MED Magazine - Issue 22 - September 2004

Top Tips for Business English
Teaching meeting skills

by Rosemary Richey


Welcome to the brand-new Top Tips for Business English column of MED Magazine! In the next six issues you can read a series of articles dealing with Business English teaching matters. In these articles you'll find useful tips and lesson activities based on the Macmillan English Dictionary for teaching basic business skills for areas such as meetings, presentations, negotiations and socialising. Moreover, these skills will be presented in major business sector contexts such as banking/finance, law, tourism, engineering or medicine. The first article in the series gives you tips on teaching meeting skills.

Language level

Language and skills for meetings can be taught as early as pre-intermediate level, but are ideally polished up at upper intermediate and advanced levels.


1 Bear in mind that being able to function in meetings in English is often a huge pressure for your students. They may feel insecure about competing in an international meeting setting. Even more personal, the participants' meeting skills in English may make or break their chances to get promoted in the company.
2 Put your students at ease by brainstorming in pairs or groups on the following topics:
What kind of meetings do they attend? Are these meetings informal or formal?
How often do they go to meetings?
What is their role in the meetings (e.g. chairperson or participant)?
What do they like/dislike about meetings?
What are their biggest problems/complaints about meetings?
Have they attended/conducted a meeting in English before? What were their experiences like?

Language and skill components

1 To start your lessons, for any level, review the basic components of a meeting — what happens before, during and after a meeting. Then check students' familiarity with the meaning of lexis used in meetings, e.g. agenda, minutes, chair(person), etc. Click here for some activities and teacher's notes to practise lexis relating to meetings.
2 Your follow-up lessons should include language functions for both the participants and chairperson. Look at the following table of corresponding function and language:

function language
opening the meeting I would like to welcome you ...;
Our action points are ...
general polite business etiquette use of would, could;
If you don't mind ...; May I ...;
use of the first and second conditionals: If we reduce costs ...; If we increased our market share ...
agreeing/disagreeing I see your point, but how about ...?
interrupting Could I just stop you a moment to say ...
digressing That brings us to another related issue ...
problems/arguments Why don't we try to sort this out by ...?
suggestions/recommendations I would like to suggest ...;
How about looking into ...?
concluding Can we wrap up what we've discussed? AOB?
follow-up for the next meeting Our meeting is set for ...;
Please come prepared to report on your action points.


In your lessons you can make good use of the Macmillan English Dictionary CD-ROM. Using the SmartSearch feature of the CD, students can explore further contexts of a particular word. Encourage them to try the search options to check the original information presented when a word is keyed in. For example, they can explore the word agenda. Here are a few sample steps:

1 Type agenda in the search box in the top left corner, and click on Go. This will bring up the basic meaning plus some useful phrases (e.g. high on the agenda, be on the agenda).
2 For a further check, select SmartSearch from the main menu. Key in agenda in the search box and click on More search options.
3 Select Examples in the left-hand panel and click Go. This will bring up example sentences that contain the word agenda.

4 Have students write down and then present two or three examples they found in their search, and discuss useful phrases and collocations such as: get onto/move to the next item on the agenda; organize the agenda; run off some copies of an agenda; strike off the agenda.

Teaching ideas and resources

In reviewing the language and skill components discussed in the previous section, the ideal learning setting would be a meeting simulation with role-play. Depending on how familiar your students are with meetings, they can practise step by step (opening to closing) over one to two class periods. For more experienced participants, meetings can be done as a whole in one class. In any case, allow your students to prepare beforehand either in class or as homework.

Here are some useful tips for realistic practice for any meeting, large or small, formal or informal:

Try to create meeting situations based on students' real-life meetings at work. For other meeting contexts, read the business news on the Internet. Take a particular topic from a business story and make a role-play for your students.
Elicit samples of participants' emails showing agendas, reports, minutes, action points, etc for realia. Integrate these forms of communication as part of the meeting where the participants explain/discuss the importance of each. As follow-up to the meeting, the chairperson can assign a writing task to each participant.
In each simulation have groups monitor each other as they perform their meetings. Prepare an observation sheet where students focus on language and skills. Students then give each other feedback on their performance in the meetings.
Invite a real-life manager to observe students' meetings and to give feedback.
Take advantage of listening extracts with transcripts and videos which show a good mix of native and non-native English speakers in a typical international meeting setting. The transcripts can provide an excellent basis for identifying, practising and discussing language and skills used in meetings.

Next in the series

Next month I'll continue with teaching tips for meetings. In the meantime, I look forward to your feedback and suggestions on any Business English concern you may have. You can send me an email on this page.

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