One of the basic professional customs is the corporate party, community event, gala, picnic, etc. Such events vary in size and formality. How and when to show up to these events is just as varied.
If you are new to an organization or early in your career, attending the party is a way to get a sense of the organization and broaden your network in a “casual” setting. You may get to know people you’ve only passed in the hall. You can easily form connections beyond your department, function or supervisor. It is also an opportunity to learn about how people in the organization let their hair down. The types of events held can give you insight into the company’s real perspective on its place in the community beyond its service or product.
As you move further up in the organization, your presence becomes about others getting to know you just as much as it is about you getting to know others. Those newer or less senior in the organization like getting to “chat up” the executives without having to set up a meeting. They want to get a sense of how approachable and “real” you are. Your presence is important for marketing the organization’s commitment to engagement through its celebration of successes, community involvement, etc. If you show up, this event must be something that the organization supports or believes in.
Furthermore, as you move up in the organization, how you show up as an executive shows more senior executives that you are dependable as a representative of the company at outside events. Are you someone that can carry the message and the image forward? How do you carry yourself? How do you interact? Are you approachable? Are you professional? Do you have the key talking points? Can you handle yourself appropriately when asked about sensitive issues that may not be for public consumption? In other words, can they trust you with the company’s reputation?
The reality is, the party isn’t about you or your comfort—even when the organization says it is. I had a CEO tell me, once, when I had balked at having a going-away dinner, that the dinner was not about me. It was about all the people who wanted the chance to say goodbye to me. Needless to say, I sucked it up and went to the party. I still wasn’t excited about it, but at least I went with an appreciation for the intent.
You’re probably thinking, “But people always do something stupid at the party, and I either have to pretend they didn’t or address it.” That is more often true than not. And managing through that is the subject of conversations parents have had with their children for generations—especially parents of persons of color. One way or another you were told, “You cannot control nor are you responsible for others’ actions. You worry about you.” Know your limits, know your colleagues and act accordingly. No need to be
Ultimately, the party is about social integration. It’s about making other people comfortable with you because they “know” you. You are in control of who you let in and how much of yourself you let out, but opening the door to show the person just enough helps build relationships that can be critical to your success.
So YES—you have to go to the party!
Here are a few survival tips that get me through corporate events:
- Get there early or on time, and make the rounds.
- You are not required to stay for the entire event, although you should stay through awards or presentations.
- By making the rounds, you see everyone, and more importantly, they see you. Have some conversations. Have a nibble. Grab a drink. (A simple tonic is a great substitution for alcohol. Get a lime and a stirrer and no one knows you are not consuming unless you choose to tell them.) Mingle a little.
- After an appropriate amount of time, chatting with key individuals—usually the most social who always know everyone who attended and who didn’t—make your way to the exit. The more discreet you are the more juice you get out of your earlier activity. If someone asks if you are there, everyone says, “Yes, I just saw her…She’s here somewhere…” and that should work for a good bit of time, depending on the size of the event. Technically, they DID just see you. And you ARE there—just at the coat check or valet ☺.
- Depending on the event, have a few safe talking points. If it’s at a venue that has
exhibitsor the like, take time to look at them and comment to others. It cuts down on the small talk, it’s relevant to the venue and you don’t have to think of another topic.
- Know your consumption limit. It is still a company event. You want to be sure you know what you are saying and to whom you are saying it. You also want to get home safely. Please take a shared ride or taxi if necessary.
- Make a plan with colleagues you trust.
- Scope out the key connections to make.
- Join in with a small group of folks you know. However, some caution here is warranted, just to ensure it doesn’t appear “cliquish”.
- If it is easier for you, offer to present or help with the
event,since there’sless chatting and more working with no need to explain. The downside—you may have to stay for the entire thing as they normally do some sort of shout out to those who helped.
- Offer to work registration—the best way to see and chat with everyone. ☺
- Manage your energy the best you can. If it’s time to leave, then do so gracefully. That is better than displaying misery and discomfort. Have a confidante that will help you in this area.
- DO YOUR BEST TO MAKE THE BEST OF IT.
- It’s one night.
- There are probably some people whose company you will really enjoy.
- It may be at a place you’ve been wanting to get to but have no ability or reason to do so.
So, go to the party! Be connected. Be visible. Be as social as your psyche will let you. It is all a part of the dance you are doing. Learn the steps and you will be able to dance with anyone at any time!
That’s The Rutledge Perspective™. What say you? What are your best strategies for surviving corporate events?