How to teach starting and ending meetings

How to teach starting and ending meetings

How to teach smooth, polite and friendly beginnings and endings of English business meetings.

Business meetings are so different from each other in formality, relationships between the people, roles of each person, company culture, etc, that it might seem impossible to plan a worksheet, lesson or course that could possibly suit more than one particular student. However, the beginning and end of English meetings have some surprisingly fixed patterns which are useful to teach to almost any student who will take part in meetings, even if they will need a little tweaking to match their own jobs. Concentrating on starting and ending meetings also means that students will be able to start roleplays quickly and finish them smoothly and easily, and so give them a sense of achievement and positive reinforcement after each speaking activity. 

This article gives tips on how to present and practise the most useful language for the first and last few minutes of meetings. There are photocopiable versions of most of these activities in this e-book:


What to teach about starting and ending meetings

The initial and final steps that business meetings tend to feature include:

  • Meeting people (for the first time and again)
  • Other polite and friendly language (welcoming, thanking, etc)
  • Small talk (at the beginning and/ or end of the meeting)
  • Transitions phrases (ending the small talk and getting down to business, ending the meeting, etc)
  • Dealing with practicalities of the meeting (seating, drinks, chairing, documents, clearing up, etc)
  • Introducing the topic(s) of the meeting (and maybe background such as reasons for discussing that now)
  • Reaching and checking agreement
  • Summarising
  • AOB
  • Talking about future contact


Students will need presentation and practice of phrases to do most or all of the steps above, perhaps with different levels of formality if they have both internal and external meetings in English. In addition, they should be made aware of cultural differences and typical mistakes. The biggest cultural differences in starting and ending meetings include:

  • Punctuality (of attendees, of starting the meeting, of getting down to business and/ or of ending)
  • Entering and leaving the room (where people initially meet, who enters first, accompanying people to the elevator, etc)
  • Body language (shaking hands, bowing, etc)
  • When and how business cards are used (how they are stored and handed over, if they should be placed on the desk in front of you, if you can write on them, etc)
  • Small talk (suitable topics, how long it goes on for, who asks the questions, how long answers tend to be, if it’s at the start and/ or end, etc)
  • How specific or general thanking phrases like “Thanks for coming (…)” tend to be
  • When practicalities such as taking coats are done
  • Food and drinks (if they are offered, if they have to be accepted, who prepares them, if they should be finished or left half-finished, who tidies up afterwards, etc)
  • Sitting (when people stand up and sit down, where people sit, etc)
  • How long/ smooth/ soft changing topic phrases tend to be (if such phrases need reasons, if the speaker tends to ask for a response, etc)
  • How important the agenda is
  • Who is chair/ facilitator and takes minutes (if people take turns doing so, etc)
  • Who speaks first and last
  • What happens if people arrive late and/ or leave early (if the meeting stops for them, etc)
  • Summarising agreements, action plans, etc (how common such summaries are, etc)
  • AOB (if AOB is on the agenda or not, typical topics, etc)


The most common and important errors in starting and ending meetings phrases are perhaps:

  • Introducing people with “He/ She is (name)” instead of “This is…”
  • Mixing up phrases like “(It was) nice to meet you” (for meeting for the first time) and phrases like “(It was) great to see you again” (for meeting again)
  • Small talk answers which are too short (including no question back or always “And you?”)
  • Suddenly getting down to business and/ or ending
  • Using rude phrases to get down to business or end (“Anyway, we’re supposed to be talking about…”, “Is that all?”, etc)
  • Using just “Thanks for coming” (especially unsuitable at the beginning of the meeting)
  • Using “As you know,…” when people don’t necessarily know
  • Mixing up “agenda” (to mean the whole document) and “item on the agenda/ point on the agenda”
  • Mixing up “Sum up”/ “Summarise”/ “Recap” (for the same info one more time more quickly) and “Wrap up” (meaning totally end)
  • Using orders like “Please get back to me…” (instead of requests like “Can you get back to me…?”)
  • Using old-fashioned and/ or quite heaving parting greetings like “Take care”, “Farewell” and “So long” when a simple “Goodbye” and “Bye” would be more suitable


