By Rachel Zupek

Unfortunately, meetings are not an expendable part of corporate America. They are, however – or at least they can seem like – a colossal waste of time. (Unless, of course, food is served.)

Mind-numbing as they may be, meetings are necessary. If conducted efficiently, they’re useful and can help you stand out in the workplace.

Though you might be making all the right meeting moves, there are always folks who struggle with the concept of “good meeting behavior.” There are always those who talk out of turn, snap their gum loudly or spin in their chairs while others are speaking.

Whether you’re the meeting leader or just a participant, prevent yourself from being “that guy” and never make these meeting mistakes:

1. Being Unprepared.
Participant: If you receive an agenda or support material beforehand, read it. Or, contact the leader of the meeting and ask for some background info. Figure out what you’ll be able to bring to the table in a discussion.

Leader: Make sure any technical aides are working – have a back-up plan if they aren’t. Confirm your meeting room; make sure it’s big enough for all attendees to fit comfortably and prepare the room beforehand so you aren’t wasting people’s time. Always provide an agenda or support material in advance.

2. Showing Up Late.
Participant: Whether you’re in a meeting with two people or 200, get there on time. Being late will damage your image and show your disrespect for others’ time. Don’t expect others to review what you missed if you are late.

Leader: Don’t call an “important” meeting and then make everyone wait for you to stroll in at your own convenience. Worse, don’t forget about the meeting altogether and leave your co-workers waiting for you.

3. Being a Meeting Hog.
Participant: Don’t talk just to talk – plan to speak when you have something useful to say. If you’re asked to say something, be conscious of how much floor time you’re taking to make a point. Be blunt, be brief and be done.

Leader: It’s your job to facilitate proper flow of conversation. If there’s someone hogging the floor, it’s up to you to keep track of the time and let others have a turn.

4. Sitting Silently.
Participant: Refusing to participate will earn you a label you don’t want: Either as someone who lacks creativity or who can’t get things done; or your colleagues might get the vibe that you think you’re too good to offer your input. Engage in conversations, even if it’s only to share one suggestion. Otherwise, don’t bother showing up.

Leader: Encourage participation. Don’t hand attendees a topic and let them run with it – lead the conversation and motivate others to get involved. If no one volunteers, take it upon yourself to ask people for their questions, comments and opinions.

5. Expressing Rude Body Language.
Participant: Sleeping, sighing, slouching in your chair, hair tossing/touching/smoothing, spinning in your chair, leaving the room, eating loudly and making rude gestures or facial expressions are all distracting, rude and disrespectful.

Leader: Manage those who are being rude. Don’t put anyone down, but don’t tolerate disrespectful behavior.

6. Conducting Sidebar Conversations.
Participant: Having a side conversation is possibly the rudest thing you can do in a meeting. Even if you’re discussing the topic at hand, save sidebar conversations for after the meeting.

Leader: If you notice attendees chitchatting, ask if there’s a question or concern – this turns the attention back to the meeting’s issues, and lets everyone know sidebar conversations aren’t tolerated.

7. Arguing or Putting Others Down.
Participant: Disagreements are fine – as long as they’re appropriate. Don’t make others (i.e., the boss or your co-worker) look bad. Don’t contradict them, expose their mistakes in a condescending way or ignore their points altogether. If you have something to debate, do it in private and don’t waste everyone’s time.

Leader: There’s no need to discredit others’ ideas or comments just because you are leading the meeting. Be professional when you disagree.

8. Leaving Your Cell Phone On.
Participant: Cell phones shouldn’t even enter the boardroom, but if they do, turn them to vibrate mode. Interrupting meeting progress with your calls is distasteful and disrespectful. If you’re expecting an obligatory phone call, either skip the meeting or let everyone in the room know in advance the call might happen and excuse yourself quietly when (and if) it does.

Leader: Same advice – leave cell phones out or turn them off.

9. Chewing Gum.
Participant: The smack, crackle and pop of your gum are annoying, not to mention rude and unprofessional. Get rid of it.

Leader: You want attendees to pay attention to you, not your gum-smacking.

10. Shutting Down After the Meeting.
Participant: Forgetting what you heard in the meeting is counter-productive. Hold onto support materials, and if you still have questions or concerns, contact the leader.

Leader: Tie up all loose ends in the meeting. Reach a consensus if necessary; otherwise, summarize effectively to answer any and all questions.

About Joseph Doonie

Joe has over 35 years of experience in management and as a recruiter. He also maintains extensive experience in financial reporting, investment evaluations, financial systems applications, process reviews, and corporate governance. Joe has also assisted numerous clients by completing special studies relating to claims and underwriting performance. For the last 20 years he has been offering his professional recruiting and Resource Consulting services for his clients. He holds a Bachelors degree in Business Administration, Chartered Insurance Professional and is a Certified General Accountant.

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