MED Magazine - Issue 23 - October 2004

Top Tips for Business English
Teaching meeting skills 2

by Rosemary Richey


Welcome back to the brand-new Top Tips for Business English column of MED Magazine! Following last month's launch of the Business English section, we are continuing our series of tips for teaching typical business skills. Basic meeting skills were featured in the September issue. This second article offers more tips focussed on language specific to certain roles in meetings, namely the roles of the chairperson and participants.

Language level

The language and skills featured here are suitable for upper intermediate and advanced levels.


1 Bear in mind that being able to function in meetings in English can be challenging for students. They may, for instance, lack confidence about competing in an international setting, or be afraid of their language skills taking away from their chances to get promoted in the company.
2 Spend a bit of time brainstorming in pairs or groups on these more general topics:
What kind of meetings do students attend? Are these meetings informal or formal?
How often do they go to meetings?
What do they like and dislike about meetings?
What are their biggest problems or complaints about meetings?
Have they attended or conducted a meeting in English before? What were their experiences like?
3 Continue with a survey of specific tasks or roles student assume in meetings. Discuss with them the following questions:
  What is their role in the meetings (e.g. chairperson or participant)?
  How confident do they feel about expressing themselves in English in their role(s)?
  Which situations pose the most difficulty for them?
  How do they resolve complications in their respective roles?
Students' answers will give you a guide for your lesson plan as to which functions and language they are most in need of.

Language and skill components

1 For a review of basic language related to meetings, see the September issue.
2 The following list centres on the functions and corresponding language for the specific roles of chairperson and participant. Click here for some activities and teacher's notes to practise some of the lexis listed below.

A Chairperson

function language
opening the meeting I would like to welcome you (all) ...
Thank you (all) for coming.
Let's get started.
Let's start (the meeting) with/by ...
stating the purpose and overview Our aim in this meeting today is ...
I've called this meeting because/in order to ...
By the end of the meeting, we need to agree on ...
reviewing the previous minutes and new agenda First let's go over what we discussed in our
last meeting ...
Was anything left off/missed out?
Do you have anything to add?
Any other business (AOB)?
Shall we follow the agenda in order then?
Let's look at the first item on the agenda.
assigning roles Nick has agreed to take the minutes today.
Would you mind taking the minutes?
George will give us a brief presentation on ...
Sally will brief us on ...
dealing with action points John, would you like to give us an update on ...?
Susan, could you give us the highlights/findings of your report?
Robert, what's the status of ...?
eliciting discussion and feedback Carol, what's your reaction to/take on ...?
Mike, what do you think of ...?
Would you like to add anything, Allan?
I'd like to encourage your feedback.
handing over to another person I'd like to hand (it) over to Martin, who will tell us ...
Right, Mary, over to you.
managing conflicts There seems to be a misunderstanding/ miscommunication here ...
Why don't we try to sort this out by ...?
Could we go over ... once more to make sure we understand ...?
Please carry on/go on.
Please finish what you have to say.
keeping the meeting on course Let's all try to make it as brief as possible.
We need to keep an eye on the time.
I'm afraid we're running out of time.
We're starting to lose sight of the main point.
Could you meet privately with ... to discuss that?
compromise Are you willing to accept at least ... for a solution?
If we agree to ... would that be satisfactory?
We're looking for a balanced, workable plan for all of us.
assigning action points Michael, would you mind taking care of ...?
Who would like to look into ...?
Bryan, would you be able to ...?
summarising Can we wrap up what we've discussed?
Let's just recap on what we've discussed.
Shall I sum up today's meeting?
setting up the next meeting Our next meeting is set for ...
Can we fix (a date and time for) the next meeting?
Let's resume our meeting on ...
Is that convenient/agreeable to everyone?
closing the meeting Let's call it a day.
That's it/all for today.
Thank you all for your contribution.

B Participants

function language
getting someone's attention May I just say/add something here ...?
Excuse me, I'd like to add ...
digressing If I could just comment on a related
topic for a moment ...
That brings us to another related issue.
giving and seeking opinions I'm convinced/sure that ...
I tend to think ...
In my opinion ...
commenting That's an interesting point.
I see what you mean.
clarifying I don't exactly follow (you). Could you go over that again?
I don't quite see what you mean. Please give me some more details.
Could you explain (it) again?
agreeing I see your point, but how about ...?
I completely agree.
I'm of the same mind/opinion as you.
We see eye to eye on this.
We're in agreement.
disagreeing I really do differ with you on that point.
I take issue with that because ...
I have to object to how this is being handled.
suggesting and advising Why don't we ...?
How about ...?
What do you think of ...?
My suggestion/recommendation is ...
How about looking into ...?
persuasion I think it's in our best interest if we ...
The benefit/advantage is clear if we ...
Let me try to explain the benefit/advantage a
bit more clearly.

C General language points

For both roles emphasise language such as:
use of would and could
polite ways of asking for permission: If you don't mind ...; May I ...
use of the first and second conditionals: If we reduce costs ...; If we increased our market share ...
use of phrases such as It appears (that); I'm sorry to say ...
showing follow-up in phone calls or correspondence with phrases such as As we discussed/agreed, ...; I'd just like to confirm ...; Following our meeting yesterday, ...

Teaching ideas and resources

For reviewing and practising the language and skill components discussed in the previous section, the ideal learning setting would be a meeting simulation with role-play where you assign students specific roles of chairperson and participants. Paying particular attention to the role they've been assigned, and the functions and language relevant to their role, students can practise step by step (opening to closing) over one to two class periods. Allow your students to prepare beforehand either in class or as homework.

Here are some useful tips on how to make your classroom practice realistic and relevant:
For any role-play practice, try to use authentic materials or situations taken from your students. Browse the Internet for relevant business stories or use students' own materials such as emails, agendas, minutes, action points, etc.
Students can practise and observe their meetings in terms of etiquette and politeness using the suggested language above. Encourage them to focus on points such as handing over a discussion point, eliciting comments, expressing agreement or disagreement, etc. You could show a short video of a meeting and ask students to observe with the same focus. In both cases, a checklist of polite language could be prepared as a worksheet with room for comments in each situation.
Focus on follow-up activities such as telephoning or writing practice. For example, students can role-play a phone exchange where the chairperson is discussing an action point with a participant, or they can write minutes or a list of action points, in email format, to circulate to the attendees of the meeting. Students exchange and discuss their emails.
Elicit a discussion on intercultural elements where the participants exchange experiences with dealing with cross-cultural meetings. Encourage students to share examples of problems or successes with the rest of the class.

Next in the series

Read the next issue of MED Magazine for teaching tips on presentations. In the meantime, I look forward to your feedback and suggestions on any Business English concern you may have. You can contact me by email on this page.

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