Attending meetings is a lot like going to class. Where you sit in class can affect your grade. 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 also 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 think you’re not important.
4. You don’t want to be noticed.
5. You plan to check email, text or sleep 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 judgment applies to the seats against the wall when a 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 that belongs to a senior member of the group.
In a large meeting or seminar with classroom-style seating, pick a spot near the middle and close to the front. Most speakers talk to the people in the middle of the pack. They tend to look over the front rows so it is advantageous to avoid the first two if you want to be noticed. You will 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, the intention is to create a team atmosphere and encourage 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 others know that you are 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, people will wonder why you bothered to show up. The next time a meeting is called, you may not be invited. Worse yet, the next time a promotion is being offered, you could be overlooked.
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 close 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 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.