Keeping courtesy top of mind when you are planning an event can make all the difference.
Meetings represent such wonderful opportunities for the sharing of information, making of decisions, building of morale, and forming of ideas to name just a few. But they can equally be challenging, so here we show how an emphasis on respectful behaviour and good manners can positively influence your meetings.
Setting the Tone
Select a location as conveniently accessible as possible for participants, issue personalised meeting invitations well in advance and confirm attendance. You should also supply an agenda which clearly states the meeting’s purpose as well as discussion topics ordered by their value and with timings. This demonstrates respect for people’s time and contribution, and allows for preparation in advance. Indicate appropriate dress code if necessary, and make a courteous request for punctuality. Ensure that only those who are needed to fulfil the purpose of the meeting are invited so that no one feels that their time has been wasted.
Participants should be welcomed to a properly set-up meeting environment. Therefore, the host should arrive early in order to check the set-up of the room, test the audio-visual equipment, distribute relevant documents, and greet and seat. They should also ensure that the temperature and lighting of the room is comfortable.
This can be such a powerful way of influencing people’s mood and attitude for the better. Plentiful ‘pleases’ and ‘thank yous’ rarely elicit anything other than a positive response. ‘Good mornings’, the offer of a drink, and (in most situations) smiles from the host or chairperson will help emphasise and establish a courteous and pleasant atmosphere, conducive to the desired outcomes. Also, unless it is certain that all participants are well known to each other, introductions should be invited at the start of the meeting and, if appropriate, handshakes exchanged.
An additional benefit of instituting courtesy throughout the whole process of planning an event is in the relationship with the venue or other supplier. Politeness and honesty go a long way in creating a mutually-profitable relationship.
Keeping to schedule
Allowing a meeting to start late or overrun is inconsiderate and likely to irritate those taking part. The chairperson must be prepared to be firm about the start time, and then control the interaction throughout so that the intended outcomes are achieved in the time agreed. This may mean managing contributions to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to have their say without being interrupted. For example, if a few people are monopolizing the discussion, the chairperson must tactfully step in and invite the views of others. Equally, they are responsible for making sure that the meeting stays ‘on topic’. If the meetings involves formal presentations, have a system to warn the presenter if they are about to overrun.
An international meeting may require extra effort to make all participants feel comfortable, so research relevant cultural protocol and etiquette well in advance and distribute information as appropriate so that people are aware of what will be expected of them.
Have the meeting chairperson politely but firmly establish the ‘rule’ regarding phones, laptops and iPads at the beginning of the session – which ideally should be that they are turned off or left on silent throughout. Inattentive participants checking email or messages, or worse still taking a call in the meeting, reduces focus and productivity and is likely to create tension in the room. If a participant absolutely must take a call, they should leave the room immediately. If the call is expected, the individual should inform the chairperson before the start of the meeting.
Adequate breaks and refreshment help to maximise the concentration and positivity of participants. Stiff limbs, hunger and thirst are all likely to test tempers, so make this an important consideration when planning the meeting.
Take into account any special dietary requirements. Furthermore, many venues are now introducing the concept of ‘brain-food’ and it may be worthwhile exploring this option. An overly carbohydrate-driven menu at lunchtime, for example, can make people sleepy, so be prepared to help them perform their best with a suitably balanced menu.
If alcohol is to be served at the event, ensure that it is served appropriately for the occasion and that people know what is expected of them. For example, the host of a lunchtime event might say just before the break, ‘Do enjoy a glass of wine with your meal’, and offer smaller glasses, making it clear of the expectation. Evening events may be rather different, but it is still important to try to manage alcohol for maximum meeting harmony!
Distractions are much easier to succumb to when people are not face-to-face. Furthermore, tele-conference or video calls involve different interpersonal dynamics so the skill in making the most of such remote meetings is more subtle. Many visual cues, for example, will at worst be missing altogether or at best much harder to read, so there needs to be greater awareness and sensitivity to how delegates are reacting to what is being said. A system for ordered response is appropriate, especially for telephone meetings, so that each participant is invited, in sequence, to offer their views. This ensures that everyone is obliged to engage with the meeting and also to reduce interruption issues when participants are unsure who is to speak next. Adequate telephone technology is an important consideration to reduce background noise so that participants do not have to struggle to hear what is being said.
Thank all participants, and ensure that meeting content is carefully documented including goals and follow up, and distributed afterwards in timely fashion. This should be written in a way that clearly demonstrates the achievements of the meeting so that again, people don’t feel that their time has been wasted.
Zibrant is a big believer in good manners – we have recently joined the National Campaign for Courtesy (yes there is one!) to help promote the importance of respect and politeness. Manners are good for business, and actively demonstrating and encouraging good manners in meetings is a simple way to generate more productive experiences which are remembered favourably by all involved.