So, you have a very important meeting coming up. Stockholders, directors, executive management, and outside consultants are meeting to plan your IPO. Or perhaps the marketing department will be presenting specific recommendations to the board. You have a lot to do.
Add these questions to your list: Is the content or outcome of this meeting confidential? What if you overheard snippets of the proceedings around the watercooler next week? What if your CEO heard about your new marketing campaign from a reporter? What if she heard it from a competitor?
Do the Walls Have Ears? When we plan to use corporate boardrooms or training rooms, we always inquire about the confidentiality level of each area. Then the AV systems, architecture, and other infrastructure elements are designed to provide appropriate levels of privacy. When a meeting is planned for an outside conference center or a hotel, there are even more concerns to address.
Confidentiality can be compromised in several ways, all of which involve people. From the maintenance staff that leafs through your left-behind handouts, to the secretary who "overhears" the meeting next door, to the "spy" who sneaks into the meeting, to the news truck a mile away whose scanner "happens" to pick up your wireless microphone, they are out there, with or without bad intent. Without becoming totally paranoid, let's look at some ways you can protect your meetings from even inadvertent eavesdropping.
Find out who's next door, especially when "next door" is the other side of an airwall. Check that the airwall actually provides sound isolation (most do not, or are not set properly). Will the facility block the adjacent room to protect your meeting? How soundproof are the doors leading to the service corridor? To the pre-function area? Will you be posting a staff member there during the meeting?
Test the room by setting a boom box in it, turning it on, and walking around to determine where the sound is audible. Listen around the partitions, near the doors, and near the air-conditioning ducts in adjacent spaces. This should be done during a quiet time, early in the morning or late at night.
Check your wired technology. Are you using the hotel's sound system? If so, who is running it? Where is it monitored? Is the monitor panel in a room that can be locked? Can your room's sound system be connected to adjacent salons, on purpose or inadvertently? Can you use a portable system or self-contained delegate instead? Do you even need a sound system? If the meeting is connected to and held via the Internet, other measures may be required to ensure the security of your data.
XCheck your wireless technology. Can you use wired instead of wireless microphones? Both digitally encrypted radio and infrared wireless microphones are available, although they are uncommon and expensive. Is there an ADA-required assistive listening system installed? If it is a radio system, you are broadcasting. If it is infrared, and if the room is light-tight, then you're OK.
A few simple, final reminders. Mark confidential information as such. Remind attendees to protect their materials. Keep a staff member present during room freshenings. Lock the room with your own keys on meal and overnight breaks. Remove all confidential materials after the meeting.
Remember to think about security. Even if your preparation just avoids a rumor, it will have been worth it.