Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Strategies for a Successful Meeting

Many of us go into meetings without being fully prepared and make the wrong impression by what we don’t say (rather than what we do say) and by gestures we make unknowingly. Think of meetings as opportunities to impress your colleagues and superiors and to meet others.
With that in mind, here are some tips about how best to take advantage of these opportunities:
  • Do your homework. Make sure to read all the materials provided in advance, including the agenda, before going to the meeting. Find out who will be attending and the purpose of the meeting; then, focus your preparations. Prepare any comments in advance so that you are not rambling and repeating yourself.
  • Arrive on time or a little early. Nobody takes a latecomer seriously. Lateness is an affront to those who took the trouble to arrive on time. And, no, it doesn’t convey the message that you are very busy, only that you are disorganized.
  • Bring all necessary materials. Make sure to take along the agenda, papers, pens, notebook. Have them at hand so that you don’t have to fish around while others wait.
  • Store your baggage. Keep briefcases and purses on the floor, not on spare chairs or, worse still, on the conference table.
  • Don’t play. Leave the paper clips alone. Don’t stretch the rubber bands or doodle on your notepad.
  • Turn off cell phones and pagers. Unless you are expecting a genuinely urgent call, turn off your cell phone and switch your beeper to vibrate mode before the meeting begins. If you do expect an urgent call, let the chairperson know when you enter the meeting and sit near the door so that you can leave and return with the least disruption.
  • Keep your feet on the floor. If you must cross your legs, do so at the ankles. Otherwise, you look inattentive and altogether too casual. Make sure your shoes are polished and in good repair. Scuffed shoes imply a person who disregards details.
  • Keep ties on. Unless the person calling the meeting strongly suggests otherwise and actually sheds his own tie, keep yours around your neck.
  • Don’t cross your arms in front of you. It communicates hostility. You want your body posture to suggest open-mindedness and approachability.
  • Sit straight and don’t slouch. You will look alert and attentive.
  • Maintain a high-energy and involvement level. No matter how much your mind wants to roam, remember that meetings are a place for team players and enthusiasm.
  • Enter the meeting room decisively. Unless you are certain about how the seating arrangements work, ask where you should sit.
Shake hands with your colleagues, introducing yourself to those you don’t know and calling those you do know by name. Do these preliminaries while you are still standing. If you are seated and a new introduction is made, stand up.

Community Involvement

As your rank and status improves within your company, you may be asked to volunteer your expertise and energy as a member of the board of directors of a charity and/or a community organization.
This request is a feather in your cap. Your company thinks highly enough of you to ask you to represent it in the larger community. It can also evolve into a situation fraught with pitfalls. It may be that your boss has friends or important business associates who are involved with the organization you are to join. In any case, you may be sure that the impression you make will be conveyed back to the executives of your company.
In other words, volunteer work can be an important career opportunity. Don’t blow it.
The rules of etiquette are extremely important in these situations. Remember that you will be dealing with people who may be quite different from your work colleagues. Some of your new acquaintances may be artists or scholars. Some may be wealthy dilettantes who dabble in organizations that foster artistic or charitable causes. They may include political figures or persons who represent the segment of the community that the charity supports.
Here are some basic guidelines:
  • Petty personality conflicts or political cliques within the board may distract members from the work at hand. Do everything you can within reason to make it clear that you will not take sides.
  • Be cordial but somewhat reserved in your relations with the other board members, at least until you get a good handle on how the relationships work. When in doubt, more formal is better than less formal.
  • As with company meetings, arrive on time and don’t dash back to your office before the meeting is over.
  • Do your homework so that the meeting will not be delayed while you are being brought up to speed.
  • Offer to help the head of the organization with contacts or access to special information.
  • Notice when something is amiss—such as inadequate computer support—and seek to correct it.
  • Always thank the volunteers who work in that organization, including the people who organize the benefits.
  • Remember promises made at board meetings and take on specific responsibilities by keeping good notes and following up with action.
  • Be a cheerleader back at your home organization. Speak proudly about the work your charity is doing. Nobody expects you to be a half-hearted volunteer.
  • Always buy at least two tickets to your charity’s benefits; buy more if you can afford them. Top executives of corporations are expected to buy a table as a corporate donation.
When you are on the job, you are on display. Familiarity can’t be allowed to breed carelessness; in fact, the necessity of spending a great deal of time with your coworkers demands even more attention to the details of courtesy and kind behavior.

The Fax Rules

Rule 1. Don’t tie up the fax machine. The transmission should be expected, important, and specifically addressed.
Rule 2. Start off with a cover sheet saying whom it’s from, the number of pages (the cover sheet is included in page count), and whom it goes to.

Answering Machine Etiquette

Before recording your voice on your machine:
  • Write out your specific words and make several practice tries.
  • Smile when you speak so that you sound enthusiastic and approachable.
  • Forget about sound effects or other gimmicks; cute is unprofessional.
  • Briefer is better: “This is Marjorie Matthews speaking. At the sound of the tone please leave your name, telephone number, and the best time to reach you. I’ll return your call as soon as possible.”
When you get someone else’s machine:
  • Be sure to leave a message even if you get a wrong number. Saying that you dialed incorrectly will allay security concerns.
  • Give your full name.
  • Say why you are calling.
  • Mention the best time for you to be reached.
  • Leave your complete telephone number, pausing between the area code and local number.

