On a trip to London in July 2005, I spent a considerable amount of time relaxing and reading in the hotel lounge/restaurant. During the day several groups held small meetings happening at nearby tables.
These appeared to be sales meetings rather than, say, detailed planning or brainstorming sessions. I assume the participants were sales and marketing people selling their products or services. A few of the meetings were job interviews, with one or two interviewers.
Many of these meetings were interrupted by incoming cellphone calls. When someone's phone rang, everyone at the table stopped while the owner answered it. The meeting basically ground to a halt, and they had to then ask "Where were we?" to get back on track.
Most of the time, the answerer simply said "I'm [still] in a meeting. Can I call you back?" So what did this accomplish?
- The phone call halted the meeting;
- The caller probably didn't accomplish what he wanted;
- The answerer now has to remember to return the call. Chances are it will be forgotten, so the original caller will have to follow up (meaning he has to remember to follow up.) This doesn't make either person's life easier.
In some cases, the caller apparently said "I've got a quick question" and the answerer tried to field that question. But, while there may be quick questions, there are seldom quick answers. So, after another few minutes (remember, everyone else is twiddling his thumbs), the answerer finally has to concede that he can't supply an answer in a short time. "I'll call you back."
At other times, people answered the phone and then left the table to continue the conversation. But they didn't leave the larger area, the lounge. So if the intent was to avoid disrupting a meeting, it failed miserably. First, the answerer's meeting came to a halt with the call: it had to wait to continue. So did walking away allow the meeting to continue without the distraction of the call? Of course not!
Second, many calls tended to be very short, so the answerer usually didn't walk far enough to avoid interrupting others holding nearby meetings.
Moral of the story: If you're going into a meeting, turn off the damn cell phone! Let your voicemail take a message so you won't have to remember to call back. That's why they invented voicemail!
Why Meet In That Location In The First Place?
It's generally a bad idea to try to meet in a public place.
In many places, smoking is allowed in a lounge. What if some of the attendees don't like — or are allergic to — secondhand smoke? Do you exclude them from the meeting? Tell them to put up with it? (Try doing this to a prospective client.) For a nonsmoker, there is no place, even in a large room, that's far enough away from the smokers. So you should have chosen a private meeting room.
What if a competitor or sales prospect is meeting a few feet away? You can't talk candidly without fear of being overheard. Again, you should have chosen a private meeting room.
It's impossible for someone to do a presentation. You'd be too conspicuous standing up; your voice would carry and disturb others; and you have no opportunity to use visual aids in the presentation.
Your meeting makes noise and bothers others. Their meetings make noise and distract you. The cappuccino machine makes noise; traffic in the lobby and restaurant makes noise. I actually heard one person ask the hotel restaurant staff to not set up the lounge tea service because they were too noisy! You want quiet? Don't meet in the middle of the action.
If the meeting is in a restaurant or lounge area, the food and drink service will create a distraction. People will be walking through your field of vision, and that will create interruptions: people will miss things because their ability to listen will be affected. Even food aromas will create a distraction: people begin to think more about a cup of coffee or a sandwich than the meeting agenda.
Meeting at a small dining table is ridiculous: with three people at the table, there's no space to do anything. You can't possibly use a visual aid like a projector or easel. There's usually no nearby electrical outlet for laptops and other devices. You barely have room to open a notebook before things begin to fall off the table. Is this an efficient way to work? What do you think your client sees about you?
Choosing The Private Meeting Room
It is not appropriate to meet in someone's hotel room, especially your client's. The professional relationship among the participants does not extend to seeing someone's bedroom or bathroom.
You might rent a small conference room during the day for the meetings. But you might also consider renting a large two-bath suite for one participant (perhaps the meeting leader). That person's private "bed and bath" section can remain off-limits, while the large sitting-room and bath provide the meeting space. You can have coffee, snacks, soft drinks and even lunch delivered, so that the meeting can continue without long breaks. If people have traveled to the hotel, they're spending plenty of money to travel to the meeting, so the additional cost of the suite may not be significant.
If the meeting leader works nearby, then why isn't he providing a room at his place of business?