9 practical tips for etiquette in the boardroom

May 10, 2016 by Brendan Jack

Meetings can be an irritating part of our workday when they aren’t used correctly. However, meetings are here to stay. And despite all the email, work communication apps, social media, WhatsApp and Skype calls available - face-to-face usually gets things solved faster and more efficiently.

If you book it, they will come

Business is about taking risks, but don’t make that risk involve not booking a meeting room and hoping another meeting party doesn’t show up before you’re done.

Pro Tip: If another legitimately booked group does show up and you’re in the middle of something, don’t make eye contact with them or look apologetic. Perhaps they’ll move on to another room, or you’ll have a few extra moments to wrap up. Next time, book it first!

When arriving at a meeting, do you just open a door, walk in and when realizing that you’re in the wrong place go, “oops, my bad?”

Rather treat it like you’re arriving at someone’s house, where you generally knock before entering. Don’t be the obnoxious neighbour with no awareness.

Early bird special

Arrive early to get a lay of the land. Don’t then hang around the entrance socialising with others and cluttering up the entrance.

Get to your chair and show that you’re ready to roll. It gives you a chance to get your work papers and laptop ready - no need for flustered paper shuffling and looking for a pen that works after the meeting has started.

If it’s a formal type of meeting with senior people, and you’re not sure of an appropriate place to sit, wait for the others to sit and take their lead. Otherwise just ask. Seating usually goes according to seniority or starts with the person conducting the meeting at the head or centre of the table.

Don’t nonchalantly take a central seating position if you’re just making up the numbers and are there to drink free coffee. And don’t sit four empty chairs away from everyone to maintain a low profile. Otherwise, what are you doing there?

Leaving a few unoccupied chairs closest to the door can be a good idea for people arriving late, to avoid disruption and playing musical chairs.

Break the ice

If there are people from other departments or newbies, introductions can help to ease people into proceedings. Exchange business cards beforehand - this can help you to remember names. Want more tips to remember names?

Pipe down, loudmouth

Boardroom bigmouths prefer to talk over others and dominate the conversation. Avoid being that person.

Let others speak and complete full sentences. Yes, you’re eloquent and your ideas are the best, but it’s called a meeting, not a monologue.

Have an agenda (not a Hidden Agenda) or meeting game-plan to avoid unnecessary conversation. “That’s a great story, Jeff, but we’ve got to get through these bullet points before the next presentation starts.”

Got something to say but it’s not the right time or someone else is talking? Jot it down for later or put it into a follow-up mail.

Starting a separate conversation with someone else is usually considered rude. Unless the boss does it, then politely smile and nod at how smart they are for being able to have multiple conversations.

Be aware

How long have you nervously been clicking that pen or tapping your fingers on the desk? Be aware of any irritating mannerisms that you might not even notice.

Body language speaks volumes. Slouching, avoiding eye contact, resting your feet on another chair or staring out the window like you’re hoping for better days doesn’t look professional. Constantly checking out your cellphone is a no-no, unless you’re involved in a hostage situation.

Never sprint out of a meeting as if you had a mental clock counting down to your freedom.

Unless you’re in a small startup with friends from school, don’t eat. “Hey, I skipped breakfast this morning, so I’m going to eat this Tupperware container of funky smelling fish and brussel sprouts in front of you, okay?"

Time is of the essence

Don’t jabber to fill time, or make the meeting go unnecessarily long by suddenly pulling out your five pages of notes when everyone’s wrapping up.

If you’ve got a tangent to go on, but there’s no time, consider putting it into a follow up email to the attendees, or booking a follow-up meeting. Speaking of which, a follow up mail to summarise the meeting, action points or just to say thanks is a pro move.

Here is a funny take on video conference calls: A Video Conference Call in Real Life

Respect the space

Even if there’s office staff to clean up after you, try to maintain some decorum. Do a mini tidy up if needed, don’t leave it looking like the aftermath of a kid’s birthday party, expecting someone else to clean up. Push your chair back under the table, throw away your water bottle, don’t steal the cutlery. If the mood is right, try the Flying Cappuccino.

Too many meetings, not enough meeting rooms

Space is limited. Don’t book the biggest boardroom in the building for just two of you. It’s fun pretending that it’s your massive office and that you’re a big shot, but you don’t need ten spare chairs. If all the rooms are booked, get creative and go for a walking meeting - enjoyed by leaders like Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama. No word on how they handle a PowerPoint presentation when taking a stroll, perhaps someone mounts a tablet on their back and walks ahead of everyone.

Here is a suggestion: a small idea that just might have a big impact on your life and health: Next time you have a one-on-one meeting, make it into a "walking meeting" — and let ideas flow while you walk and talk.

Final checks

Consider dressing a little smarter or wearing a jacket for meetings.

If you wrote on the whiteboard, make sure you did not use a permanent marker, and rub off anything incriminating, er, confidential info.

If you are having sex in the meeting room, avoid the ones with glass walls, and lock the door. Also switch off the Skype camera before you get beamed into the boardroom of your London office.

Summing up

Plan ahead when it comes to meetings, from booking rooms to figuring out the agenda, to having an end time.

Be present, respect the space and everyone’s time, thank them for coming, end with action points or a follow up email.

Being 'good at meetings’ can show that you’re a team player and can increase your credibility rating. Aim to make a good impression.

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