In Italy, meetings are mainly for brainstorming. It is seldom that concrete decisions are made.
Although an Italian manager will exchange ideas with his team in the meeting, the final decision is made either alone or in a small circle with representatives of the same hierarchy level.
Setting dates and punctuality
In Italy, meetings are scheduled one or two weeks in advance. An agenda is usually sent, but not too much importance should be attached to it.
Meetings often don’t start on time, but when everyone is there. Only in the northern business metropolises is punctuality taken seriously. If you need to kill time, contribute to promoting a good atmosphere by engaging in small talk.
Italian meetings are loud and lively. An issue is quickly expanded upon across the board. Suggestions are thrown into the room and discarded shortly afterwards.
As a result, the course of the discussion is often circular, i.e. individual topics are repeatedly revisited and dropped. The simultaneous discussion of several issues, often in sub-groups, is not uncommon either.
Sometimes discussion participants interfere in issues that do not really affect their own area of responsibility. All and sundry participate in discussions—irrespective of their hierarchical level.
Of course, this makes meetings get rather noisy very quickly. Everyone raises their voices in order to be heard. Interrupting each other is normal and is seen as active participation and interest in the subject, not as rudeness.
In meetings, Italians will argue constructively and objectively, free from personal attacks or insults. Criticism is never addressed directly and certainly not in front of others.
You will not experience linear processing of an agenda. Instead, agenda points are chosen spontaneously and everybody starts discussing these.
In a presentation in Italy, the focus is on the bella figura, which means to cut a good figure as a presenter. You should therefore speak as eloquently, emotionally and captivatingly as possible.
Italian presentation slides are mostly stylish and not necessarily overloaded with numbers and tables. The spoken word counts for more than what is written on the slides anyway. Movies and other visual elements are also well received.
Italian managers therefore often present spontaneously, intuitively and react flexibly to interposed questions from their listeners. These will often demonstrate their interest through questions and objections.
At any rate, don’t expect your listeners to keep quiet. You should also not interpret any conversations on the side as rudeness. It is also acceptable in Italy to leave the room briefly to take a phone call.
Handouts and other materials
Handouts and other materials should be provided in English and, if possible, also in Italian. Here too, the information material should be stylish, high quality and eye-catching.