How to make a good impression during meetings
August 20, 2018 / Productivity / Greg Atkinson
In this age of instant messaging and virtual hangouts, we can meet and do business with people from all over the world, from the comfort of our own office. Even so, there’s something to be said for physically being in the same room as someone. The way a person moves, uses space, makes you feel, or even smells, can all affect your impression of them. And these things aren’t easy to gauge over a screen. At Kalido, we always encourage turning online contacts into real world connections. So, if you do have the opportunity to meet in person – do it. And remember to use these easy tips to help you make a good impression when you do.
1) Give options if you’re setting up the meeting
Shakespeare spoke about the elusiveness of a ‘meeting of the minds’, but with the hectic modern work schedule, a meeting of physical people can be even harder to achieve. When you’re requesting a meeting, make it easier for your respondent by giving a range of options for meeting times. You can offer blocks (11am – 1pm) or a general guide like ‘Thursday afternoon’. Proposing 3 slots, with your preferred time clearly stated, usually works best.
If you’re meeting multiple people in an organisation, you can ask your point of contact to get internal consensus before they confirm with you. And if you’re bringing multiple people, be sure the times you’ve offered up are suitable for all your team members.
As a point of courtesy, also include an estimate of how much time will be needed for the meeting. Of course recipients will see the time scheduled if you send a calendar request, but it’s always polite to give someone a heads-up before monopolizing their time without their knowledge. It’s very possible that they were expecting a shorter meeting, and were hoping to squeeze you in between other things, so a longer meeting means they have to reconsider the time. In general, we’re fans of shorter meetings, as they force people to be more productive. 45 minute blocks work well, as it leaves the extra 15 minutes for refreshments, bathroom breaks, or travelling.
Also be cognisant of traffic. Someone might be driving across town (possibly you) or hopping planes and trains, so try to avoid scheduling meetings that will have people marinating in peak traffic. If you’re a service provider, first meetings mean you’ll probably be going to your client. Thereafter, you could invite them to your HQ, or if you’re a freelancer, to a convenient coffee shop. A platform like Kalido is very handy for this, as its Nearby feature can tell you if clients happen to be in your area today so you can arrange an impromptu catch-up.
2) Greet everyone
Some people walk into a room and direct all of their attention to perceived decision makers. This isn’t always good business sense, as you might make the wrong assumption and end up alienating an unassuming, but important person. And frankly, it’s just plain rude.
When you enter the room, greet everyone, regardless of perceived status. If it’s the first meeting, give a firm handshake, smile, and look the person you’re greeting in the eye. If you’re on more familiar terms, you can try a back/arm pat or hug. Physical contact is powerfully effective at establishing rapport, lowering stress, and even increasing teamwork, so judicious use of touch can create a positive environment from the outset.
But before you go around enveloping everyone in a bear hug, be sensitive to cultural differences with regards to touch. Some cultures may be more reserved, and physical contact, especially between members of the opposite sex, can be frowned upon. In these cases, bowing, head tilting, or country-specific hand gestures may be more appropriate. Do some research online, ask your contact beforehand, or take your cue from the other party.
3) Be aware of cultural differences
In addition to physical touch, cultural differences can crop up all over the place. For example, some cultures like to ease into a business meeting with small talk about the weather, traffic, what everyone is drinking, the latest sports news, or any number of trivial topics before getting to the point. Other cultures see this as an appalling waste of time and get right down to business. If you’re meeting someone from your own culture, you’ll probably intuitively adopt the right style, however, if you’re meeting someone with a different background, you might have to adapt.
Many cultures are also very hospitable and offer guests drinks, and sometimes snacks. However, be aware of occasions such as the Muslim Ramadan, when adherents do not eat or drink between sunrise and sunset. During such periods, you might not be given refreshments, and might even be considered culturally insensitive if you offered any as a host. Again, do your homework beforehand.
4) If you arrive late
If you arrive late (which should only happen in the most exceptional circumstances like unavoidable flight delays or extreme locked-in-the-bathroom-for-an-hour indigestion), slip into the meeting as unobtrusively as possible. Get up to speed as quickly as possible, and try to catch the names of the people present.
If it’s your turn to speak (whether as part of a formal presentation, or during the course of the conversation), introduce yourself and apologize for being late, regardless of your status vis-à-vis everyone else.
