If you are calling the meeting and it’s a conference call, set up WebEx, Google Hangout or something of the like and send the access information in advance (not 10 minutes before it’s scheduled to begin). Be sure to include your name in the calendar invite and in the body of the event, or in some sort of communication that explains the purpose for the meeting and has any action items for attendees. Let people know the location, time, what to bring, how long the meeting should be, etc. If you are bringing together multiple teams in this meeting, make introductions. Start with the person of highest rank and state who and why each person is attending. Need to cancel the meeting? Read this article.
Have an agenda
I believe every group meeting needs an agenda, even if it’s loose and simple. Create one and send it to all attendees before the meeting starts, and try to end the meeting when the allotted time is up. Harvard Business Review has a sample agenda and template for a variety of purposes and group sizes.
Listen more than you speak
You are part of the meeting for a reason: you bring something to the table. However, everyone should be able to make a meaningful contribution to the conversation, so be mindful about interrupting. That said, don’t save your questions for the end or try to make all of your points at once because others may lose interest. Be an active listener and participate in the conversation at the appropriate times. Practice makes perfect.
Take a seat at the table
Take a seat and adjust it so you will be comfortable during the meeting. Pro tip: grabbing a corner spot will give you the best vantage point so you can connect with everyone. Forget what your mother said about keeping your elbows off the table. Having them up there will force you to lean in and be more engaged. Even if you’re late, be sure to grab a seat because standing in the back of the room will be distracting: everyone will remember that you were late and didn’t sit down.
Clean up after yourself
Although this doesn’t personally bother me, several people surveyed said you shouldn’t be eating food unless you’re in a lunch meeting. Either way, be sure to make your spot ready for the next person to sit down. Don't fumble to get your things together while everyone is ready to leave. You may want to catch someone quickly to thank them for their time, let them know they made an interesting point or get their contact information, so make sure you don’t have to spend any more time than necessary to get up and go. And, just like in elementary school, push in your chair.
Am I missing any tips? Let me know in the comments section.