Your Auntie Mabel probably told you to keep your elbows off the dining table, eat with your mouth closed and ask to be excused from the table. There's no proper aunt advising us on etiquette when we're sitting around a conference table. But good manners are just as important in the workplace.
Most conference table etiquette boils down to one simple principle: be considerate.
If you are attending a meeting or presentation:
- Be on time. (enough said!)
- Remain attentive: no checking email on your Blackberry, fidgeting or daydreaming. Turn off your cell phone before the meeting or leave it behind. If there's no clock in the room, set your watch in your lap under the conference table so you can check the time without the presenter noticing.
- Don't leave the conference room during the meeting. Take a bathroom break just before if that is likely to be an issue. If leaving early is absoutely necessary and you have prior permission of the presenter, sit by the door to cause as little disruption as possible.
- If the topic is of vital interest to you and you have many questions to ask, try not to dominate the conversation; keep your questions brief, and be sure to let others have their say too. If the opposite is true, still come prepared with a question or two in case the discussion lags. And never interrupt.
If you are hosting a meeting or presentation:
- Only invite people who need to be there. Don't waste people's time by calling them into the conference room when their presence isn't necessary.
- If you need extra time to set up or break down, reserve the conference room for the extra time. Don't assume the space will be available early.
- If your presentation includes discussion time, give everyone the opportunity to ask questions. Treat everyone sitting around the conference table as equally important, regardless of the corporate hierarchy. Try not to let any one participant dominate, or derail the discussion with off-topic issues.
- The secret to successful meetings: however long your presentation is, always schedule it for ten minutes longer and finish "early." Attendees will walk away from the conference table thinking you are the best presenter ever.
(And if you must rest your elbows on the conference table, at least your Auntie Mabel isn't there to see it.)