by Marc Anderson

Putting the “WOW” into a Business Meeting for ESL Speakers

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What’s a typical meeting like, anyway?

Ask anyone about a traditional meeting and you’ll get an immediate reaction… rolling eyes, shaking of the head, and the heavy sigh. Nothing compares to the long, unproductive meeting. You feel trapped. The time goes by slowly. You are left to imagine the work that is piling up on your desk. Some of you might be thinking that meetings get a bad rap. Many are disorganized and distracting. They accomplish little. No one seems to be listening to each other.

What’s a productive meeting like, anyway?

But, have you ever been to a productive meeting and with an effective presenter? The kind that Eli Broad, an American philanthropist and entrepreneur of two Fortune 500 companies in different industries, describes in the meetings he runs: I have meetings, but they’re short, prompt, and to the point. We get things done. They are critical tools for getting your team on the same page.

Justin Rosenstein, an American software programmer and entrepreneur who co-founded the collaborative software company Asana, adds… [these meetings are the kind] where leaders know how to lead, there’s less time wasted and less frustration. We have more energy to do the work that matters, realize our full potential, and do great things.

What’s the difference, anyway?

What are some factors that turn a typically “dull” or “average” meeting into a “great” one? And how can you learn to run a great meeting?  Perhaps this short video about effective meetings by Videojug will show you just that. What factors do you feel are important?  How can you build you confidence as an ESL learner in the business workforce?

The video gives some helpful tips. Now let’s break down the steps in an actual meeting. What are these steps like, anyway?

1. Establish and keep to a start and ending time. Let’s face it, most of us want more time in the day. So there is nothing worse than meetings that start later than they are supposed to, a facilitator that allows participants to drift in at all different times, and a meeting that goes on and on and on. It would be helpful for you to inform your members ahead of time about the meeting, start the meeting on time and end promptly.

2. Allow some time for chit-chat. It is important that people who work together also know each other on a personal level. Doesn’t everyone have something to say? This helps them to build friendships and rapport. Although you want to have an efficiently run meeting, it is vital that you allow for some time to for participants to mingle and talk casually, possibly to eat a snack, and maybe to do an icebreaker of some sort. This could be at the beginning of your meeting or at an established break time.

3.  Try to bring everyone into the meeting by asking questions, opinions, etc. As a facilitator you need to include everyone in the meeting. Possibly you call on everyone, or they state their opinions by going around the table, or there is a show of hands, etc. Whatever it takes, it is important that everyone present feels that they are valued. Likewise it is also important to you as the leader of the meeting to ensure that no one person monopolizes the meeting. In the video, there was a rule of no one talking longer than 5 minutes. Perhaps you have an idea of how you can reduce the time some people talk and encourage engagement from everyone.

4. Be willing to admit that you made a mistake. We all know of people who never admit they have done anything wrong. But we might also know of others who willingly admit when they have made a mistake or they could have done something better. You need to own up to this and tell the group in a genuine way. This will attest to your leadership style: one that is honest and modest.

5. Share the credit. Be quick to point out other people’s good work and accomplishments. Ask for a round of applause for their efforts.  It is important to give appreciation and recognize value to your organization. Everyone feels better when they are noticed for their contributions. Praise often.

6.  Be cheerful and optimistic. Let’s face it. Who do you enjoy being around – negative people or positive people? You have a lot to do with the atmosphere of the meeting and the work space. Cultivate positive vibes.

7. Create and agenda and follow it. If possible, share the agenda ahead of time and anything else that needs to be read before the meeting. Also, advise people on what they need to bring to the meeting. These suggestions will help you to run a more efficient meeting and to utilize you time better. It will bring organization to the meeting and help the meeting have closure more quickly.

9.  Have rules for canceling the meeting when appropriate – if such-and-such doesn’t happen or if only a certain number of people can attend, etc. This is helpful so everyone can plan their day better. This helps with getting their work done and also the meeting’s impact on planning their family and personal activities.

11. Be very specific about what the “action items” are – Who is agreeing to do what, by when? Keep track of what is supposed to happen as a consequence of the meeting, and at the meeting’s end, review these items so everyone has understand of what was agreed upon. Follow up by email. Having good communication is important. It also helps to keep everyone on the same page in knowing what is expected of them and the direction of the organization, etc.

12. If a meeting is long, schedule breaks when people can check their email and phones. Otherwise, they get very distracted and also become less productive. Please be empathetic with those attending the meeting. Allow for time for people to get a drink, use the restroom, make a phone, check their messages, etc.

13. Meetings should stay tightly focused. If people want a chance to discuss side issues, theoretical problems, or philosophical questions that aren’t relevant to the purpose of the meeting, they should set up a separate meeting. You can intervene and have those who are talking about side issues stop. You can tell those that are discussing things that are off topic, that you will keep track of this issue, problem, question, etc. and encourage another time for this to be discussed. Then it is important that you follow-up on what you intended to do. Schedule another meeting specifically to address this topic, add it to the next meeting’s agenda, or visit with those individuals after the meeting. Again, be genuine by following up on what you claimed you would do and also in making those individuals feel valued. Some suggested phrases to get the meeting back on track and all participants more focused – I’m afraid that’s outside the scope of this meeting/Let’s get back on track, why don’t we/That’s not really why we’re here today/
Why don’t we return to the main focus of today’s meeting/We’ll have to leave that to another time/We’re beginning to lose sight of the main point/We’re running out of time… why don’t we save that topic for another meeting… I’ll get back to you on that.

Group Of Coworkers Discussing In Conference Room

What’s the structure of a Better business meeting like, anyway?

