Think about a time you attended a lousy meeting.
We’ve all been there. Maybe you spent weeks preparing for a big presentation, and when the time came, you felt distracted by side conversations and cell phones buzzing. Or maybe you showed up to a meeting ready to go, but three other participants showed up late and unprepared, so the meeting had to be rescheduled.
Bad meetings are a drag. Time is taken for granted, meeting attendees are distracted and half-listening at best, and it feels like nothing ever gets accomplished. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Bad meetings can become great ones with proper meeting etiquette. In this guide, we’ve rounded up the basics of meeting etiquette, why etiquette is essential, and some tips to help you improve your meetings right away.
What is meeting etiquette?
Meeting etiquette, at a glance, refers to a standard set of behaviors for attendees to follow and abide by during business meetings.
When we think about etiquette, we often think of a set of manners and guidelines to follow out of respect for ourselves and others in the room. Meeting etiquette creates a professional environment with mutual respect amongst meeting attendees. While meeting rules might change depending on the context, company, and setting, there are some universal rules you can take wherever you go.
Behaviors such as arriving on time, providing your full attention, serving as an active listener, and staying on track are important meeting etiquette rules to follow.
Why is meeting etiquette important?
There’s no doubt about it — we spend a significant portion of our careers in meetings. Research revealed that most employees attend 62 meetings during an average month.
So, why is meeting etiquette important? Well, because we’re paying a lot of money and devoting a lot of time to meetings — which means we need to make the most of that time. Meetings are essential in any workplace, but they become valuable when meeting etiquette comes into play.
Aside from time and money, meeting etiquette is important because it creates a positive and professional work environment. Effective meeting etiquette can improve communication, increase productivity, and improve relationships amongst your employees. And besides, no one enjoys spending hours preparing a presentation only to feel like no one paid attention to it.
What are some standard meeting rules of conduct?
Depending on who you speak to, standard meeting rules of conduct can vary. In general, here are some standard meeting rules of conduct to follow for the most productive and actionable meetings (that don’t inspire groans and eye rolls).
1. Be respectful and kind
Treat everyone in the room with respect, even if you disagree with their viewpoint or ideas. One way to redirect your focus towards being respectful is to prioritize the organization rather than defending your own opinions and perspectives. Be willing to accept and tolerate tough conversations and conflicting views in the kindest way possible.
2. Hold yourselves and each other accountable
Stay accountable for being fully present at meetings and hold other meeting attendees responsible for doing the same. Encourage participation and strive to reach the desired outcome of the meeting. If you say no laptops or phones are allowed during a discussion, ensure all attendees abide by the rule. If and when meeting rules are violated, have private conversations with repeat offenders or restate the rules of conduct if needed.
3. Attack the problem, not the speaker
It’s okay to challenge your colleague’s ideas and views as long as you do so in a respectful way. Reframe viewpoints and understand that you’re working together to solve a problem or identify solutions. Remove blame and judgments from the equation so you can focus on better outcomes rather than past behaviors or mistakes.
4. Stay on topic
Meeting agendas are the most effective tool for ensuring meetings stay on track and make the best use of everyone’s time. Always refer back to your plan when conversations start to fall off the rails. They don’t have to be overly complicated and cumbersome, but they should provide enough guidelines to steer the discussion and make the most of your scheduled time.
5. Follow up on what’s next
One easy way to waste time in a meeting is discussing action items and deliverables, only to never follow up on those to-dos. To get the most out of your meeting:
- Ensure it’s always clear what the next steps are, who is responsible for which action items, and when specific tasks should be completed
- Take time to decide with the group if another meeting is needed
- Get organized and track what was discussed during the meeting and when follow-ups will be conducted to check on progress
Meeting etiquette tips
Follow these meeting etiquette tips to help make your meetings more productive, effective, and successful. Don’t worry — you can apply many of these tips to virtual meetings too.
1. Be prepared
Save yourself time during the meeting by preparing for it. If you receive a meeting agenda in advance (and hopefully you do), take time to review it and understand if there are any steps you need to complete or research you need to do prior to the meeting. Those hosting a meeting may ask you to complete an exercise in advance or bring certain materials with you. No matter the scenario, make sure you are prepared and complete any requests from the organizer.
