Proper Protocol For Running Late to a Meeting

I routinely get questions from readers about uncomfortable etiquette-related situations and the topic of running late comes up time and time again. No matter how pulled together your outfit may be, making a grand entrance 20 minutes late to a business meeting is not a good look for you.  Even so, there are ways to handle this situation.  I’m sharing a reader question and a few pointers on how to best handle the faux pas of running late to a meeting:

Q: I recently had a series of mini-disasters take over my morning, leaving me more than just a few minutes late to an important meeting.  What is the protocol for walking in 15 minutes late? Is it better to skip the meeting altogether or walk in and potentially cause a disruption?

A: – If the meeting is only 20 minutes long, it’s best to wait until it has adjourned and speak to the presenter personally. Apologize for your absence and give a very brief excuse – nothing too personal or lengthy. Emergencies happen to each of us at one time or another so there’s no need to dwell on the issue.  Instead, send a gracious follow up note offering your sincere apology for the unexpected “no show” and your regret for missing the informative presentation. With any luck, the impression you’ll leave in taking the time to hand write a note will surely outshine your tardiness, just this once.

Don’t ask the speaker for a recap – Instead, do your own homework by asking someone else for the notes.  Doing so presents you with the opportunity to make contact with another business professional attending the presentation, a blessing in disguise perhaps.

Select a seat by the door.  If you walk in to a meeting in progress, avoid walking up front and disrupting the session. Crawling over attendees seated near the front does nothing for your popularity or reputation. Instead, quickly find a seat near the back door, settle in very carefully and make as little noise as possible.

Discreetly project polish in your body language.  When you enter the room and take your seat, chances are people will glance your way.  Instead of making an embarrassed expression about your running behind, keep a calm and pleasant face.  No need to flash a huge smile, but practice awareness and grace.

Choose your questions wisely.  Before asking for clarification on a topic, remember that it may have already been discussed prior to your late arrival.  This only brings attention to the fact that you walked in late.

– Say “hello” after the meeting is over. Further disrupting the room by greeting those seated around you during the presentation is another distraction. Instead, make those connections after the speaker shares his closing remarks.

–  Next time, plan for the unexpected. Factor in a large cushion of time when you know you will be going to an important meeting. Traffic and weather aren’t good excuses for a tardy entrance.

Have an etiquette question of your own? Comment below, tweet @DianeGottsman or post on The Protocol School of Texas’ Facebook page.

Thanks for reading!


Diane Gottsman

Diane Gottsman is a national etiquette expert and modern manners professional, sought out industry leader, television personality, accomplished speaker, Huffington Post blogger, author, and the owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in executive leadership and etiquette training. Diane is routinely quoted in national and international media including The New York Times, The BBC, CNN, Bloomberg Business Week, Kiplinger, Huffington Post Canada, U.S. News and World Report, and Forbes. She is the resident etiquette expert for two popular morning talk shows, SA Living and Good Day Austin. She has been seen on The TODAY Show, HLN Headline News, WGN Chicago, and CBS Sunday Morning. Her clients range from university students to Fortune 500 companies and her workshops cover topics ranging from tattoos in the workplace to technology at the dinner table and the proper use of social media.


  1. Bella says

    I’m a young professional, working in an office environment for the last 6 years. We have a business casual dress code most days, with business attire for meetings, presentations and events about twice a month. Recently, I was asked to participate on a hiring committee for new team members. What’s the appropriate attire? We expect interviewees to wear a suit, but what about the rest of us at the table? Do we set the ‘meeting’ tone by wearing a suit also, or reflect the every day office culture and go business casual?

  2. Diane says

    Hello Bella,

    I think it’s important to show respect for the interviewee by dressing more professional than you would generally dress during your regular work day. You can discuss the everyday culture but mirror the look you expect from your employee. Good luck with your meeting.

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