As a member and participant in many professional associations, I’ve experienced some great meetings and some awful ones. What’s the difference between the great and awful? Often times it’s the host of the meeting – they can be gracious and pleasant, or overbearing, boring, or just plain sloppy. I’d like to share with you what I call meeting host etiquette to help you be more successful in your role as host of your association’s meetings.

It’s your party!
Greet as many people as you can. Learn their names and refer to them by name. Most associations use nametags (get the new kind that clip or stick on without destroying fabric). People love hearing their names–pronounced correctly, of course! This will create a personable and friendly environment. Introduce guests to members and make them feel like they are already one of the crowd. Many people are intimidated attending a meeting for the first time. Try to make it a warm, friendly experience for them.

Give your guests permission to network
One of the major reasons cited for attendance and membership of associations is new business contacts. However, many people who attend are uncomfortable starting conversations with strangers or introducing themselves. Designate 5 or 10 minutes at each meeting for introductions at each table when all people are seated. Ask each person to give a 30-second introduction that includes their name, company, and why they came to the meeting. This puts everyone on equal ground and limits the extroverts from overtaking the conversation and gives the introverts permission to introduce themselves. It also adds to the friendliness factor and can allow for a more intimate experience. This is especially important for large meetings.

It’s not about you
Have you ever been to an association meeting where the host got up to speak and all he or she did was talk about themself? I don’t think there’s anything that will turn off your participants and guests more than a long-winded egotistical monologue. The gracious host always mentions the accomplishments of others. Make your members, guests and volunteers feel valued. Remember to publicly praise and privately make any suggestions for improvement.

Can your audience see you?
Your podium is the focal point of the room. Everyone should be able to see it from where they are sitting. Request a room setup that allows for the greatest number of people to be able to see the front without straining their necks or having to move their chairs. If you are using AV equipment, make sure the screen is also at the front of the room. Make it easy for people to see the entire program.

Can your audience hear you?
If you are using a microphone, meeting host etiquette requires that you test it before your guests arrive, not while they are there. If it’s a handheld or stationary microphone, you’ll need to know how far away from your mouth it should be. If it’s a clip on lavaliere style, make sure it’s on the outside of your clothing and doesn’t rustle against fabric. Have someone go to the different sections of the room and make sure that the volume is appropriate. Testing one, two, three.

Never abandon the podium
As the meeting host, it is your role to man the podium and never let it get lonely. Why? Because the podium is the main focal point of the room. If you abandon the podium, you’ll abandon your audience. As you introduce your speaker, wait until she comes up to the podium. Think of the podium as a runner’s baton – you pass the baton with a handshake to your speaker. Then, you go sit down. When the speaker is finished, you rise; go back up to the podium and the speaker passes the baton back to you – again with a handshake.

Say "please" and "thank you"
Back to the gracious host business. When you ask your audience to do something, say "please". As in "Please help me welcome our speaker, Jane Smith" then, lead applause for Jane. When Jane is finished speaking and you come back to the podium you can say something like, "Let’s thank Jane for her great remarks" again, lead applause and thank Jane.

To conclude our lessons on meeting host etiquette:
Remember, you are the host of the party and it’s your responsibility to make sure that everyone has a good time!

Author's Bio: 

Dana Bristol-Smith is the founder of Speak for Success, an organization that works with companies who want their people to communicate with confidence and credibility. She is a professional speaker and trainer who has given presentations and training to more than 100,000 people since 1992.

She is member of National Speakers Association, American Society for Training and Development, and Society for Human Resource Management and is a former Toastmasters chapter president.

She provides training, executive coaching and teaches public speaking courses through several universities. Dana can be reached at: or please visit: