20 Key Phrases for Successful International Business Meetings in English

Imagine what your week at the office would be like if you worked alone.

That would mean no meetings to brainstorm ideas, discuss work or plan business projects with others.

It’s hard to picture (imagine), isn’t it?

In fact, is it even possible to do business without meetings?

I don’t think so.

That’s because face-to-face interactions are important in the world of business. Without them, how would businesses form working relationships and negotiate successful deals?

Meetings are the very reason international business travel is so popular these days. Business people are traveling the world more and more to meet their global partners in person.

So to help you make a great impression and communicate effectively in your next international business meeting, we’ve put together 20 phrases you’ll need to know and be able to use.

How to Conduct an Effective International Meeting

Some people often complain that meetings run too long, lose focus or don’t accomplish (achieve) their goals. Meetings that run longer than necessary can be very costly to the company because, as we often say in business, time is money.

So whether you’re chairing (leading) or attending a meeting of five people or 20 people, here are some ways you can ensure your meeting is effective in accomplishing its objectives (goals).

  • Follow the agenda. An agenda is an important list of items that will be addressed (discussed) and decided upon at the meeting. Circulate (send out) the agenda before the meeting to give people a chance to come prepared. During the meeting, make sure the discussion stays on the agenda items.
  • Set time limits. Having an agenda is great. But if timelines are not set, attendees can sometimes spend too long discussing certain items. This would leave insufficient (not enough) time to discuss the rest. So be sure to watch the time so that the meeting does not run too long.
  • Notice language barriers. When there is a mix of native and non-native English speakers, you have to be aware of the language barriers (challenges). Not everyone will have the same level of understanding of business English. Speak clearly and make sure everyone feels comfortable asking questions. You should also know (and use) phrases and expressions which are commonly used at meetings—so let’s take a look together.

20 Key Phrases for Successful International Business Meetings in English

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Starting the Meeting

Typically it takes a while for everyone to arrive at the meeting room. During this time, attendees usually make small talk.

If you are chairing (hosting) the meeting, it’s a good idea to tell the attendees a bit about what you are planning to discuss so that everyone has an idea of what to expect.

In a more formal meeting—which may include business people from other companies and countries—you might begin by welcoming the attendees. Here are some phrases you can use to welcome everyone:

1. Welcome, everyone. The purpose of today’s meeting is to discuss…

Good morning and welcome, everyone. The purpose of today’s meeting is to discuss ways to improve customer service in our smaller stores.

If a meeting has been called at short notice (with little time to prepare), you should thank everyone for taking the time out of their busy work day to attend.

2. Thank you all for coming at such short notice. Let’s start with item number one.

Thank you all for coming at such short notice. We have a number of important matters on the agenda today. So let’s start with item number one.

In a less formal meeting, you might begin in a more casual manner.

3. Now that everyone’s here, let’s get started…

Now that everyone’s here, let’s get started with today’s agenda.

Here’s an incredibly entertaining and informative video from Creativa about how to start a meeting. It also includes valuable and surprising tips on body language and gestures:

Episode 1.1 Final with color_sound from Alan Park on Vimeo.

Bringing Up Topics for Discussion

At a high level meeting, you might begin in a more formal manner.

4. The first item on the agenda that we need to discuss today is…

The first item on the agenda that we need to discuss today is increasing our cooperation on a global level and how we can achieve that in the short-term.

You can use the word “discuss” interchangeably with the phrase “talk about” in this, and other instances.

In a meeting with peers, it is all right to be less formal.

5. Let’s look at the first item on the agenda.

Let’s look at the first item on the agenda and figure out why our new sportswear line isn’t performing as well as expected.

In an even less formal meeting or discussion, you might even omit (skip) mentioning the item number and jump straight into the first topic on the agenda.

6. First, let’s talk about…

First, let’s talk about how we can use social media to promote our new product.

Asking for Clarification

If you have questions or don’t understand what someone has said, you could ask them to clarify (explain). Naturally, it’s polite to begin your request with “I’m sorry” or “Excuse me.”

In a formal meeting, you might say:

7. Could you please clarify…?

Excuse me, could you please clarify what you said about the new travel policy?

You could use the word “explain” instead of “clarify.” If you’d like more detailed information about the topic, you could use the word “elaborate.”

In less formal meetings, you could say:

8. I’m not sure I understand what you mean by…

I’m not sure I understand what you mean by letting the new staff handle these reports.

Saying that you’re “not sure you understand” rather than saying you “don’t understand” makes your tone softer and friendlier.

9. I’m sorry, I don’t quite follow…

I’m sorry, I don’t quite follow the calculation you just showed us.

Here too, the word “quite” has a softening effect and makes your request sound a little less blunt (abrupt).

Stalling the Discussion

There are times when someone may need to stall the meeting to bring up a point that has been missed or that needs further discussion.

To stall a discussion simply means to interrupt the meeting and bring it to a temporary stop before the chairperson introduces the next item on the agenda.

This can happen at any time during the meeting when someone wants to raise a point or ask for a more in-depth (detailed) discussion.

10. Before we move on, I think we need to look at…

Before we move on, I think we need to look at how we can ensure this sort of production delay does not happen again.

In a very formal setting, you might say “Before we move on, we need to look at…” But adding the phrase “I think” is a good way to soften the tone.

11. I’m sorry, but I don’t believe we’ve talked about…

I’m sorry, but I don’t believe we’ve talked about how we’re going to resolve the issue of manpower shortage.

To sound more formal, you might say “I’m sorry, but we haven’t talked about…” Adding the phrase “I don’t believe” will help you achieve a softer tone, though.

12. One minute please, it seems we haven’t discussed…

One minute please, it seems we haven’t discussed the individual project deadlines.

Here too, you can see how including the phrase “it seems” gives the statement a much friendlier tone.

Moving On

If you are ever the chairperson, you must also watch the time and keep the agenda rolling (moving). When you’re done discussing each item on the agenda, lead into the next item with these phrases.

13. Let’s move on to [item], which is the next item on the agenda.

Let’s move on to the status of our contract negotiation with DC International, which is the next item on the agenda.

14. Moving on, let’s take a look at item [number] on the agenda…

Moving on, let’s take a look at item three on the agenda, the problem we had with suppliers who haven’t been on time with their deliveries.

You can also suggest to look at “the second/third/fourth/etc. item” on the agenda.

15. Now we’ve come to the final item on the agenda…

Now we’ve come to the final item on the agenda: the redesign of our retail website.

You could also use the word “last” instead of “final.”

Summarizing the Discussion

At the end of a discussion, the chairperson may summarize the main action points that have been decided. This is a great way to ensure everyone knows what action is expected of them.

16. In summary, we’re going to…

In summary, we’re going to check those shipping dates again and Sarah will contact the suppliers to ensure we have everything ready for the launch.

17. This is what we’ve agreed on:

This is what we’ve agreed on: The sales team will take charge of this project. The other departments will update the sales team with their weekly progress.

18. So we’ve decided to…

So we’ve decided to let Mark take care of designing and printing the promotional flyers.

Note that “we’ve decided to” is always followed by a verb. The similar phrase “we’ve decided on” is followed by someone or something, and is used when you’ve chosen between two or more options. For example, “We’ve decided on cinema as the theme for next month’s magazine.”

Closing the Meeting

A commonly used phrase for closing a formal meeting is:

19. The meeting is adjourned. Thank you all for attending.

Oftentimes, in less formal meetings, you could simply close by saying:

20. I guess that will be all for today. Thanks for coming.

With that, you’re now ready to lead and participate effectively in any business meeting. These phrases and expressions are a great starting point for you. I hope you will put them to good use in your next meeting.

By listening and paying attention to the language used at meetings that you attend, you will even be able to add to this list. Good luck!

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