career

"It can make or break your career." The official do's and don'ts of meeting etiquette.

There are so many types of meetings:

  • casual one-on-one coffee catch-ups
  • team brainstorming sessions
  • working lunches
  • after-work drinks
  • industry events
  • conference and video calls
  • huge boardroom meetings that seem to involve half the company (don’t even get me started on the ones where no-one really knows why they’re there, or ones that could have been sorted out with a phone call or email. These days, if a meeting doesn’t have a clear agenda, I’m outta there. But back to the point... ).

No matter the kind, all meetings follow the same pattern:

1. You arrive.

2. You discuss.

3. You reach some kind of conclusion.

4. You leave.

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Depending on who is in attendance, each meeting has its own etiquette. And this isn’t usually something that’s taught. Often people pick this up from experience, or take their cue from the meeting host or the most senior person there. 

But without being too dramatic, the way you handle yourself in a meeting can make or break your career.

Consider that an exciting thing because this is an opportunity for you to get noticed and to build your professional image. 

Here are some dos and don’ts. These should be tweaked to suit the style of the meeting – a casual coffee catch-up is hardly going to resemble a huge boardroom affair chaired by the CEO, but the principles remain the same. 

You want to appear credible and in control and for all parties to leave feeling satisfied that they have achieved something.

DO:

Your homework – make sure you’ve read any pre-meeting material and have done your research on the topic. If you’re meeting new people, look them up on LinkedIn or other social media platforms beforehand so that you know what they look like and understand their background.

Introduce yourself to anyone you haven’t previously met. Use your full name and, in some cases, mention your job title and what you actually do. Practise this in front of a mirror if you need to.

Put your phone away and ensure it’s on silent (not on vibrate). Unless you need to use it to refer to something during the meeting, keep it off the table and in your bag or pocket. And if you do need it during the meeting, use it for that moment then put it back away again. 

Doing these things shows that you respect the person or people you’re meeting with and that you’re fully present. In today’s busy world, giving someone your attention can mean a great deal to them, and you’ll be well-remembered for it.

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Contribute early, but only after you’ve listened to others and really know what’s going on. Come prepared with one or two points to offer so that you are visible early on.

Sit near the influencers. Don’t tentatively take a seat right up the back of the room – if you’re going to be in the game, you need to physically be there! Keep in mind there may be a hierarchy in a room full of execs though, so perhaps don’t sit right next to the CEO if the CFO, COO and CMO are all there too. But be present near the key players.

Listen. Actually listen to what other people are saying, rather than just thinking about what you’re going to say next.

Reframe what the other person has said to make sure you understand them correctly (‘So I’m hearing that the results from the last campaign were great in this area, but you’re unhappy with this section, right?’).

Buy yourself some time with phrases such as ‘That’s a really interesting point’ or ‘I’m glad you brought that up’ if you need to pause and collect your thoughts before replying.

Have an opinion. Be firm and bold – that’s why you’re there. But make sure your opinion is solution-oriented and can be backed up with facts.

Be respectful of other people’s time and opinions.

Use your body language to show that you’re present. Focus your attention outwards and use eye contact.

If a meeting has become heated and more and more people are speaking loudly or aggressively, speak more quietly when it’s your turn to speak. But do so with real precision, making eye contact with those you’re talking to. People will need to lean in to hear you. This is one of the best tricks I’ve learnt as it brings the energy in the room back to a better place and stops the shouting and grandstanding.

Follow up afterwards. This might be by sending the meeting attendees a short email thanking them for their time and providing follow-up information or letting them know that you’re on the case.

Send an email to say thank you if someone has bought you lunch or drinks. If it was your shout, still follow up and thank them for their time. 

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DON’T: 

Be late. Allow enough time so that you arrive at the meeting feeling organised and unrushed. If you’re going to someone’s office and need to let reception know you’re there so they can call them, only do this a few minutes before your meeting. Don’t have the receptionist call them fifteen minutes early as they probably have other things to do and are going to feel unduly pressured by your schedule.

Check emails or texts on your phone during the meeting – it is SO rude. If you’re expecting a critical call or message that the rest of the people at the meeting will understand is a huge priority, start the meeting by letting them know about this and apologising in advance. Explain that they have your full attention and that you’d rather be there with them, but that you may need to take the call or reply to the message in an emergency.

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Have negative body language – don’t cross your arms, roll your eyes or turn your back on anyone you’re with.

Sit on the fence or use indecisive language if you have a real opinion either way, such as ‘whatever’, ‘I guess’ or ‘I dunno... maybe.’

Finish people’s sentences. Feel free to nod and agree with them as they’re talking, but let them say what they want to say. When you finish other people’s sentences they don’t feel heard. This can also come across as quite patronising.

Always have to have the last word. Make sure you’ve given other people an ample opportunity to speak. 

And if you’re still feeling a little meh about the whole meeting thing, whether from nerves or boredom, revert to the oldest and most effective trick in the book: fake it till you make it.

Act like you’re an attentive and confident person, and you soon will be.

You wouldn’t be at this point in your career and at this type of meeting if you couldn’t handle it. 

Be brave. You’ve got this. 

This is an edited extract from You’ve Got This by Bec Brown published by Penguin Random House on 15 September 2020, RRP $29.99.

You can purchase You've Got This on Booktopia. 

Image: Penguin. Feature image: Getty.

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