Meeting in progress

Meetings – an essential part of the modern army

Like it or not, you will have to deal with it. Contemporary military personnel spend much time on meetings, either preparing them, either participating or reporting. You can call them sometimes briefings (sounds more military-like), but they are similar in nature to business or political level meetings. They have a lot in common so you cannot get away with not knowing its basic elements and related vocabulary. You’d better acquire some useful phrases, then you will be able to handle any meetings. For your convenience, the full lexical summary (a cheatsheet in an alphabetical order) is provided at the end of the article. which will help you memorize the terms most frequently used. Once you are equipped with the necessary vocabulary you will perform better at the listening part of English exams too, where the recordings from meetings are frequently used as the tasks.

Military-political meeting between US and South Korean officials. Illustration to military meetings compendium.

Official, high level meetings require language accuracy.

Preparation of a meeting

When you are about to organize a meeting, or just participate in it, you need to know some basic facts. For sure you can provide (or acquire) at least the following basic details:

Time: When does the meeting take place?
Location: Where will it be held?
Subject: What will it be devoted to? What kinf of topics will be discussed.
Attendees: Who will participate in the meeting. Whose presence is required/desired?
Goal/purpose/occasion/objectives/desired outcome: What is the meeting aiming at? What should be the outcome of the meeting? What are you supposed to end up with? What is the occasion for the meeting?

It is not a conicidence that the basic meeting details resemble the military 5xW (or 5W), which you use to present any mission/incident details:


Such a meeting is a small scale mission and you should be equally well prepared for it, if it is to be a successful one.

If the meeting was called to come up with a solution to existing, emerging or foreseen problem, you may have a strict agenda to follow, including some voting and agreed solution, which can be further on elaborated. If the meeting is organized just to coordinate some activities of different branches/departments/units/cells you can expect purely informative character of the gathering. On the other hand, if you represent your cell there, it is something normal that you will have to speak on behalf of your cell or comment on the others’ ideas whenever they cross your field of responsibility/expertise. Depending on the meeting agenda, you will be required to voice your concerns immediately or during Questions and Answers (Q&A) session.

Inviting for a meeting

Let’s assume that a meeting has just been scheduled and you are responsible for this event. You have some steps to follow before it could happen. Firstly, you must call a meeting, informing the planned participants about all details mentioned above. It will let the participants prepare better. If the exact date and time was not agreed on yet, you will have to request the confirmation from the invited people. You should do that anyway! There is nothing more frustrating than YOUR meeting nobody can attend.

So, make sure you inform everybody via phone, e-mail, calendar entry or any other means of communication, typical for your organization. If you use MS Outlook you can send automatic requests to confirm, which can be done with a single click. If your invitation is sent on paper, you can include proper sentence requesting confirmation or put simple R.S.V.P. (stands for French phrase: répondez s’il vous plaît – “Please, confirm/respond”).  Whatever way of confirming you request, do not forget to include your contact data or nominate somebody else as a Point of Contact (POC). The invited people should contact the indicated person and respond, confirming or refusing their participation.

Late confirmations serve no purpose, so rememeber to set some deadline for the response. You can request answers till a specific date/time or apply so called “silent procedure.” Silent procedure means that in case of no comments/answers, you assume that all the addressees of your invitations will come. On the one hand, it saves the addressees an additional effort to confirm, on the other hand it is risky, because as any assumtion it may be a faulty one. Just imagine the situation that somebody wanted to refuse to come but simply could not contact you due to his absense, network failure or too short notice to send the letter.

At the metting

People with the key functions at the meeting:

  1. the chair / chairman / chairwoman / chairperson – all the possible forms you can come across. Do not be surprised of the plethora of terms – political correctness made people invent new terms to be sex-indifferent, gender-neutral. This person is the one, who runs the show. It is up to him/her to delegate time to any attendee, move on to subsequent points of the agenda, to dispute on any issues appearing.
  2. attendees – any people who participate in the meeting. It may happen that some special functions are assigned to the attendees (points 3-7).
  3. a speaker – the one who is supposed to speak on any particular subject. Could be more than one.
  4. a briefer – Somebody asked to brief a subject during the meeting. His role could be limited to purely informative, with no right later, e.g. to vote.
  5. a guest speaker – usually a man “from outside”, some subject matter expert asked to familiarize the audience with some topic; somebody with a unique expertise of better insight into the problems discussed.
  6. the watch keeper – the one who controls the time and makes sure the meeting proceeds according to agreed timetable.
  7. the note taker – a secretary who records all relevant information for the purpose of a report/minutes from the meeting.
  8. absentees – those, who were planned to be present but could not make it, so they are absent.

