Washington DC Capitol Building

The United States of America, with its multicultural people, pop-culture icons and beautiful scenery, is full of surprises. From New York to Los Angeles and Dallas to Chicago, the U.S. is full of cities with unique cultures, histories and traditions. PGi Meetings Experts Sara Pilling and Erik Diesner teach us about American business etiquette.

Q: How do you greet and say goodbye to a colleague or client?

A: We typically greet each other verbally with a “hello,” “good morning” or ”good afternoon.” Leaving is also verbally recognized by simply stating “goodbye” or “see you later.” If you’re familiar with a colleague, you can say “hello,” “howdy,” “hi” or “hey.”

American business etiquette definitely calls for shaking hands, and hugging is okay if you’re well acquainted with someone but wait for them to make the first move.

Q: Where do business meetings usually take place?

A: Meetings are usually held in conference rooms or virtual meeting rooms, like iMeet and GlobalMeet, because most employees work all over the country or from home, even if they’re on the same team.

Q: What are some small talk topics to start the meeting? And what topics should be avoided?

A: Local weather, sporting teams, local or international news, or just how was your weekend. Because we spend so much time in virtual meeting tools, we usually ask about the person’s profile picture in iMeet and try to find common ground – kids, locations, weather, etc. The small talk sets the tone for a meeting.

It is usually not proper American business etiquette to include bad news like recent layoffs, lewd comments, or alcohol/drugs.

Q: What are the best times to request meetings?

A: I typically like to schedule meetings early in the morning for the best energy. Avoid meetings right after lunch or at the end of the day as it is harder to focus on a full stomach, trying to finish the business day or thinking about evening plans.

Q: How should I schedule a meeting in the U.S.? And what do I need to supply before the meeting?

A: Schedule meetings with an Outlook invitation after an email or phone confirmation. Usually it is understood what content will be discussed, so put a brief meeting overview in the subject line. Just make sure the meeting is necessary and can’t just be discussed on a brief call or iMeet session. If you’re getting really detailed and have many meeting participants, send an agenda in advance and ask them for feedback.

Q: Should I schedule a lunch or dinner meeting? What is the American business etiquette for sharing a meal?

A: American business etiquette says everyone eats! Of course you should have lunch with colleagues, customers, partners, etc. Obviously, this is a very U.S.-centric point of view, but sometimes the best relationships at work are built over off-campus lunches.

Request that your guests make a restaurant suggestion in the area. Once a restaurant is suggested, make a reservation typically around 12 PM. We tend to be more relaxed in America so etiquette is not closely watched. Just don’t talk with your mouth full and pick up the tab if you set the meeting — but make sure you ask first because government agencies and some companies do not allow vendors or others to pay for meals or provide gifts.

Q: At the meeting, what should I provide and prepare?

A: To attract internal guests to attend, snacks are definitely helpful. For external meetings with new clients, business cards are great, but a little research beforehand is also a nice touch. Showing clients or customers that you know about their company, looked at the website and have some business context shows you are interested in their business. Power Point is fine for some meetings and a bore for others. Just don’t read directly from the slides and if people start talking, don’t cut them off to keep up with the slides.

Q: How long should the meetings be?

A: Thirty-minute meetings for updates, status, small groups. Sixty minutes is needed for larger brainstorms and major stakeholder meetings. Make sure you know the participants’ time constraints and show respect by starting and ending on time.

Q: What can I do to encourage collaborative discussion during the meeting?

A: To encourage collaboration I lead with questions and let the participants provide company information and need assessment. Calling on people helps make sure people stay engaged if hosting a virtual meeting. If you’re meeting with colleagues for brainstorming, games, white boarding and eating definitely help!

Q: What should I wear to meetings?

A: American business etiquette typically call for suits in client meetings and internal meetings vary depending on the type of company. In the U.S., we have every type of weather, so bring a coat and umbrella just in case.

Q: What should I do after the meeting?

A: Follow-up emails with thank you’s are a nice touch for new contacts. Reporting on action items is also a great way to keep projects moving.

Q: What else should visitors to your country know?

A: The United States varies in attractions, climates, foods and cultures — city-by-city and state-by-state. Our suggestion is to explore the city and state you’re in and discover the best things for yourself. Reach out to your colleagues and ask your clients what’s best to do, whether it’s a baseball game, shopping, concerts, restaurants or dancing. It’s all here in America: you just need to know where to look!

Have more questions about American business etiquette?