The settlers who populated the United States in the late 18th and 19th century left a permanent mark on the American national character. Those immigrants (mostly Europeans) were hard working and very time conscious, having brought their time focus with them from the Industrial Revolution in Europe. These are traits that many American business people still value these days. According to Jeanette S. Martin and Lillian H. Chaney, both business communication specialists, businesses in the US spend more time and money on meetings than do businesses in any other country. There is a great chance that you will attend meetings with American business people at some point in your career, so it is important to understand more about the American business meeting culture, in order for those to be successful.
As time is money, punctuality is extremely important in the United States. Since many American business people have busy schedules, appointments should be made well in advance. However, it is not uncommon for people in the US to cancel an appointment at the last moment if something more important comes up. In the US it is very important to be on time for a meeting, if only because the leader or chairman is expected to start and end the meeting on time.
You and your company only get one chance to make a good first impression. When meeting an American counterpart for the first time, it is important to be confident, charming and straightforward. Give him/her a firm handshake (two or three seconds), make eye contact, say something like ‘Nice to meet you’ and clearly introduce your name. According to Martin and Chaney, business cards are generally only shared when there is a reason to contact a counterpart after the meeting. As there are no specific procedures for exchanging business cards, these can be given before or after a meeting.
American meetings are apt to have clear objectives and follow an agenda. US meetings are for making decisions, rather than for exchanging opinions or viewpoints, so those without a clear goal are seen as a waste of time. An agenda and any other material are circulated before a meeting, so people can get right to the point during a meeting. Americans also use substitutes for face-to-face meetings, for example videoconferences and conference calls, to save time and money.
Giving a good presentation is essential to making a good impression during a meeting. Since Americans are thought to present in a confident way, which may come across as arrogant, they expect their counterparts to present in the same self-assured way. Presentations are expected to be brief, factual and to the point. American companies want summaries of the facts and short bullet points. At the end of a presentation there should be time for questions.
American counterparts value argumentation and debate during meetings, but they do not appreciate people who are too long-winded. Americans are very direct and explicit in the way they communicate and they are not afraid to express their disagreement. They appreciate it when you say what you think, even when there are senior officials at the meeting.
Since Americans are task and goal oriented, they expect that at the end of a meeting action points will be drawn up. If there is not much time left, the chairman will leave out discussion, so that there is enough time for decisions and action points. The minutes from the meeting will be generally spread by an assistant and after this, people will start to complete their individual tasks.
In conclusion, when attending a meeting with American business people remember to be punctual, direct and friendly. Good presentation skills are crucial when presenting to an American company, so if you do not have those skills, a course is recommended. Give your opinion, but do not go into too much detail, and last but not least, do not forget to smile.