Meeting Etiquette

As project managers, we will do a couple things often—attend and host meetings. In the early days of any project, there will be lots of opportunities to get together with various individuals or groups to discuss scope, schedule, funding, and so on. Focusing on the building world, these meetings could be the early stages of vetting the need for a new building or a renovation of an existing one. In the last article the concept of project phases or process groups was discussed. Continuing with that theme, let’s look at all the meetings that we could be involved in.

During the initiating phase of a project the meetings can include the project sponsor, the project developer, members of the finance group or a specific management team. These meetings will be used to discuss the business needs and available funding so we can fine-tune our scope and schedule as we prepare to move into the planning phase.

In the planning phase, we will meet with internal and external project stakeholders who could include architects, engineers, designers, and contractors. In this phase we could be involved in months of design and status update meetings where we take the project requirements and come up with a set of plans to build or renovate whatever the project sponsor requested.

Once our plans are complete we are ready to move into the executing phase and bring the plans to life. During this phase, we will have kick-off meetings, pre-construction meetings, vendor pricing and approval meetings, safety meetings, and, of course, regular status update meetings.

The monitoring and controlling phase covers all the other phases, so the status update meetings will cover a lot of the monitoring and controlling activities.

The final phase is closing, and that will involve more status update meetings, inspections, and punch list walkthroughs, which are effectively mobile meetings. These all wrap up with a final close-out meeting to make sure we have documented and met the project goals.

So what did was apparent in the above summary? We will be in a LOT of meetings!

The title of this article is “Meeting Etiquette,” so at some point we need to cover what that means. Since we will not host all the previously indicated meetings, we will be both hosts and guests and each comes with its own form of meeting etiquette. To kick it off, let’s cover the meetings we may host and what good meeting etiquette means for us. One thing we all know is that etiquette is often a matter of personal beliefs and experience. Anyone can do a quick Google search on the term “meeting etiquette,” and get lots of results—39 million+ as of today.

What I plan to share here are some common themes combined with my own personal experience and beliefs of good meeting etiquette when hosting a meeting. The number one thing to remember is that, although this is your meeting, you will typically be inviting a group of other people who are probably as busy as you, and you want them to engage and be a useful contributor while at your meeting.

You can make your meeting successful by following a basic list of rules.

BE on time

Heck, as the presenter, you better be early. What if your tech doesn’t work, the video remote is missing, someone is squatting in your conference room and motions to give them a minute? There are numerous things that can go wrong—get there at least a few minutes early so when the meeting is scheduled to start, you are ready.

PREPARE for the meeting

This could be what actually determines the success of your meeting. Did you prepare an agenda? You have handouts? Test the conference line? Bring a power cord in case the meeting exceeds your battery life? Been there – done that – but only once!

Provide and follow an AGENDA

  • Provide an agenda ahead of the meeting, even if it is a basic bulleted list. If you know more detail, then by all means give as much info as you can so attendees know what they are there for. Send it out as soon as you can—you can update it as the meeting gets closer if necessary.
  • Once you have an agenda, follow it. If you can set timeframes as part of the agenda, that is even better.
  • Where I work, Safety is #1, so every meeting starts with a quick Level One Safety Brief, letting everyone know where the emergency exits are located, where any first aid and medical equipment are located, who will lead the group out in case of an emergency, who calls 911, and who can do CPR if necessary. This has proven to be useful as it saved a person in a meeting just this year.
  • Collect a roster if you have a larger group and be sure to get the remote callers’ info as well. This helps in follow-ups and being sure who was in attendance.
  • As the host, it is up to you to keep the meeting moving and on focus. If it gets a bit sidetracked, offer to hold a follow up call or meeting—you need to get through the base agenda items.

Define who is the LEADER or speaker

As the host, you are most likely the leader, but you may also have some key guest speakers. Even those who may speak up or have questions need to feel that they can complete their thoughts. Let everyone know that the speaker has the floor and to allow them to complete their presentation, question, or thought.

STATE your name before speaking

Many times, meeting attendees will not have met one another other than on a conference call, so it can be hard to distinguish who is talking. By stating your name, it gives others a reference to who is speaking and allows the note taker to indicate who brought up a topic or solution.

Do a brief synopsis with some key takeaways at the end of the meeting and let everyone know that minutes will follow.