How to present and practise starting and ending meetings

Depending on how much your students already know about this topic, you may want to start with a very easy introduction like Starting and Ending Meetings Simplest Responses. Give each student a card saying “Starting” and a card with “Ending” written on it, and ask them to rush to hold up the right card as they hear you say things like “Nice to meet you” and “Well, we have to be out of here by twelve, so let’s kick off with…” (starting) and “Nice meeting you” and “Okay then, I’d love to hear more of your ideas but I can see people waiting outside the door, so we’ll have to call it a day, if that’s okay” (ending). They can then label the same phrases on a worksheet with S for starting and E for ending and/ or try to remember those phrases by brainstorming onto a sheet with categories like those above.

Another fairly painless introduction to how to start and end meetings is Tips and Useful Phrases, in which students decide if they agree with tips like “Keep chatting until everyone has arrived and seems to be settled comfortably (How has your day been?/ And how about yesterday?)” and “Offer help finding their way out (I’ll walk you to the lift)”. After discussing their answers, they are given a copy of the good tips with the phrases taken out, and try to remember or think of suitable language to achieve each thing.

A similar activity is Starting and Ending Meetings Cultural Differences and Useful Phrases. Students read sentences like “Finish exactly on time, whatever the state of the discussion (Well, I’m afraid that’s all the time we have today, so we’ll pick up this discussion here in tomorrow’s meeting)” and label them with the names of any countries where they know that meetings are often that way. After finishing that stage, they then try to remember the most useful of the accompanying phrases.

After students have had some exposure to phrases that they are likely to hear and maybe need to use at the beginning and end of meetings, they then need to learn how to respond to what is likely to be said to them. The easiest start to that is Starting and Ending Meetings Good and Bad Responses, in which they listen to a typical starting or ending meetings phrase and two or more possible responses and have to choose the one good one or eliminate the one bad one (depending on which variation you plan to do).

For phrases which have at least three possible suitable responses, you can also do a jigsaw activity where students match “Did you have any problems finding us?” to “No, the map you sent was very clear, thanks”, “No, no trouble at all. I used to work near here, actually”, “Well, we got a little lost near the station, but as you wrote in your email, your building is quite distinctive”, etc.

Another good activity for learning responses is Starting and Ending Meetings Line by Line Brainstorming, in which students look at the only first line of a meeting, brainstorm what might be coming next, look at just that line to check, brainstorm the next line, etc. A whole meeting is too long to do this with, but it works well with the start and end of the same meaning with the body skipped.

Once they have got used to hearing and using the phrases, they’ll need some intensive practice. Practice activities that really focus on key phrases include a Key Words Card Game, in which they try to use key words for these stages like “well” and “else” as they roleplay meetings. Similarly, in a Functions Card Game, they can discard cards saying things like “Smoothly get down to business” if they can do that thing with different language to what anyone else has said during the activity. You can also do something similar with just one or two kinds of cards, getting them to discard cards saying “so” and/ cards saying “but” as they use those words to smoothly start and end meetings.

Before or after intensive practice, students will need to properly memorise the key phrases that they need to smoothly start or end. Activities which concentrate on that kind of rote learning include Disappearing Text games. One student reads out a whole starting or ending of a meeting and covers one word. Their partner then says the whole thing including the covered word, then covers one more.  This continues until no one can remember everything that has been covered.

They should then be ready for more challenging practice such as problem roleplays, in which they try to deal with issues like people arriving late, no one having read the agenda before the meeting, people waiting outside the meeting room when the agenda isn’t finished, and someone going back to something that already seemed to be decided when the meeting is nearly over.

That should then bring up enough issues with the language that they used to be worth looking at typical confusions with an activity like Error Correction Pairwork or The Same or Different. In the former, they have Student A and Student B worksheets with the same sentences but the correct version of each sentence on one worksheet or a wrong version on the other. They work together to find and correct the wrong versions without showing their worksheets to each other.

In The Same or Different, students play a kind of Simplest Responses Game in which they have cards saying “The same” or “Different” to hold up depending on the meanings of phrases like “Nice to meet you”/ “Pleased to meet you” (the same) and “See you then”/ “See you later” (different).

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