5 guidelines for proper meeting etiquette

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Meetings are part of our work life. You could have one-on-one meetings with your boss. You may have committee or team meetings where you discuss projects or issues as a team. Occasionally, executives also hold company-wide meetings. When you’re a newcomer, you can sometimes feel lost at such gatherings. Here are some tips to have a pleasant and productive experience:

  1. Be prepared

    A meeting invitation usually includes the purpose of the meeting and the agenda. This a list of topics or action items that will be discussed. The call for the meeting may also indicate who will be attending and your role in the discussion. You could be expected to present information, such as updates on a certain project, or bring data that could be used for decision-making. You may need to offer suggestions or ideas to solve a problem or an issue (brainstorming). Or perhaps, you need to be there so that you can be briefed on new developments or changes. If the purpose of the meeting and your role in it are not clear to you, you should ask. Send an email or call the host or organizer. If you are presenting data, it may be a good idea to prepare a handout for the attendees. It should serve as a summary of your key points.

  2. Have you heard about the 3-30-3 Model?
    Integration expert Paul A. Holmes prescribes this rule to draft an outline for a presentation in a meeting. It requires you to ask these questions to meet the 3c’s of Canadian communication: CLARITY – If I only had 3 seconds to speak, what would I say? COHERENCE – If I had another 30 seconds, what points support the main point? CONCISENESS – If I had an extra 3 minutes, how would I expand each point?
  3. Listen and be attentive

    Come on time (ideally 5-10 minutes early). If there’s time, introduce yourself to the group and greet the other attendees. Small talk is expected while you wait for other attendees to arrive or before the meeting is called to order. This video about Pre-meeting Small Talk, a Cross-cultural Teamwork training video by TRIEC (on Vimeo), will show you how small talk is an essential part of communication in the workplace.

    You may need to turn your mobile phone off to fully participate in the proceedings. Make a voice recording or ask a co-worker who is not attending the meeting to let callers know that you are occupied and will return calls at a later time. Listen when someone is speaking and don’t interrupt. You will have your turn to speak. Watch your body language. Smile and nod to indicate that you are engaged and that you understand. Avoid looking at your watch, tapping your fingers on the table or looking out of a window. These movements signal that you are bored and uninterested. It is also bad manners to chit-chat or have side discussions during the meeting. Most importantly, don’t fall asleep!

  4. Take down notes

    Write down important points such as agreements, deadlines, issues, questions, or unresolved points that you need to get back to even if somebody is assigned to take the minutes. This is essential because you will not be able to remember everything that has been discussed. You will thank yourself later when you need to verify an important detail and you have your notes as a reference. It may be helpful to bring a calendar and appointment book with you to have a good idea of timelines for projects or dates for the next meeting.

  5. Participate and stay on topic

    Provide suggestions, ask questions or clarifications, and offer your opinion or help when appropriate. But don’t take too much time talking. Don’t bring up topics that are beyond the agenda, especially when they concern mainly you (or you and your superior). These matters should be discussed on a separate occasion.

    Most newcomers are on the silent side, especially when they are conscious about their language skills. But if you come prepared, participating will come naturally. Do your best to contribute information that can help the discussion move along, or to solve a problem. Be assertive, but not aggressive. Asking questions also helps since it can point to details that may have been overlooked. If you really have no questions or anything new to add, even just saying “great meeting” or “good talk” is helpful. It signals to your co-workers that you understood what was discussed and you are on the same page.

  6. Review items

    Towards the end of the meeting, go through the agenda. If there are points that have not been discussed that concern you, ask about them. Never leave a meeting unclear about what to do next. If you were given an assignment or task, check if you have the task and deadline correctly.

Meetings are a great opportunity to make a good impression on your supervisors and co-workers. It is a good venue to show your professionalism, demeanor, social, and technical skills. With proper preparation, you can demonstrate that you are an asset and a responsive member of the team.
Article updated June 6, 2023.

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