PROVIDE Meeting Minutes

  • Do this as quickly as possible, while it is fresh in the minds of the attendees. My goal is to provide minutes no more than 24 hours after the meeting and usually less. On some days, when the meetings are back to back this becomes a struggle, but we need to do the best we can.
  • In some cases, you may want to bring a team member along as an official note taker or record the meeting if it is an acceptable practice at your company. It will be hard to take good notes while answering questions and keeping everything on track and under control. When I do this, I still take a form of shorthand notes so I can compare them with what the note taker wrote or typed. You may have to go through a few teammates until you find someone who is in sync with you on the level of detail you desire.

In the end, because we spend so much time in meetings, people may have to prioritize what meetings they will attend. The better their experience, the more likely they are to attend your meetings.

Just like hosting, when attending meetings you can help make your host’s meeting successful, and get more out of it by following a basic list of rules.

READ the provided agenda

In order to be prepared, make sure you look at the provided agenda. Make sure if your name or group/team is listed in the agenda that you are prepared to cover your required portion of the meeting. If you didn’t get an agenda, it may be hard to know where the meeting will go.

PREPARE for the meeting

  • As in the previous statement, try to find out what the meeting is all about. Understand the importance of the meeting. Prepare in advance any notes or questions you may have for the meeting topic being discussed. Be sure you bring a notepad and pen or pencil. No matter how good their memory is, most people cannot possibly remember every item discussed during a meeting. A notepad helps in jotting down the important points for future reference.
  • Always keep your cell phone on the silent or vibrate mode. Cell phones ringing in the middle of meetings is considered rude and unprofessional. It is a huge distraction for others in the room and is really a simple thing to avoid. If you do have to monitor calls, keep your phone on vibrate and try not to set it directly on a table as it will often be just as distracting as a ringing phone.
  • Unless it is an emergency or a critical call, do not take phone calls during a meeting. If you must, excuse yourself and step out of the meeting room.

BE on time

  • Show up early if possible, but if you are delayed because of a previous meeting or activity, be sure to come in quietly, find an open seat, acknowledge the host, and start listening.
  • Showing up early allows for some hand shaking and introductions that you may not get to do otherwise and, of course, arriving early allows you to choose optimal seating.

RESPECT the leader or speaker

  • Don’t hijack the conversation from the speaker, whether it is the host or another attendee.
  • As you may swap the host and attendee roles, the respect you give other people’s time will likely get you respect during yours.

STATE your name before speaking

Just as when you are hosting, stating your name before speaking gives others a reference to who is speaking and allows the note taker to indicate who brought up a topic or solution.

MUTE your phone when not speaking

  • This is a basic conference call item that we all deal with on large calls such as monthly or weekly account updates. There can be a 100 or more people on these calls and if a couple attendees do not have their phones on mute it can be HUGELY distracting.
  • Listening to people yawn, shuffle through a binder, slurp their coffee, etc. is so annoying when a simple press of the mute button ends it all.
  • Make sure you know where the mute button is and mute it as soon as you have introduced yourself and leave it that way until you need to speak.

FOCUS on the meeting (no multi-tasking)

  • The meetings you will attend are either to inform you of something or to get your input, but either way, you were invited for a reason.
  • Respect the host and the other attendees by not checking you email on your laptop or cell phone constantly.
  • Laptops are one of those items that are an often hotly debated item in meetings. Some, especially the younger generation, do not take paper notes, they do it on their laptop. I get this, and if that was all they were used for it would be fine. But I have sat in quite a few meetings where the person next to me is working on emails, proposals, or even Facebook.

Summary Thoughts

Some people are unsure of the laptop etiquette when it comes to meetings, phone etiquette is usually understood, but I see way too many folks checking their email, texting, or surfing when they should be focused on the meeting. You may think it makes you look industrious, but the impression is likely the opposite.

When in a meeting, look around the room, look at your customers, and look at the managers, what are they doing? Are they involved, paying attention, and focused on the meeting they are attending? What do you get from your observations?

How do you want to be perceived? Do you think others are watching you? Are they forming their own opinions of you? Do those opinions matter?

If you are not focused on the meeting because you are using the time to catch up on emails on your phone or laptop or doing work not related to this meeting, then why are you there? Maybe it’s better that you call in. At least the attendees won’t see that you are not focusing on the present meeting.

When you are not focused on the meeting, others will notice by your posture, cell phone in hand, or when 45 minutes into a meeting you are asked a question and you have to ask what project this was for.

There will be meetings you are forced to attend for some reason, so it is inevitable that there will be a time when you are bored, tired, irritated, etc. But in those regular meetings where you are there as a guest to be informed or to contribute, don’t just focus during your portion of the meeting. Instead, stay focused and be professional and you just may learn something new.

Each company has norms and expectations. Learn yours and adapt as required. 

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