How to Behave In a Meeting

I was in a meeting not too long ago.  Fifteen minutes after it started, one of the participants showed up holding a fresh cup of coffee from a local coffee shop. He made excuses about being late, but he omitted the one about the long line getting his coffee. He then asked if someone could catch him up on what he missed. The updates took another five minutes. Then, ten minutes before it ended, he got up and exclaimed that he had to leave for an important meeting.  By the way, in the meeting he explained that he didn’t complete his assigned project, because he was “too busy.”

How to Behave In a Meeting
I may be one of the few people in the world that likes meetings. Meetings are pure teamwork. They are great when the team works as a unit, and they are painful when people don’t follow the “code” of behavior.

Here are some tips for how to behave in a meeting:

  1. Show up. If you’re scheduled to go to a meeting, make every attempt to get there. Being too busy is a poor excuse.  We’re all busy.
  2. Show up on time. Get there, five minutes early. If you’re late, don’t make excuses. Just apologize and sit down. People use excuses to make themselves feel better; no one else really cares. If you are habitually late, figure out why, and fix it.  And, please don’t waste the group’s time by having them “catch you up.”
  3. Come prepared. If you are on the agenda or need to read or prepare something for the meeting, do it.
  4. Don’t use your phone, email or text.  It doesn’t seem like it, but everything can wait. Put your phone away so you are not tempted to look at it.  When you check your phone during the meeting, you give the impression to the speaker that you are not interested in what they have to say. You might not be interested, but it’s better if you don’t make it obvious.
  5. Participate. If you don’t like talking in meetings, you have to force yourself. I find the quiet ones often get to the point quickly and have a lot to add.
  6. Don’t talk to just talk to talk. This is a meeting, not lunch. Don’t just say everything that’s on your mind. Before I say something in a meeting I ask myself “Does it add value to the conversation?” If not, I don’t say it.
  7. Don’t drag on and on.  I follow the “One minute rule.”  Unless you are presenting or setting up the discussion, once you talk more than a minute it’s too long. If you tend to be a long talker, start timing yourself.  A tip to stop someone from going on and on is to stare at their forehead. Weird but it works.
  8. Don’t take the group on meaningless tangents.  Sometimes great new ideas emerge during a discussion that had nothing to do with the agenda item. That’s OK.  I’m talking about tangents that start with “Speaking of difficult employees, did anyone see the last episode of The Walking Dead?”
  9. Listen to others. Don’t be the person who sits on the edge of their seat just waiting for an openning to say what they want to say.
  10. Don’t cut people off. Ok, sometimes you need to in order to get into the conversation, but at least let the other person finish their thought.
  11. Watch your nonverbals. Most of our communication comes from the way we posture. Don’t make faces, roll your eyes, cross your arms, slouch in your chair, unless you want to send the message that you are extremely disinterested.
  12. Don’t check out.  If the topic doesn’t interest you or is import to what you do, suck it up and listen. Or at least look like you are.
  13. Don’t be rude. Don’t, don’t, don’t, make snide comments, be sarcastic, pound the table, or point fingers. More than once I’ve seen this be a career ender.
  14. Recognize people. If you like what someone said or did, tell them. Everyone loves getting recognized in front of their peers.
  15. Don’t be a show off. Everyone sees right through that. The meeting is about the team, not about what a great job you are doing.
  16. Ask probing and engaging questions. Most people just make one statement after the other. If you want the team to consider your idea, try using a question rather than statement. Stever Robbins covers this in a great podcast.
  17. Don’t bog the meeting down. If a topic comes up that you’re not involved in don’t expect to be filled in completely in the meeting.  Do it later.
  18. Assist the facilitator. Do things like stay on agenda, watch the time, and let others speak.
  19. Make it fun. It’s ok to laugh in a meeting.
  20. Don’t carry around your anger.  If you’re offended by something someone said in a meeting, let them know right away. Trust me, they didn’t do it on purpose and they had no idea that they offended you.
  21. Don’t have side conversations. This is really tough on the meeting facilitator.
  22. Don’t suggest new work for other people. If it’s your idea, you own it.
  23. Speak-up when you disagree. And it’s not ok to keep quiet, and then complain about it.
  24. If you have to leave early, let people know up front. Then leave quietly.
  25. Let the meeting end. Don’t bring up something at the very end of the meeting. Too late, the meeting is over.
  26. Follow-though with action steps. Write them down, do them, and then be prepared to present on what happened.
  27. Keep commitments. If a decision was made to do something, do it. And, just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean you can blow it off.

If you want to help others with their behavior in meetings, ask your team to brainstorm their own list. You can then use the list as ground rules. It’s a less confrontational way to get people to change.

What else would you add to my list?

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  • Great pointers!!! I think sharing relevant and intelligent information is a must. Our goal should be to share information that adds to the meeting.

    • Agreed. There are those who hold back info intentionally.

  • I can’t think of a single one of these that I disagree with or that wouldn’t make most meetings better!

  • Micheline Daoust

    Great article! Love #16 Most people just make one statement after the other. If you want the
    team to consider your idea, try using a question rather than statement. So true!

    • I learned to do that after I started noticing that no one was listening to my own statements. Then it became a game to use questions to see how I could get the group were I wanted them to go without making any statements at all.

  • What a great, comprehensive and helpful list. Nice work! You can tell you’ve experienced the pain involved when each rule is broken.

    • Thanks Skip. It was hard to stop at 27. haha

  • Amy

    What a fantastic post! Thanks so much. I’m using the tips for a lesson on How to Behave in Meetings (for German-speaking students in a tourism school). It’s great how you identify specific behaviors clearly, and how concise and focused your language is. I’m going to have the students set goals for themselves on how to reach the behaviors they want to do. And wow, I want to set a lot of goals myself…!