Courtesy in meetings

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When you host a meeting . . .

1. Advise date, time, duration and directions

These ensure all attendees know when and where the meeting is and can plan their travel route and timing. If they know how long the meeting will last, they can also plan their return travel.

2. Ask participants to confirm attendance

Confirmed attendance helps to ensure participants turn up. If some don’t, it could waste everyone else’s time, especially where people have travelled a long distance to be there.

3. Distribute the agenda (and minutes) in advance

An agenda advises the aim of a meeting, topics for discussion and actions. Minutes from a previous meeting will brief participants on discussions to date and action in progress.

4. Ask about special requirements

Is your venue easily accessible? If food or refreshments are being provided, do participants have special dietary requirements? Ask in advance to avoid inconveniencing or embarrassing anyone on the day.

5. Advise any special circumstances

Have you arranged to take media photos? Will there be any activity requiring specific clothes or equipment (eg outdoor walking)? Let people know before the day so that they arrive suitably prepared.

6. Direct visitors to the venue or room

Where possible, signpost the meeting to make it easy to find.

7. Be available to greet attendees

If people make the effort to arrive on time, it’s only polite to be there to greet them. The offer of refreshments or washroom facilities could be very welcome, especially after a long journey.

8. Introduce everyone by name

Where people don’t know each other, introduce them, or give them the opportunity to introduce themselves, to make them feel comfortable. If it’s a big meeting, provide name badges.

Even where everyone knows each other, it still feels good to be welcomed personally.

9. Guide the meeting with discipline

If the meeting has a schedule, stick to it. Allot a specific time for each agenda item or speaker, and remind speakers if they overrun.
Give everyone the opportunity to contribute. If some individuals start to ‘dominate’, manage the discussion firmly, but fairly.

10. Draw clear conclusions

Meetings consume valuable time, so make sure every meeting achieves some form of progress. Progress includes agreement on one or matters, decisions to take action, tasks delegated to specific people, review of previous action(s), conclusion of a project or identification of a need for more information.

Attendees could feel that a meeting that has achieved nothing has been a waste of their time.

11. Minute the meeting

Assign someone to take notes of what is discussed and agreed during the meeting. Effective minute taking is a rare ability, so make sure that the main points are noted, as well as decisions and actions delegated to specific people. Distribute minutes to attendees as soon as possible after the meeting.

12. Thank everyone for their contribution

People’s time is precious, so thank everyone for giving their time to attending and contributing to your meeting.

When you attend a meeting . . .

1. Reply to invitations

If you’ve been invited to a meeting, confirm that you will definitely attend it. This is especially important if it’s a long meeting or the host is laying on catering or other services for your benefit.

2. Plan your journey in advance

Make sure you know the location of the meeting venue, how to get there and how long your journey will take. Give yourself enough time so that you arrive punctually and in a relaxed frame of mind. If you’re late, you could hold up the meeting for everyone else.

3. Advise delay or cancellation

If you are delayed or have to cancel, for any reason, let your host know as soon as possible. Make sure you have their contact details – phone or email – with you when you travel. They may be delaying the start of the meeting to wait for you and may need to decide whether to start without you.

4. Prepare yourself fully

If you’ve received minutes from a previous meeting, read these as soon as you get them to brief yourself and ensure you can complete any actions delegated to you by the required deadline.

If you have to report on a topic, assemble the material you need and prepare any handouts for distribution at the meeting.

5. Be aware of any special requirements

Will the meeting include an activity such as a site visit requiring outdoor clothing? Is a press photo being taken? Make sure you dress accordingly and take any equipment or accessories needed.

6. Dress for the occasion

Is it a formal meeting or casual? Occasionally, a host will specify a dress code and it is courteous to follow this, especially if there is a social aspect to the meeting.

7. Freshen up

Good personal hygiene is important when meeting people and, especially if you’ve had a long journey, you’ll feel better if you can take the opportunity to freshen up. It’s always good to carry a comb or hairbrush and perhaps a packet of mints.

8. Behave courteously at all times

The best approach is to behave towards others as you would like them to behave towards you. Use courteous language, argue points politely and acknowledge others’ viewpoints, even if you disagree.

9. Give people your undivided attention

It’s polite to take notice of people speaking to you, whether one-to-one or in a bigger meeting. So turn your mobile phone to silent and don’t text or post to social media websites during a conversation or when you should be listening. In some meetings, it may be acceptable, say, for an audience to send such messages, but if in doubt, do not do so. Your responsibility is to give your undivided attention to the meeting you are attending.

10. Focus on agenda items

Do not stray from agenda topics or talk at length about an issue of interest to you but not necessarily to others present. And don’t start secondary conversations while the main discussion is in progress. If an issue arises which you feel needs to be discussed, bring it to the attention of the chairman when an opportunity arises, raise it as ‘any other business’ or discuss it with the person concerned after the meeting, whichever seems appropriate.

11. Cooperate with your host

If your host asks you to speak for an allotted time, try to stick to this. If you overrun, wind up your speech when asked.

12. Observe the spirit of the meeting

Whatever the aim of the meeting, observe the spirit and help to achieve its aims.

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Courtesy toolkit

See the other polite prompts in our please and thanks courtesy toolkit.

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