If you’re invited to a party at someone’s home (such as dinner or cocktails) its more considerate to take a fragrant candle or sweets or chocolates than flowers… most often the hostess will have already planned the flowers for the evening and it may be an inconvenience for her to have to find a vase and arrange flowers while also greeting other guests.
When you first accept the invitation think about who else will be there, you may want to find out from the host/hostess if there is someone they think you should meet so that you can do some research beforehand. And speaking of research before hand, it’s a good idea prepare a couple of anecdotes and/or comments on news and local events, in advance of the event, that way when you first arrive and may be feeling a little nervous you’ll be able to strike up a conversation with ease.
Also, find out what the dress code is and make every effort to comply. If you’re in doubt it’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed. First impressions count and you don’t want yours to say “I just couldn’t be bothered”.
Before you walk into the party or event do what I call the “60 second pre-flight check” Go into the nearest ‘restroom’ and check: a) your hair – back and front, b) your teeth – food/lipstick, c) your nose (for obvious reasons), d) buttons & zips and fastened and secure, e) for dandruff on your shoulders or collar, f) for stains on your tie or shirt. Trust me, you’ll feel so much more confident when you first walk in just knowing all these things are under control.
If attending a business social event remember it’s about people and making connections, not on consuming as much food and as many “free” drinks as you can. Make an effort to meet and talk to people, and on getting into conversations rather than on appeasing your hunger. Remember to treat others as you wish to be treated. Make eye contact and be fully present while having a discussion. No one wants to talk with someone who is always scanning the room for a better option. And when you do have to move on, don’t leave someone hanging. Politely close the conversation before continuing to another person or group.
When juggling drinks and finger food at a cocktail function try and keep your right hand free for shaking hands when you are introduced to someone, that way you don’t have to wipe your hand (from food residue or condensation from your glass) before extending it. A mentor of mine once taught me a great trick for juggling canapés and a drink while also leaving your right hand free. Take your cocktail napkin and put it between the ring and baby finger of your left hand. Then, spread your ring and middle fingers to act as a base for the canapes. Use your thumb and index finger to hold the stem or base of the glass.
And further on canapés, avoid anything drippy, messy to eat or more than a neat mouthful, remember you’re at a business function not hanging out with your mates, and the mess you could make with these items might make you memorable for the wrong reasons. And remember its never OK to double dip! While food served on toothpicks or cocktail sticks may keep your fingers clean, there is the problem of what to do with those sticks. Don’t litter, and definitely don’t put them back on the serving tray (unless there’s a receptacle specifically for this purpose); it is unappetising to others and it’s unhygienic. If no containers have been provided for the toothpicks, put them in a dish or on the tray only when the wait staff are collecting empty glasses. If nothing is available, wrap the toothpicks in a napkin and dispose of them later.
Remember to get around to all those you wanted to meet and to keep your business cards in an easy to reach place….no hunting through the contents of an overstuffed bag or delving through every pocket. Also, don’t go handing business cards out to all and sundry without any indication of interest. Make an effort to at least introduce yourself and have a short conversation before offering your card. When you receive a business card, look at it and back at the giver before putting it away… its only polite.
Do remember to thank your host/hostess graciously before you leave. And lastly, I know I don’t have to say it but if you’ve had to much to drink, please don’t drive.
Enjoy, be respectful and be memorable (for the right reasons) this party season.