Meeting Etiquette Basics – Because Protocol Matters!

You know what they say: “manners maketh the man” (or woman!). If you’re li​ke us, the chances are you’ve sat through more than your fair share of meetings. They’re an essential part of any business lifestyle - there are always people to meet, to impress, to share ideas with - and meeting etiquette is a key part of making the best possible impression.

You may well be someone who feels they’re well on top of business meeting etiquette, but you’d be surprised by how many people seem to make small schoolboy errors in this regard. It may not be the end of the world to slip up from time to time, but you never know how important such things are to the other people you’re talking to… and it never hurts to make a bit of effort to ensure your manners, body language and general demeanour are all in check.

We’ve gone to the trouble to compile a quick rundown of what we feel are the key factors in business meeting etiquette, just to help you make sure you’re doing all you can to come across in the best possible light. After all, your next meeting could be the one that makes all the difference - let’s make sure you get it right first time!

how to dress for a meeting

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. This old saying is true for all the points we’re about to make, but it all begins with the visual impact you’re going to have on the people you meet. More and more, dress codes are being relaxed when it comes to business meetings, but we feel that it’s always safer to ensure you look sharp, svelte and professional.

If you’re abroad, it never hurts to do a little research into the sort of business attire usually worn at meetings in the country you’re in, and adjusting your look accordingly.

business man in a suit

get your mingle on

Before the meeting begins, if you find yourself in a communal space with the people you’re set to sit down and talk about business with, don’t make the fundamental error of being a wallflower.

Mingle, introduce yourself and your team (starting with the person of highest rank) and make pleasant small talk. This sort of ice-breaking is not only polite; it also helps meetings start more efficiently and smoothly.

the rules of introduction

If you want to make the best impression when making introductions, it’s always a good idea to follow the classic protocol that governs this particular aspect of meetings. Follow these five steps, and you can’t go far wrong.

Step 1: Ensure that you introduce the lesser ranking person (lesser in the sense of age, social status or professional level) to the higher ranking one.
Step 2: First, state the name of the higher ranking individual you’re introducing the other person to.
Step 3: Next, say “I wish to introduce” / “I would like you to meet” / etc.
Step 4: State the name of the person being introduced (the ‘lesser ranking’ individual).
Step 5: Offer a couple of key details about each person, just to smooth the conversation and allow them to become acquainted. Easy!

introduction handshake

initiation and handshakes

Your handshake says a surprising amount about you - it’s one of those pieces of ‘non-verbal’ communication which expresses plenty about your personality and how you’re trying to come across.

It goes without saying that you should absolutely not try anything fancy, complicated or - god forbid - cool when shaking hands in a meeting… but what does a ‘perfect’ handshake look and feel like? Check out these tips for handshake perfection!

- Maintain a good posture - shoulders back, head straight.
- Make eye contact with the person you’re meeting
- Hold out your right hand
- Give a good, firm shake (but no bone-crushing, please!)
- Don’t shake for more or less than two seconds
- Don’t forget to smile!
- Greet the other individual, and remember to repeat their name (this also helps you remember it!)

choosing the right seat,
and sitting correctly

Remember when you were at school? There was a definite message sent by which seats the students selected in the classroom; the rebellious kids would linger at the back, clearly telling the teacher that they weren’t interested in engaging with the lesson.

The super-keen kids would choose the chairs closest to the blackboard, signalling the opposite intention. While that may have all been a long time ago, similar rules definitely apply in business meetings.

There’s no doubt about the fact that the seats nearest the back, or those up against the walls, are not the ones to go for if you’re keen to make the best impression at your meeting.

However, if you’re new to the group, there are a number of other pitfalls to avoid - you don’t want to accidentally sit in someone else’s chair, let alone take the seat of the executive before they’ve arrived.

Your best bet in this situation is to politely ask where the other party would like you to sit, and to take your cue from there.

business making presentation

If you’re leading the meeting, you have a clear choice to make. You can either sit at the head of the table, thus demonstrating that you’re very much in the driver’s seat of the meeting. Alternatively, you could sit with the other people or in the middle of a row, which sends the message that this meeting is to be a collaborative effort.

As for sitting business etiquette, common sense prevails. Don’t slouch in your chair, and appear attentive and professional by leaning into conversations, making eye contact, and smiling and nodding while others are talking.

speaking etiquette

When it comes to business meeting etiquette, a lot of weight is placed on how and when you speak. Nobody likes a boorish meeting attendant who steamrolls over other’s opinions and contributions, but at the same time, nobody likes a silent (or near-silent) attendee either.

Get the balance right by making thoughtful and appropriate contributions, but not talking over others, interrupting, or making your meeting partners suffer with awkward silences.

thought for food

Sometimes, meetings take place during meal times at restaurants or cafes, and it’s perfectly natural to be eating and drinking throughout (in fact, it can be awkward if you don’t).

However, for the most part, eating during a meeting is a major error that can be really off-putting for the others present, and can make you appear impolite and unaware of basic meeting etiquette. 

A glass of water or cup of coffee is generally fine, but anything else should be avoided. Of course, it goes without saying that any cups or napkins should be cleared away once you’re finished.

outdoor business lunch

time your questions well

For goodness’ sake, don’t save all of your questions for the end of the meeting, when everyone is keen to leave and get back to business. Make sure you’re asking questions at appropriate times, when everyone present can benefit from them being asked.

business meeting etiquette:
make the right impression

As we’ve seen, most of what is considered business meeting etiquette essentially boils down to basic good manners, respectful behaviour and common sense.

That being said, it’s the kind of thing we should always keep in mind, as the impression you make at your meetings could make or break your business at any time… and doing things the right way, at the right time, and in the right place is going to be a great investment of your energy.

Here at Mask, we’re always keen to bring you the best ideas for your business’s ongoing success, and we’re more than proud to be an industry leader when it comes to bespoke events and party organisation. Want to know more? Get in touch today!