Meeting Manners - Part I

What separates a good meeting from a great one? Savvy schedulers know that environment, venue, and initial small talk can have a big impact on both the interaction and the outcome of a meeting.

To sharpen our skills, we sat down with Jodi R.R. Smith, who has gained national recognition as an expert in modern etiquette.

As an author, speaker, and coach, Jodi understands social conventions, and the underlying reasons we ought to follow them. Jodi was featured on NPR recently, and her newest book is titled "The Etiquette Book: A Complete Guide to Modern Manners."

Over the next two posts, we will share her wisdom on the key aspects of meeting - e.g. the set up, conversation, and follow up. Of course, as Jodi likes to say, "The answer in etiquette is always: it depends", please remember these are only general guidelines. We know you will find them helpful.

Scheduling Etiquette

What is the most important thing to do when you are introduced to someone with whom you would like to meet?

Meeting someone new is a bit like dating. The first step before any meeting is to establish intent. Don't rush in, presuming someone you've just met is ready to commit to spend time with you. Demanding specific times to speak again during your first conversation with someone is too much, too soon.

Rather, in your initial interaction it is crucial to be likable, and to get their buy-in before proposing more time together. Of course when you already know the people, such as a close friend or significant other, their intent to meet might be implicit. And similarly, in a close professional setting, it would be standard to simply propose a time for a quarterly staff meeting.

People are busy, it is polite and respectful to reach out by phone or by email to ask the individual for some of his/her time and to issue a specific invitation for a specific reason. Your guest will want to know why he/she should spend time with you. Be sure to establish a mutual intent to meet.

How do you properly communicate intent to meet?

For example, you have just been introduced to someone via email through a mutual connection.

You want to clearly state why you are connecting with that person. While you would hope the person who initiated the introduction has explained the reason behind the introduction, it is your job to make sure this person understands why he/she has been contacted.

The next step is to agree on an interaction. Only after the intent to interact has been accepted should you arrange specific details. Unless it's clear from context, it's polite to ask if they have time for a call or a coffee, before coordinating when and where:

“Jared, it was a pleasure meeting you at last night’s networking meeting. Your company’s success is impressive. As a young entrepreneur, I would be most grateful if I could ask your advice on the project I am about to launch. Would you have 20 minutes on Wednesday morning to meet with me? Thank you in advance.”

Remember, just like ballroom dancing, one person has the lead. As the initiator, you are the host and therefore you must take the lead.

When & Where To Meet

What are some general guidelines when proposing a time and place to meet?

Once the intent to meet has been accepted, it is time to work out the logistical details.

The person who invites everyone else is the host, and the host makes certain decisions. Should you speak by phone, chat over coffee, or meet for a meal? It depends. Ultimately it is for the host to decide.

Of course, the best executives and their assistants know to always offer multiple choices to decrease the time spent planning and increase the likelihood of quickly scheduling the interaction. In a business setting, it is presumptuous and rude to assume the people you want to meet with are free at the one time you suggest. Offering two or three options means a higher chance of acceptance.

How do I decide whether to propose speaking by phone, chatting over coffee, or meeting for a meal?

Since whoever does the asking, does the paying - think carefully! If it's a potential client (or a date), you may not necessarily want to spend the money or the time to take them out for lunch or dinner right away. Better to opt for a coffee, if it goes well, then you can spend more time together.

For a sales meeting with your regional staff, hosting a lunch is bound to increase attendance.

Be strategic, match your goals with your invitations.

What considerations go into picking a venue?

When choosing a specific venue, the budget of the host is the number one consideration. Since the host is paying, the host decides the appropriate budget.

The second consideration is ease - how convenient is the location? Is there a place to park? Is the venue noise level suitable to the type of interaction?

For larger geographic areas, or when travel times are significant, think about the vicinity of the meeting as well as the seniority of people coming. In a professional situation, think about who has the highest rank and choose a convenient location for that person. For a social gathering, you might choose a midpoint venue.

In the next post we will cover etiquette for the meeting itself, as well as how to wrap up the meeting, and what to do when plans change.