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Meetings are inevitable in every profession, and the way you conduct yourself in a meeting can create a dramatic reflection of you or your company. Whether it’s a meeting with a client or an internal meeting with colleagues, some simple guidelines can help you put your best foot forward in any situation.
At the Table
Whenever we get together—regardless of the setting—we love to have food. Meetings are no exception. Ellen Reddick, a business consultant for Impact Factory, holds seminars, workshops and training sessions designed to teach etiquette. She says incorporating food into business meetings can be beneficial in strengthening professional relationships.
“Eating with people is important. It develops rapport. It gets us out of the office where we can relax and be more comfortable,” she says. “It makes us feel more casual. It drives up our blood sugar and makes us physically feel better.”
Reddick cautions, however, to not make the meal more important than the people at the meeting, especially when it comes to a meeting with clients. She also stresses the importance of engaging in small talk before jumping right into business.
“Always know your role: you’re either a guest or a host,” she says. “Focus more on relationships, not food. Don’t immediately get to business.”
Once the eating begins, practicing basic manners and etiquette is crucial. Utah resident Eliana Bonati teaches etiquette classes, specializing in teaching manners to children and youth from kindergarten through high school. She says she is often astounded at the lack of manners among those eating in restaurants.
“I look at the manners of everyone, and I don’t know what’s going on,” she says. “People are eating with mouths open and full. A lot of people don’t have eye contact. And you need to say ‘thank you,’ ‘please’ and ‘you’re welcome.’”
Bonati agrees with Reddick that business lunches can be an effective tool in fostering good business relationships and in helping to ease the anxiety and stress that may accompany a meeting. But she also says if proper etiquette can’t be practiced, companies shouldn’t hold business lunches.
“Everybody loves to eat—it’s a way to approach people. But if you don’t have good manners, don’t do it,” she says.
Before you Dial
Advances in technology allow us to do more on our phones and other electronic devices than we could’ve imagined even a decade ago. These conveniences help us to do our jobs more effectively and communicate with fellow business associates and clients more promptly and efficiently.
But they can also be the biggest culprits in violating business meeting etiquette.
“Cell phones were created to help you contact people, but they need to be turned off in meetings,” Bonati says. “Never talk on them in meetings. Listening is the most important key to success; if you’re talking, you’re not listening.”
Reddick echoes Bonati’s sentiments and even goes a step beyond her advice.
“It’s standard to turn off phones and not place them on the table,” she says. “Turn them on vibrate. By talking on the phone, you’re telling [the people in the meeting] that’s more important than the meeting.”
In some cases, it may be appropriate to have cell phones on during a business meeting. Mary Ellen Hatch Felt, administrator at Salt Lake City law firm Stoel Rives, says attorneys at the firm are instructed to turn phones off if meeting with a client, but that they may leave phones on when attending an internal meeting.
Reddick adds that in rare cases when an impending emergency requires you to take a phone call during a meeting, you should inform those in charge of the meeting—if at all possible—before the meeting begins that this will take place.
Face to Face
Depending on the situation and setting, communicating with clients and colleagues by videoconference or Skype can be an ideal, cost-effective way to hold a meeting. But many of the same rules of etiquette that would be followed in a traditional face-to-face meeting must be adhered to.
Stoel Rives attorneys frequently use Skype and videoconferencing. These methods are especially useful when conducting business with other Stoel Rives representatives who work in some of the firm’s other North American locations.
“Videoconferencing is going to be used more and more for trainings and meetings,” Felt says.