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A Good Set of Conference Room Rules

Here’s another example of good writing. I found this set of rules just inside the door of a conference room at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where I was teaching Better Business Writing this week.

Conference Room Rules

If you use it, you are responsible to:

  • Clean up after use, including catering items.
  • Wipe table with a damp rag when necessary.
  • Put all trash in the garbage.
  • Push the chairs back into the table.
  • Erase the white board.
  • Turn the lights off.

We do not have a custodial service to clean between meetings, so your attention to these simple details will be appreciated by the next user.

Thank you.
Airport Facilities Manager

That brief set of steps is everything it needs to be. It’s short, just 83 words from beginning to end. It lists each of the actions the reader should take, and each action begins with a simple verb (clean, wipe, etc.). It’s clear and courteous.

Another great feature of this set of rules is its placement–on the wall just inside the door. People who use the room can’t miss it–when they are leaving, it’s right there at eye level to tell them what to do. Yet it doesn’t distract people during a meeting, and it doesn’t get in the way on a table.

Procedures or steps often fail because they aren’t in the right place at the right time. For example, emailing these rules would not make sense. People only need them when they are finished using the room.

I would make just one change in the opening words. I would write “If you use this room” rather that “If you use it.” Although “it” is clear, I prefer the precision of naming “this room.”

As I just reread the rules, I noticed that they could be used in many conference rooms. That’s another excellent feature. The shop that creates the signs can use this message repeatedly rather than tailoring messages to individual rooms.

Nice job, Port of Seattle! Your sign encouraged me to leave the conference room just as I had found it–clean and ready for use.


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

9 comments on “A Good Set of Conference Room Rules”

  • ‘Responsible to’ though? Surely it should have been ‘Responsible for’ cleaning, wiping etc. One is responsible to a person but not a thing.

    I’m afraid I wouldn’t have been able to have stopped myself correcting it with a big black marker, Lynn Truss style. Or am I just a preposition pedant?

  • Clare, good comment. I accepted the unusual “responsible to” because it allows the use of action verbs (clean, wipe, etc.). These work better than the gerund forms (cleaning, wiping) in the bullet points. Although “responsible to” is unusual, I couldn’t think of a reason other than familiarity to use the longer “have the responsibility to,” a heavier noun phrase.

    I know I am on shaky ground. And I admit that I myself would not have used “responsible to.” But when I read it, it made sense to me.

    None of my reference books touch this topic. Do yours?

    Thanks for commenting. I wouldn’t recommend defacing public property on this one, though.


  • Hi Lynn,

    This is great! You give me an idea, to my Boss’s room. Now, I don’t have to worry when someone’s requesting to borrow it.

  • I’m not going to comment on the grammar of the writing piece because I am not a grammarian; however, I do want to thank you for posting the list. It is, as you stated, concise, and it is the perfect list of rules to display around my office’s conference tables. Thank you.

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