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RAMSEY: Choosing the right seat at the meeting table

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.

Positioning yourself is important so choose the right spot for your meeting seating.

While the back of the room may be tempting, sitting there sends the message that you don’t plan to be involved or you aren’t important to the process. That’s where people sit when they feel a nap coming, when they want to have side conversations with their buddies or when they want to check email and text during the meeting.

Have you ever noticed how the seats in the back fill up first?

The same rule applies to seats along the wall when the meeting is taking place around a board table. If extra chairs are provided for the overflow, select those seats only after places at the table are taken. Otherwise, you will be declaring your lack of interest, involvement and self-confidence.

If you are new to the group, be careful where you sit. This is a time when you do 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?”

If you plop down in the first vacant seat at the table, you may be choosing some executive’s usual place at the meeting. Groups that meet together over a period of time practically have seating charts. It’s about like church. You know who sits in what pew every Sunday. You can avoid an embarrassing situation and show courtesy by waiting for direction.

In a large meeting with theater-style seating, pick a spot near the middle of the room, close to the front. Most speakers and leaders talk to the middle of the room so it is advantageous to avoid the first two rows. You will be invisible on the front row. In this type of meeting, a lot of participation is not expected, but you’ll be able to see and be seen by choosing the right place.

Smaller meetings held around a table offer a curious set of dynamics with regard to leadership styles. 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 on the side, the intent is to create a team atmosphere and involve everyone.

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 that you are actively at the meeting.

Meeting seating is not as simple or unimportant as you might think. Choose your place as strategically as you do your career moves.

 

Lydia Ramsey is a Savannah-based business etiquette expert, professional speaker, trainer and author. Contact her at 912-598-9812 or visit her at LydiaRamsey.com to leave a comment, ask a question or learn more about her programs and products.

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