2. Be on time
Showing up on time (or better yet, a minute or two early) for meetings is professional, respectful, and courteous to everyone else attending the meeting. It can be challenging to start a meeting without all of the required participants, and your colleagues won’t enjoy having to wait for you to get started. Play your part to eliminate distractions and keep things moving full steam ahead by ensuring you’re on time and prepared — meaning you don’t have to run back to your desk to grab your notebook.
And because we’re all human, we’re bound to be late sometimes. If you are late to a meeting, try to avoid being loud and interrupting the meeting’s progress. Simply apologize to the rest of the group and dive right into the meeting topics as soon as you get situated.
3. Dress appropriately
Dressing appropriately for your meeting can mean different things depending on the type of meeting and your audience. Appropriate attire will vary, so it’s essential to understand the dress code for your organization and abide by the guidelines that have been set. If you’re giving a presentation, consider dressing up for the special occasion. If you’re attending a meeting with clients, be sure to talk to your team or manager about any specific attire requirements.
4. Listen and be respectful to participants
Meetings require active listeners. If you want to have meaningful discussions with your colleagues, it’s important to actively listen and understand the shared information and viewpoints. That means you should do your best to avoid thinking about your to-do list and other work-related tasks you need to get done. Use verbal and non-verbal cues to show your level of engagement. Nod your head, hold firm eye contact, and respond with thoughtful questions and positive encouragement when the time is right.
5. Don't be rude
There’s no room for rudeness in meetings, and that includes engaging in side conversations, talking over others when they haven’t finished sharing their thoughts, and responding with snide remarks and comments. Leave this behavior at the door to create a positive and comfortable environment for all meeting attendees to enjoy.
6. Try to stick to the schedule
Do your best to avoid straying from the meeting agenda and time allotments for each topic. Keeping on schedule is courteous to all participants and demonstrates respect for the time and effort the meeting organizer invested in planning the meeting. It’s normal for additional topics to get brought up during a meeting as conversations progress. But rather than let those conversations take over, make a note of the issues and agree to schedule time outside of the current session to discuss. Always revisit the agenda when needed to steer conversations back on track.
7. Put your phone away
Ditch your phone at the door. If you have to bring your phone with you to a meeting, be sure to silence it and set it aside. Avoid fidgeting with your phone, pulling it out of your pocket to scroll through emails, or using it to check the time. Our phones become distractions once they’re in our hands, so leave them behind as frequently as possible. Remember, it will still be there waiting for you after the meeting.
8. Speak confidently and be concise
When it’s your turn to speak during a meeting, be sure to speak loudly, clearly, and concisely so all meeting attendees can hear and understand you. Not only does this portray confidence, but it also helps you avoid repeating yourself multiple times to the group. If the room can hear and understand what you have to say with ease, it provides them a better opportunity to process your thoughts and respond accordingly. Soft speaking can cause confusion and frustration, and sabotages your meeting’s efficiency because you need to re-address the same topic.
9. Be aware of food and drink
Should you bring food and drinks to meetings? Well, it depends on who you ask. In most situations, water and coffee are appropriate to bring to meetings, but always ask the organizer about any specific room meeting rules. Some organizations have working meetings through the lunch hour, in which case food may be allowed. If you bring food to a meeting, try to avoid noisy packaging and wrappers as they often distract others. Eat and drink quietly at all times and be sure to throw away any trash or leftovers once the meeting ends.
10. Clean up after yourself
You made it through the meeting! Great work — now it’s time to clean up the room. Leave every meeting room the same way you found it unless instructed otherwise. If you rearranged chairs and furniture, be sure to move them back to their original locations. If you used office supplies, put the remaining supplies back where you found them. Wipe down any tables as needed, particularly if attendees enjoyed food and drinks during the meeting. Erase the whiteboard if you used it and turn off any equipment that’s not in use.
Find everything you need to know about meeting etiquette summed up in our infographic below:
Using Wrike for organizing a meeting
Set your team up for success by getting organized for your meetings. With a project management tool like Wrike, you can organize your meetings, along with any action items or other follow-ups from those conversations.
Here are just a few of the features that can help you get organized for your next meeting:
- Use our Actionable Meeting Notes Template for tracking meeting minutes, assigning action items, and organizing discussions for future reference
- Proactively share related files, tasks, and reports to allow for easy and smooth collaboration
- Keep everyone in the loop with better visibility and centralized communication
- Track specific tags for your meetings to filter them and reference your notes quickly in the future
Ready to run an effective, etiquette-focused meeting? Get started with a free trial of Wrike today.