If you’re leading the meeting, it’s particularly imperative to let people know you’re running late, otherwise attendees might think the meeting has been cancelled and wander off. Let as many people know as soon as possible, and ask them to pass the message on with an estimate of when you’re arriving (give yourself an extra 5-10 mins leeway). As a courtesy, you should also let people know exactly why you’re late. After all, if you’re leading the meeting, what else could have been so important that you were delayed?
Also remember that you should never arrive late if you’re the service provider.
5) Look attentive
One of the most important factors to making a good impression during a meeting is controlling your facial expression. Even if you’re bored or don’t like what you’re hearing, maintain a neutral expression. Nothing puts someone off faster than a Frowny Face staring them down across the table, or worse, grimacing at the ceiling.
One of the danger periods when you may be most unguarded is when you’re mentally rehearsing what you’re going to say. Although you should be listening instead of secretly practicing your own pitch in your head, sometimes it’s unavoidable. So, learn to maintain the same neutral, interested expression on your face, even if your mind is elsewhere. Throw in the occasional nod or ‘mmm’ to make the performance more convincing.
Also be aware of your sitting posture. Slouched back on the seat looks slovenly and disrespectful. Crossed arms looks defensive. Instead, relax into the seat, but keep your head high, your arms resting comfortably on the armrests, your lap, or the table, and maintain eye contact with the speaker or your audience.
6) Be aware of blockers
The whole point of your meeting, in addition to getting clarity on the work, is to build rapport. So, be aware of blockers between you and the other party. For example, if you’re using a laptop to take notes, angle the screen so you’re not blocked off. If you’re not actively using the laptop, keep the screen lowered, or even shut. If you’re taking notes on paper, be sure to look up frequently, so you’re still actively involved in the discussion. Even tea sets or overly large pot plants or table arrangements can create psychological distance, so try to clear any obstacles between you.
If you’re presenting off a screen on the wall, angle yourself so your back is not facing the audience. And if it’s a large group seated around the table, make sure you’re not being blocked by another person. Shift your position so you can see the person talking, and if it’s you speaking, make sure you can make eye contact with everyone.
7) Don’t look at your phone or watch
Many of us have a bad habit of frequently checking our devices. Occasionally, it’s because we’re expecting an important phone call, but let’s admit, most of the time it’s because we’re bored, or simply doing it out of habit.
Checking your watch or phone during a meeting is bad form, as it immediately signifies disinterest. You might genuinely have other things to do, but so does everyone else. And if they’re giving you the courtesy of their time and attention, you should reciprocate. If you urgently need to know the time, check it discreetly on your laptop, on the wall screen, or when everyone else’s focus is on something else.
8) Call people by name
People love hearing the sound of their own name, so don’t be shy to address people directly by theirs. Knowing someone has remembered your name is flattering, and hearing your name called immediately makes you more vested in the discussion at hand. If you’re paraphrasing something a person has said, acknowledge this with ‘As [Mary] mentioned…’, and if you’re responding to something directly, go with something like ‘To answer your question, [Bob]…’
Mentioning the names of the other party helps to build rapport, and using the names of your own team members helps the other people remember the new names. If you’re terrible with remembering names yourself, just jot each one down at the top of your notebook (whether that’s on paper or on screen) early on, while they’re still fresh.
Calling someone by name is a very powerful way to build a connection. But do be sure you have the correct name. Nothing ticks people off faster than being called by the wrong name, or a badly mangled version of theirs. That’s why it’s so important to greet everyone at the beginning of the meeting, so you can get everyone’s name right.
9) Check the tech
Technology is wonderful – when it’s working properly. Always budget in a little extra time to figure out the screen sharing/screen projecting/conference calling etc. equipment. Also: travel with your own adapters and chargers. There are a myriad devices out there, which means the other party may not have something to lend you, and your 12% battery life might not last through your entire presentation.
10) Leave the meeting as politely as you entered it
When the meeting is winding down, recap the major points discussed and what was agreed to. This shows that everyone is on the same page, or if not, gives everyone a final chance to get on the same page. Then thank everyone for their attention and time. Greet everyone (by name if possible and practical) on the way out.
These handy tips are applicable in any meeting, whether formal or social. So, practice them until they become second nature, and you’re sure to be a hit regardless of whom you’re meeting. And now that you know how to always make a good impression, head over to Kalido and match with some prospective clients, suppliers, business partners, or meet a new friend for coffee.