Happy New Year! In the last column of 2014 I promised you ten basic rules for participants in meetings. Here they are.

1. Don’t be late. Late arrivals change the meeting’s dynamics. Intentional or not, arriving late creates the impression that you do not really find the meeting and/or the participants important. This is particularly disturbing for participants who have really had to make an effort to be on time. Furthermore: be prepared. You have read the documents in advance, and you have brought them with you. These are the three hygiene rules: just do it, like brushing your teeth.

2. Realize that, just like any other participant, you are also responsible for the quality and course of the meeting. So do not hesitate to make a remark if something seems to get out of hand. For instance, you can think of lengthy elaborations, irrelevant discussions, suddenly everyone discussing a subject that is not on the agenda, and those kind of things. A good, inoffensive way to intervene is to address the chairperson of the meeting. Not the babbling person. You ask the chairperson if you can make a motion of order, for that is always allowed. Your motion of order may be to mind the time and to stick to the subjects on the agenda.

3. Let whoever is speaking finish. Do not interrupt him or her. It is tempting to get involved in an ongoing discussion or to interrupt someone out of sheer enthusiasm. Please don’t. It unnecessarily puts the relations on edge, and often makes everyone speak simultaneously. Raise your hand and let the chairperson know you also want to say something.

4. Are you a ’silent participant’ or do you babble? If you tend to remain silent in a meeting and not to open your mouth a lot, realize that your presence alone is not sufficient justification for your participation. If you do not have anything to say, go do something else. Do not waste your and others’ precious time on a meeting. In that regard, it may help you to determine in advance, based on the agenda, what you want to raise about the subject in question in any event. Then do it. It lowers your threshold for active participation.

5. Do you rather prefer to speak in a meeting? Then consider systematically in advance whether what you want to say really has added value. If not, hold your tongue. Others will thank you for it!

6. Limit the use of your smartphone to what is highly necessary during the meeting. Realize that your concealed glancing at the screen of your smartphone creates a chain reaction in the meeting. Many others will feel the need to also consult their smartphones like Pavlov’s dog. Moreover, the person at that time addressing the meeting gets the feeling that he or she apparently raises completely insignificant matters. Repeatedly checking your smartphone is merely an impulse. It is almost always unnecessary and is not beneficial to a good course of the meeting.

7. The most important participant in the meeting is the chairperson. Some tips for him or her as well. Sometimes, the chairperson is also the boss, for instance if he is the (sole) shareholder. In that case, he will also (have to) determine the result of the decision-making process. But usually the chairperson is the most important participant, but not the boss. He is important because he is primarily responsible for a good course of the meeting. His interest in this respect does not mean that he determines the outcome of the meeting. His opinion does not outweigh that of any other participant in the meeting. This is a frequent misunderstanding, particularly among chairpersons. They think they (have to) have the casting vote. They don’t, this is often a sign of failing chairmanship. This does not change, however, that a good chairperson sometimes has to direct the decision-making process somewhat. But he needs to be aware constantly that direction does not turn into manipulation.

8. The chairperson often has to be reticent and servicing to the forming of an opinion and the passing of resolutions by the meeting. A good chairperson gets the best out of the participants in the meeting. He makes sure that everyone gets to address the meeting sufficiently and is able to raise his opinion or view. He keeps track of the time and guards the order of the meeting. He summarizes the positions and records the ultimate resolution. He makes sure that the resolutions are correctly recorded in the minutes.

9. A meeting without jokes or humor is dead. Without playing the clown, the chairperson has to see to it that there is also room for laughter at the right time. Humor is the valve of the meeting. Excess tension escapes with a joke. Everyone is given room again to deliberate more efficiently.

10. The chairperson knows the agenda long before the meeting begins and has determined the correct sequence of the subjects. The chairperson has considered possible opinions in advance, and knows how to get these opinions on the table by asking the right questions. A good chairperson is not easily surprised during the meeting. And finally the test: if the chairperson has done his work properly, everyone is satisfied after the meeting. No more sighing.

Do you have a question about corporate governance yourself? Please e-mail it to governance@vaneps.com and perhaps your question will be discussed in the next column!

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