Conference Table Etiquette

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The book The Essential Guide to Business Etiquette by Lillian Chaney and Jeannette Martin discusses not just faux pas to avoid, but also advice on using the principles of etiquette to improve one's position at a conference or meeting. Some of their tips:
  • Arrive three to five minutes early to get your pick of seats, and allow more important people to choose their seat first. 
  • Try to sit to the left of the most important person at the meeting. This may not be the person leading the meeting. 
  • Try not to sit next to an empty chair as this makes you appear isolated and reduces your importance.
  • Do not sit directly across the conference table from someone with whom you expect conflict; this is a confrontational position. Try to sit on the same side of the table as your antagonist, but not next to them.
  • The person leading the meeting should sit at the end of the conference table furthest from the door. Chaney and Martin call this seat the "power perch." 

We have a few tips to add:
  • Just as you should avoid sitting next to someone with whom you expect conflict, try not to sit next to a close friend or work buddy. You may be tempted to chat or share a private joke during the meeting, which is rude and isolates you from the rest of the group.
  • Make sure your cell phone is turned off, not on vibrate. Better yet, don't bring your phone to the conference room. If you absolutely must have your phone, explain why (waiting for a critical call, etc) to the conference chair in advance.
  • Setting your smart phone or Blackberry on the conference table is an aggressive gesture. You are telling everyone in the room that your time is more important than theirs. Don't do it unless you have the standing to justify it, as it can make you appear arrogant. 
  • Use a pen and paper to take notes instead of a laptop. Other people may have trouble seeing you over the laptop case, which tends to isolate you from the group. Besides, the potential for distraction is too great with your computer, especially if the conference room provides a wireless network.

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