Attending meetings is a lot like going to class. Where you sit in class can affect your grade, and where you sit in a meeting can affect your career.
Business meetings are opportunities for learning, networking and advancement. In spite of what Woody Allen says about success — that 80 percent of it is showing up — that’s not enough in business. Not only do you have to show up, but you have to participate and you have to be noticed.
Positioning yourself is important, so choose the right spot. While the back of the room may be tempting, sitting there sends a variety of messages:
1. You don’t plan to be involved.
2. You have nothing to contribute.
3. You aren’t important enough to sit near the front.
4. You don’t want to be noticed.
5. You plan to check email or text during the meeting.
The back of the room is where people sit when they feel a nap coming on or when they want to have side conversations with their buddies. Leaders and presenters assume that the people in the back of the room are either the shy ones or the trouble makers.
The same rule applies to the seats along the wall when the meeting is taking place around a board table. If extra chairs are set up along the walls for the overflow, select those seats only if all the places at the table are taken. Go for the board table. Otherwise, you will be declaring your lack of interest and involvement as well as your unworthiness.
If you are new to the group, wait until others are seated or until someone suggests where you should sit before taking your place. If no one gives you a clue, ask, “Where would you like for me to sit?”
You can avoid an embarrassing situation and show courtesy by waiting for direction. All seats are not equal in meetings. The place you choose may be the one where the assistant to the department head always sits.
In a large meeting or seminar with classroom-style seating, pick a spot near the middle of the room, close to the front. Most speakers talk to the people in the middle of the group. It is advantageous to avoid the first two rows if you want to be noticed.
Even if a lot of participation is not expected, you’ll be able to see and be seen by choosing the right place.
Where the leader sits sets the tone. By sitting at the head of the table, the leader says, “I am in control here, and this is my meeting.”
When the leader sits in the middle of one side, the intent is to create a team atmosphere and group participation.
No matter where you sit at the meeting, make sure you are a participant. You don’t have to utter a word or monopolize the conversation to be involved. Making eye contact, smiling, leaning into the conversation and nodding are all good ways to let everyone know you’re engaged.
Being an active listener is good, but it is more to your advantage to verbally join in the discussion. If you never utter a word, others will wonder why you are at the meeting. The next time a session is called, you may not be invited. Worse yet, the next time a promotion is being offered, you may not be considered.
When you speak, be concise. Whether you are making a comment or asking a question, be brief and to the point. Everyone’s time is precious. You will not make any friends by being long-winded or monopolizing the discussion.
Try to ask your questions during the meeting, not at the end when everyone is ready to get back to work.
Where you sit and what you say in meetings can have a direct effect on your success in the organization. It’s always good to be noticed. Just make sure you are noticed for all the right reasons.
Lydia Ramsey is a Savannah-based business etiquette expert, professional speaker, trainer, author and coach. You can contact her at 912-598-9812 or go to her website at www.mannersthatsell.com to leave a comment, ask a question or receive more information about her services.