Many people cringe when they hear that they have to attend a business meeting. They're afraid that it will be a waste of time that starts late and accomplishes nothing or that it will be dominated by one or two people. These common problems can be avoided by using proper business meeting etiquette. Etiquette rules allow you to run the meeting more efficiently and to make sure it is productive.
Create an agenda before the meeting, and distribute it to everyone who has been invited to attend. This will allow people to decide whether they really need to be present at the meeting. Otherwise, someone might show up and discover that the agenda is not really relevant for him or her. The agenda is also a neutral touchstone to keep the meeting focused. If discussion starts to wander, you can say something like, "According to the agenda, we should be talking about what we need for the new product introduction. Let's get back to that topic."
Schedule enough time for the meeting to allow you to accomplish the items on the agenda without asking attendees to make too large of a time commitment. Start the meeting promptly to reward the people who showed up on time. If you get in the habit of starting late, this will reward people who habitually show up a few minutes past the designated start time. If you have a reputation for starting right on time, people will learn to show up at the correct time to avoid the discomfort of walking in once the meeting has already started.
End the meeting at the designated time. This shows respect for other people's schedules, since some of your attendees may have scheduled other commitments after the meeting. If there is unfinished business, schedule another meeting.
Encourage participation by everyone in the room, and maintain a safe environment for input. People may be afraid to speak up if they believe that one or two dominant coworkers will immediately shoot them down. Implement a rule of "Only one person speaks at a time," and enforce it strictly. If someone tries to interrupt, say, "This is Sherry's time to speak. Remember, we all agreed that no one would interrupt when someone else is speaking." If some attendees are still reluctant to give input, try a method like going around the room to get each person's feedback on the topic at hand. That way, a shy person doesn't have to worry about finding the right time to speak up.
At the end of the meeting, summarize what was discussed and any decisions that were made. Reconfirm any action items, the people who are supposed to handle them and the deadlines. This gives the attendees a chance to speak up if they don't agree with the summary. If everyone is on the same page, use the summary to create meeting notes and send them out promptly. They shouldn't go out any later than the day after the meeting.
Based in Kissimmee, Fla., Barb Nefer is a freelance writer with over 20 years of experience. She is a mental health counselor, finance coach and travel agency owner. Her work has appeared in such magazines as "The Writer" and "Grit" and she authored the book, "So You Want to Be a Counselor."