Now the following section provides useful language and phrases for conducting meetings and making contributions to a meeting. Business meetings generally follow a similar structure and can be divided into the following parts using some of these popular phrases:

I – Introductions

Opening the MeetingGood morning/Good afternoon, everyone. Let’s get started.

Welcoming and Introducing ParticipantsThank you for coming. Please join me in welcoming/We’re pleased to welcome/I’d like to extend a warm welcome to/It’s a pleasure to welcome/I would like to introduce you to (names).

Stating the Principal Objectives of a MeetingWe’re here today to…/ Our main goal today is to…/I have called this meeting in order to…

Giving Apologies for Someone Who is AbsentI am afraid ___ can’t be with us today/Unfortunately, ___ will not be with us today.

II – Reviewing Past Business

Reading the Minutes (notes) of the Last MeetingTo begin with I’d like to quickly go through the minutes of our last meeting/First, let’s go over the report from the last meeting, which was held on (date)/ Here are the minutes from our last meeting, which was on (date).

Dealing with Recent DevelopmentsFollow your agenda and call on others to update the progress on recent, relevant activities to help everyone become better informed about company happenings.

Moving ForwardSo, if there is nothing else we need to discuss, let’s move on to today’s agenda/ Is there Any Other Business?/If there are no further developments, I’d like to move on to today’s meeting/purpose.

III – Beginning the Meeting

Introducing the Agenda – Have you all received a copy of the agenda/ You will see there are ___ items on the agenda/I suggest we go through the items in order.

Allocating Roles (secretary, participants) – ___, would you mind taking notes/___ has agreed to take the minutes/let’s take turns lead each point, starting with ___.

Agreeing on the Ground Rules for the Meeting (contributions, timing, decision-making, etc.) – I suggest we work until ___ and then we take a ___ minute break, and finish by ___/There will be 5 minutes for each item so we can get through the agenda.

IV – Discussing Items

Introducing the First Item on the Agenda – Why don’t we start with ___/So the first item on the agenda is ___/ Let’s start with ___/ ___, can you please introduce the first item?

Closing an Item Okay, that takes care of the first item/Why don’t we move to the next agenda item/It looks like no one has anything else to add, so let’s move on.

Next Item Now that we have finished discussing ___, let’s go on/Now we need to address ___/Now that we have discussed ___, let’s move to ___.

Giving Control to the Next Participant Next, ___ is going to tell us about the next item/___ is going to take us through ___/I would like ___ to talk about ___.

V – Finishing the Meeting

Summarizing Okay, let me summarize the main points of the meeting/Let me review the main points/Okay, to sum up the meeting…/In brief, ___.

Finishing Up Well, it looks like we have covered all of the agenda items/If there are no other comments or any other additional items, then it’s time to wrap this meeting up/Let’s bring the meeting to a close today/Is there anything else to add? Otherwise, let’s call it a meeting. The next meeting is scheduled for ___.

Suggesting and Agreeing on Time, Date and Place for the Next Meeting Let’s see about scheduling a date for the next meeting. The next meeting will be on ___/ Let’s plan on meeting again on ____/How about ____ for the next meeting?

Thanking Participants for Attending Thank you all for coming/Thanks for attending/Thank you all for participating and making this meeting run so well.

Closing the Meeting The meeting is adjourned/The meeting is closed/The meeting is finished, we’ll meet again on ___.

What can you say to help participate in a Better meeting, anyway?

Getting the Facilitator’s Attention Excuse me for interrupting, but ___/If I may, I think ___/Could I please say something?

Giving Opinions I really think that___/In my opinion ___/I’m positive that ___/If you ask me, I think ___.

Asking for Opinions Are you really sure that ___/Do you think that ___/___, what can you say about ___/ How do you feel about ___?

Commenting That’s very interesting/I never really thought of it that way before/Good point/I see what ___ means/I get what you mean.

Agreeing – I agree with ___/I totally agree with you/That’s exactly what I thought/ That’s how I feel, too.

Disagreeing I am afraid that I don’t really agree with ___/Up to a point, I agree, but then___/Unfortunately, I don’t really see it that way, I ___.

Advising and Suggesting – Let’s___/We should ___/Why don’t you ___/I suggest that we ___/How about ___?

Clarifying Let me put it another way/I would like to repeat that___/Have I made this point clear/Do you see what I am getting at?

Requesting Information Would you mind/I wonder if you could/Please, ___, could you/I would like you to___.

Asking for Repetition, Clarification, and Question I missed what you said. Could you please repeat the part ___/I don’t really follow what you said. Could you please explain ___/You did say ___, didn’t you/Do you mean that ___/Is it true that___/I am sorry that I did not understand ___. Could you please repeat what you just said/I did not catch the spelling of ___/Would you mind spelling that for me, please?

Asking for Contributions What do you think about this plan, ___/Does someone else have something to add/Are there any more comments/We have not heard from you yet, ___.

Correcting Information – I am sorry but I think that you may have misunderstood me. I meant to say ___/That’s not quite what I said/That’s not quite what I meant/Maybe if I explain it another way, it will be easier to understand.

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What am I missing? Can you think of some other strategies for improving meetings? What are some additional ways I can help you with your ESL skills and language learning so you can be more successful in business? Please write to me using the comments section below and let me know your thoughts. We at TalktoCanada want to help you build Better English skills.

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About the author:

Marc Anderson is the co-founder and CEO of TalktoCanada. Since founding the company in 2006, he has grown it to over 25 staff with operations in 50 countries. Marc spends his time outside of TalktoCanada travelling, playing with his son and working on new business projects.