Like so many small business owners, I have meetings in public places all the time. I have to host meetings elsewhere because my “corporate headquarters” is located at my favorite place in the world…MY HOME. Over time, I have observed how strangers will listen (and even join…yikes!) into private conversations between people trying to have a meeting. Seriously, the next time you go to a coffee shop, see how easy it is to listen in on other people’s conversations. It’s insane…especially when people are talking about some pretty confidential stuff like financials or business strategy.
This compelled me to share the “Public Meeting Commandments” that you should keep in mind the next time you take that important client out to lunch or meet your key supplier for a drink. Here are the Top 10 things you should do to keep your public meeting private:
1. Keep your voice down. Yes, this one is obvious, but unless you are cheering for your favorite sports team, there is no reason to shout at the person across the table from you. We all know someone who does this…please don’t be THAT person.
2. Pick a less crowded meeting place. As tempting as it is to go to the hottest spot in town, there is comfort in knowing that the place you are meeting at is not super busy. Less people = Less likelihood of being overheard.
3. Find the most private table in the room. This is usually the table in the back corner of the room backing to a wall or window. Do a “chair count”. The table with the fewer seats near your table wins!
4. Skip wearing your coveted company shirt. We all have logo apparel and branded merchandise. Heck, its great marketing! However, if you are heading out to have a private meeting in a public place don’t wear your logo shirt, carry your logo laptop bag and wear your logo hat. There’s a time and place to be a walking billboard but not during a confidential meeting.
5. Find a place that works for you and use it over and over again. Once you find a great meeting place that is private, use it over and over again to meet with people. Boring? Probably. But on the upside you won’t have to try to remember where you are meeting at all the time.
6. Call ahead to reserve private space. Many places have private rooms or secluded areas that will give you space for free or a nominal charge. All you need to do is book it ahead of time. Plus, you will look like you are VIP to your clients.
7. Be aware of your surroundings. Channel your super spy and take the time to occasionally look around to see if anyone is listening to your conversation. You shouldn’t act paranoid or weird. Brief glances a few tables away should do the trick.
8. Don’t repeatedly say your company name or client’s company name. If people don’t know WHO you are talking about, then they are less likely to listen. Use terms like “we”, “I”, and “you” to help mask identities.
9. Pick a quiet meeting place. This may sound odd, but when you are meeting at a place that has loud music or loud crowds then you will tend to talk even louder. When people talk at a normal voice level it is harder for those un-intended ears to hear what you say.
10. Meet outside when you can. Weather permitting; find a good meeting location outside in a public space…like in a park. People who are outside tend to be moving so they won’t feel compelled to stop to listen to you.