Office meetings. They are both inevitable and necessary. Sometimes unbearably drawn out. Other times refreshingly productive. Regardless of the topics that will be discussed or the decisions that need to be made, observing proper meeting protocol should always be an item on your personal agenda. Whether you are the meeting facilitator or an attendee, a foolproof method to ensure you are minding your meeting Ps and Qs is to follow the 8 Ps of office meeting protocol.
Meeting attendance is an excellent indicator of the way people view the importance of others’ time.
As the meeting facilitator, it is important to start and end the meeting on time. When you delay starting the meeting to wait for stragglers, you penalize the people who came on time and reward the people who did not. Doesn’t make much sense, does it? Similarly, you are not obliged to disrupt the momentum of the meeting to accommodate latecomers by giving a recap of topics that have already been discussed. Throughout the meeting, you will want to keep things on track by sticking to the agenda and ensuring the discourse moves at the proper pace. Consider asking another attendee to serve as a timekeeper. It will be that person’s responsibility to inform the rest of the group the amount of time remaining for discussion in any particular segment of the meeting.
If you are attending a meeting, you should make a concerted effort to be on time and to stay for the duration of the meeting. Aim to arrive at the meeting venue between 10 to 15 minutes prior to the start time. This will give you sufficient time to find a seat, help yourself to refreshments, and scan any meeting materials you did not receive beforehand. If you have a prior commitment and suspect that you may be late to the meeting or that you may need to leave early, communicate that to the meeting facilitator as soon as possible prior to the meeting date.
The key to a successful meeting lies in the preparation of the facilitator and the attendees.
As the meeting facilitator, your preparation sets the tone for the meeting long before the first agenda item is discussed. All the details discussed below should be attended to well in advance of your meeting. First, ensure the availability of a meeting space that will meet your requirements given the number of anticipated attendees, the length of your meeting, and any special equipment needs. You’ll also want to arrange for the proper room setup. For instance, if you plan to have attendees work in small groups, you may want to reconfigure the layout of the tables and chairs. If you intend to use handouts during the meeting, decide whether you want to distribute those in advance with the meeting announcement or wait until the day of the meeting. Even if you choose the latter option, it is always a good idea to send out a copy of the agenda with the meeting announcement. Confirm the arrangements for food and beverage service, including the arrival and setup time. On the day prior to your meeting, test to see that the audiovisual equipment and sound devices are working optimally. If you will use your laptop during the meeting to show a presentation, conduct a test run to avert any unwelcome surprises later.
If you are attending the meeting, come prepared to make a meaningful contribution to the discussion. Thoroughly review all materials provided in advance of the meeting, including the agenda and supplementary background materials. Prepare a list of questions you will ask, comments you will make, and ideas you will share. You’ll also want to complete any pre-work required for the meeting. Perhaps in your previous reading you came across an article or news story that speaks to one of the topics on the meeting agenda. Show initiative by forwarding the article to the meeting facilitator along with a brief note explaining how the article may be helpful. When you attend the meeting, always bring something to write with and a notepad. This sounds very elementary, but so many people neglect to do it. Even during the most routine of meetings, you never know when something important will be said that you’ll need to write down.
A good meeting involves interaction among the facilitator and the attendees.
If you are the meeting facilitator, foster an atmosphere of participation by asking for attendees’ opinions, ideas, and feedback. Build enough time into the meeting agenda to allow for discussion. Try to avoid cutting short productive discussion. If time does become a factor, agree to table the discussion and resolve to revisit the issue at a follow-up meeting. Additionally, as the facilitator, it is incumbent upon you to create a meeting climate where everyone feels comfortable expressing his or her opinion. Make it a point to engage any attendees who have not had an opportunity to speak.
If you are attending the meeting, exercise your active listening muscles. Take notes during the meeting. Use nonverbal communication to show you are actively invested in the discussion. Demonstrate by your posture and eye contact that you are interested in what is going on. When appropriate, ask questions and offer suggestions. Clarify any misunderstanding by paraphrasing what you have understood the speaker to have said and asking if your understanding is correct. Be willing to listen to others’ questions and comments. This serves a two-fold purpose. First, you’ll be less apt to ask a question that has already been answered. Second, you’ll be able to contribute something new as opposed to re-stating what has already been shared. When participating in the discussion, be succinct in your comments and keep them relevant to the topic on the table.
During a meeting, ideas are being shared, opinions are being shaped and challenged, and new approaches to solving problems are being proposed. In doing all of this, however, it is essential to keep the conversation positive. In voicing disagreement, be certain to refrain from making personal attacks or automatically dismissing others’ contributions because they may not be in line with your way of thinking. Remember that you can disagree agreeably. Rather than dwell on problems or challenges, offer creative solutions. Resist the urge to point fingers. Work together to reach a positive outcome, which leads to the next P.
Every meeting should have a goal, or an objective, to work toward. As the meeting facilitator, you set the goal(s) of the meeting. It is also your responsibility to communicate the goal(s) to the attendees. Your goal may be as simple as addressing each line item on the agenda. Or it may be as complex as developing a new policy for email usage. Whatever the goal of the meeting, the facilitator and attendees alike should approach the meeting with a mindset of being productive and ultimately accomplishing the goal(s).
If you are attending the meeting, turn off any electronic communication devices. Better yet, leave them at your desk. I hereby decree that anyone caught texting or tweeting during the meeting must run ten laps around the building. Backwards! Side conversations are another no-no. If you think you may need to leave early, sit at the back of the room and make your exit as unobtrusively as possible. If you are running late and the meeting has already started, wait outside the door until the speaker at the front has finished his or her presentation or until he or she motions it is okay for you to enter. As a polite attendee, you’ll want to give your undivided attention to the person who has the floor. Take turns speaking and try not to monopolize the discussion.
If you are the meeting facilitator, it is your responsibility to bring the meeting to a successful conclusion. Review the goals that were achieved. Set a tentative date and time for a follow-up meeting, if one is needed. Ask for volunteers or assign tasks that must be accomplished. Confirm deadlines for completion of those tasks or a specific date by which status reports should be given. Finally, you’ll want to answer any last-minute questions and tie up loose ends.
If you are attending the meeting, show that you are team player by volunteering to serve on a committee, complete a task, or buy the donuts for the next meeting. You can also offer to take the meeting minutes, act as the timekeeper, or make extra copies of materials that are needed.
I’ve saved the most important P of office meeting protocol for last. So much can be written here. I’ll end with a caution that your reputation for professionalism can be solidified or called into question based on the way you conduct yourself during a meeting. Maintain the respect of your peers and supervisors by being no less than the consummate professional you are.