Useful vocabulary:

to stand in for somebody – to speak on behalf of somebody absent, relaying his/her statements, opinions, votes, etc.

an agenda item – a point, a subject which was included in the programme of the meeting.

minutes – a written report of what has been said/done during the meeting. A written summary of the whole event which is the reference for further actions/arrangements.

a prior commitment – any activities/projects/arrangements you had been involved in, which made it imposssible for you to attend the meeting. It could be your perfect excuse not to attend it. If you e.g. had planned to go on holidays and later received the invitation for a meeting, you can claim that due to your prior commitment (that is planned, booked and paid vacations in that case) you cannot attend the meeting. You can always suggest/propse somebody who will replace you, stand in for you.

to come up / pop up – to appear suddenly. Usually used in passive voice, e.g. Something important has just come up (or popped up) and I cannot attend the meeting. –> informal!

a (short) notice – this is the amount of time since the invitation (initial information) and the meeting. You can call a meeting with 6-day notice or call it on a short notice, when you need to meet somebody urgently. On higher level meetings (ministerial, international, governmental) even one month notice could be too short to make it happen! Jus mind the fact how busy the attendees could be. The more important they are, the more likely it is that their agenda will be already full for the scheduled day.

a motion – a topic which is put to a vote.

to second the motion – to support the idea of voting on the planned subject/problem.

to go over / to revise – to have a look/ to discuss again some older items to refresh the knowledge on it, to familiarize the attendees with previously agreed/discussed items.

to have the floor – to have one’s turn to speak/brief.

to put on hold – to stop or to postpone sth for dealing with it later, in due time.

to postpone – to put off, to decide to do sth later than it was planned.

to adjourn – to close, to finish (esp. in case of meeting).

to hand over sth – to give sth to sb. In the context of a meeting we can “hand over the floor” to the next speaker. It could also mean “to assign the subject/responsibilities” to somebody else, e.g. “Paul, I’m handing over that problem to you”, or “Paul, please, take it over.”

to take over sth – to accept sth, to take. In a context of a meeting, to take one’s turn (the floor) to speak or to continue elaborating on some subject. It could also mean to become responsible for something since now on, e.g. “OK, so my branch will take over the requests issue.”

tentative, tentatively – intially planned, e.g. Our tentative agenda should cover only four points.

provisionally – not in line with the routine. =exceptionally.

to run over – to take more time than expected, e.g. Sorry that the meeting run over but we had to come to the solution today.

to set aside – to ignore sth, to forget about something for a while, e.g. “Let’s set aside a feasibility issue of our plan and vote on the next item in the agenda.”

to stick to agenda / topic – to follow the agenda as it was proposed, to cover each point in the proposed order.

to follow the agenda – to go to the points of the meeting in the agreed/proposed order.

to cover sth – to discuss sth, to elaborate on sth.

a ballout – a type of voting, usually secret and in writing.

a boardroom – just a big room, usually with one, long table and many chairs – typical settings for official meetings when voting is planned.

a casting vote – a vote that decided on the voting outcome. When the votes in favour and against are equal. Usually, a casting vote belongs to a chairperson.

a proxy vote – a vote cast on behalf of somebody not present.

closing remarks – the last statements, usually by a chairperson. It could be any types of ‘thank you,’ reminders or guidance for the meeting attendees.

to conclude – to finish, to close, e.g. “Pending your questions, that concludes my briefing.”

to commence – to start, to begin, e.g. “Let’s commence our meeting.”

to wrap up – to sum up before finishing, sometimes just too make finishing statements.

a show of hands – a voting procedure when you cast a vote by showing/raising your hand.

unanimous(ly) – when all voters were of the same opinion; 100% of voters voted in favour or 100% of them voted against sth – a complete agreement.

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