Voice-Mail Etiquette

Leaving voice mail is another business fact of life that is here to stay. It’s a very good and useful tool for conveying information within your company. However, clients or others calling in from outside are apt to find it annoying. And, depending on the message, it can be almost as bad as dealing with a real and really disagreeable person.
The message on this medium should give the caller some choices—leave a message, call another extension, or switch to the receptionist. However, few things are more annoying than messages with too many, mostly irrelevant options.
The message you leave should embody the journalist’s five Ws—who, what, when, where, and why: “This is Mary Mitchell on Thursday, June 1. I’ll be traveling all day today and will not be able to return calls until after 7 P.M., Philadelphia time. Please leave your name, telephone number, and a brief message.” When you are the caller, be brief and to the point. For example, “This is Mary Mitchell, calling on Thursday, June 1, about the training seminar. I’m calling to confirm that 12 people are registered from your company.”

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Cell Phones and Beepers Etiquette

Cell phones have been compared to pacifiers for adults. They make people think they are connected to a vital source of informational nourishment. It seems to me that the most insecure and/or boastful people are the ones who are most loud and ostentatious about using their cell phones.
Nevertheless, ownership of a cell phone does not include a license to be rude. Do not whip out your cell phone in a restaurant, at a party, on the train, or in any situation in which the call inflicts your half of the conversation on those around you. If you are going into a business meeting and are not expecting a genuinely urgent call, turn off the cell phone. The same goes for the theater, a museum, and other places where the ringing of a phone would be unwelcome. Some restaurants now require patrons to leave their cell phones with the maĆ®tre d’ and will inform you if you get a call. The same principle applies to beepers. Be prepared to be out of touch in certain situations or get a beeper that can be switched to vibrate when necessary.

How to Close a Call?

People remember the way telephone conversations end. At the end of your call, thank the person for the call and do your best to try to end on a positive note. Never conclude by just saying, “See ya,” “Bye-bye,” or “Later.” Say goodbye and let the other person hang up before replacing the receiver. If you have a chatty caller who is droning on too long, say something like “I’ll have to hang up now. My 2:00 appointment is here,” or “Much as I’d like to chat, I’m on a deadline at the moment. Is there anything else I can help you with?” After the call, do your homework. Everybody appreciates a follow-up and followthrough. Keep any agreements you make. If you have promised to provide information or data, get that material to the other person promptly.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Movie-Theater Etiquette: Should You Clean Up After Yourself?

Posted by Neil Estep
I see a lot of movies, and, if I can afford it, I’ll occasionally stop at the concessions counter for my $4 soda and $6 popped corn kernels.

In an aside, I should mention that if the current shortage of edible corn becomes reason for theaters to raise prices, I’ll spit in someone’s eye!

My inclination over the years has been to take my drink and snack into the theater, watch, eat, drink and pick up my garbage on my way out. It’s easy enough to pick up after myself, and, well, it’s my mess, right? And I used to heavily deride those that left their garbage everywhere.

However, in talking with others lately, including a former theater usher who sided with the messy people, I’ve come to understand that this practice isn’t only for—pardon my candor—jerks. Many of these garbage-scattering moviegoers have considered the morality of such an act and decided they are under no obligation to dispose of said waste. Surprisingly, their reasoning seems sound.

A movie ticket can cost upwards of $10 nowadays, and part of that price, along with concessions, is meant to pay for theater employees and the time they spend cleaning up after us. My friend Andru compared the phenomenon to that of a restaurant: you go in, sit down, make a mess and leave gleefully because your bill and tip has paid for your mess. And he’s right, to a point.

Though the restaurant simile is relevant, it can’t possibly encompass all the variables. Waitpersons are usually paid minimum wage by their employer, which means that most of your bill in a restaurant applies to food and beverage costs, and other costs of operation. Your server is working for tips and those tips fluctuate based on level of service and maybe even the amount of cleanup left for them, such as when your child spilled apple juice and syrup on the carpet, and threw his or her half-chewed pancake bits against the wall.

Am I being pedantic? Oh, definitely. As I said, I’ve spent years cleaning up after myself (Thanks, Mom!) in movie theaters, and when people posit a different line of reasoning, I consider it. For me, the garbage isn’t just out of kindness to the ushers: it gets in people’s way as they tiptoe down the aisle during the credits; half-consumed sodas are inevitably kicked over, leaving a sticky residue for the next audience member; and less trash can mean a faster turnover for the following film.

Where do you stand on the issue? Do you buy concessions intending to leave them behind? Do you plan to clean up but forget in the hustle and bustle of the crowd? Do you always clean up your garbage without fail? Why or why not?

How to Place a Call?

Place your own calls whenever possible. If the person you are calling has to wait for you to come on the line, she is apt to think you consider your time more important than hers. This perception could cause the conversation to begin with a standoffish atmosphere.
Let people know right away who’s calling. Every business telephone call should begin with the caller introducing him- or herself, identifying the company, and saying who the call is intended for. This information enhances your chances of being put through promptly to the person you are trying to reach, and you will sound confident and in control.
Try to call when you know it’s convenient for the other person. If you call a business just before closing time, you will be rushed and given half-hearted attention at best. If you get another call while on the telephone, remember that the first caller has priority.
Tell the second caller you will get back to him or her and resume your first conversation. Trivial or long-winded calls are annoying intrusions in a busy workday. Make sure you have a good reason to make a call, and deal with your business in a prompt, organized way. Another consideration is that such calls convey the impression that your job is of so little importance that you have time to make chatty, unnecessary calls. If your call somehow gets disconnected in the middle of a conversation, you should call back immediately—whatever the circumstances.

How to Correctly Answer Telephone?

Answer the telephone no later than the second ring if you can. Identify yourself with both your name and company or department.
  • “Hello” is better than “Hi.”
  • Say, “May I tell her who’s calling?” not “Who’s calling?”
It is up to you to determine how your telephone will be answered, not only by you but also by members of your staff. You have to let them know what you expect. You can try calling your own office to spot check.
Also, don’t let a phone call preempt an in-person visit. For example, if it’s 2:00 P.M., the person with the 2:00 P.M. appointment has priority over the person you are speaking with on the telephone.