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Table Manners: Confidence at the Conference Room Table

Written by Rebecca Okamoto on May 4, 2014

When I sit at a meeting table, I take up a lot of real estate. I normally take up 2 spaces, 3 if I can get a way with it. I'm not messy or unorganized, quite the contrary. I'm very organized. I just like to take up a lot of space.

When I was a brand new manager, my dad sent me an article about women in business and how we physically make ourselves small by sitting in a tidy little spot during meetings. The article warned that this could be a way women diminish their power.

I can't vouch for the accuracy of the article, but from the moment I read it, I owned whatever part of the meeting room I was in. And this helped me become aware of body language and the messages we project when we're in meetings.

Body language, just like voice tone, helps create a tone of confidence. Whether you're a presenter, first timer, or regular - pay some attention to your table manners - your effectiveness will improve.

Here are some of my tips

  1. Own your space- you don't have to take up 3 spaces like me, but get comfortable.

  2. Lean in. Make eye contact. Don't disappear behind your laptop. Engage.

  3. Make sure you familiarize yourself with any meeting norms, for instance, some meeting leaders don't like people working on their laptops or phones. Others are particular about starting on time.

  4. Don't automatically sit at the "kids' table" - the seat behind your boss or in a chair off to the side. If you're a critical member of the conversation, sit at the table. Then again, if you're an observer, don't take a prominent seat. If you're not sure where to sit ask your boss or colleague.

  5. If you're going to present, don't be afraid to stand, especially if you're small in stature, or if you want to create a tone of expertise or formality. Stand so that your line of sight and your presentation are optimized with the key person to whom you're addressing.

  6. If you'll use any equipment, know where it's at and how to operate it. For example speaker phones, audio/video devices, projectors and screens.

  7. If this is your meeting, have an idea where you want people to sit and tell them if you want them in a specific seat. Greet people as they enter. And lay out your meeting norms.

  8. If you are new to the meeting or a guest, ask people to introduce themselves so you know the players. I draw out the layout of the table, and write the names down in the order they're seated, or I position their business cards in from of me. That way I know who's addressing me and I can use their names.

Good table manners create confidence, whether at the dining room table or the conference room table. Get comfortable and let the meeting begin.

Now then... Is this seat taken?

Looking for tips about projecting with confidence? Read Perfect Pitch: Give Your Voice a Confidence Makeover

I didn't find the article from my dad.... but here's a recent one from Forbes Your Guide to Smart Body Language in the Conference Room

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