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Navigating a Conference with Ease
Manners matter-especially in today's competitive business arenas.

by Amy Mills Tunnicliffe

National and international conferences, off-site meetings and company outings allow companies to achieve multiple goals. These events bring together employees from around the country and around the globe in a more relaxed environment focused on motivating, educating and planning. The savvy executive realizes these meetings also provide a unique opportunity to reinforce relationships with colleagues and peers and to make positive impressions on senior management.

Failing to participate enthusiastically, shyly hovering on the periphery and retreating to your room instead of socializing can be detrimental to your career. A conference is a place to touch base with many people-during required meetings and break-out sessions, as well as during meals and social outings.

Social savvy is crucial at business events and meetings, yet research shows most people experience anxiety at the thought of facing new situations and new people. Once you master the fundamental skills of prior planning and the art of polite, interesting conversation, business functions will become more enjoyable and rewarding, both personally and professionally.

Prior Planning for Success

Proper preparation will increase your chance of success. Know the answers to each of the following questions before the conference and use the information to your advantage.

Know the raison d'etre for the Event

Is this an annual state-of-the-union meeting, a reward for a job well done, an introduction of a new colleague, client, or product?

  • Respond by acknowledging the reason for the event.
  • For a job well done-let your host know that you enjoyed being part of the team.
  • If the event was planned for pure camaraderie, respond by letting your host know you are having fun enjoying the fellowship.
  • To congratulate or welcome-respond by congratulating, welcoming, etc. the new employee, client, or those most responsible for introducing a new product or service.
  • Greet and respond appropriately upon arrival. Let the appropriate people know you are delighted to be a part of the occasion.

Know the Host of the Event.

Conference manners dictate greeting the host and expressing your thanks to him as you exit. Do not leave any event until you have thanked your host.

Know the Guest List

Call the host's secretary and ask for the list of attendees. You may ask for the list by saying something like, " I'm looking forward to the meeting at the Ritz-Carlton in December. I would like to prepare to meet the employees from headquarters. Would you please send me a guest list?"

Study the list and make notes to help you interact with the other guests.

Think of topics the other person might enjoy based on information you already know about the person.

  • Have you met the person previously?
  • Do you have something in common? A shared acquaintance, an alma mater, a state, an interest?
  • Follow up on a previous conversation,"The last time we spoke you were preparing for a ski vacation. What did you think of Sun Valley? Have you skied yet this year?"
  • Research as necessary. Ask your colleagues, your manager or others within the organization about a person with whom you may not be familiar.
  • If a guest has a difficult-to-pronounce name, learn in advance how to pronounce it properly-and practice.

Compose an Agenda and Stick to it

  • Circulate.
  • Make your way into a conversations. "Excuse me, may I introduce myself?"
  • Avoid two people deep in conversation. It's easier to approach people in groups of three or more.
  • Shake hands with everyone.
  • Avoid extra gestures of affection.
  • Try to meet everyone at a small gathering. At a large gathering, focus on key persons you want to meet.

Conversing with Ease

  • Be the first to say hello.
  • Introduce yourself to others.
  • Show curiosity and interest in others.
  • Balance the conversation-talking and listening.
  • Discuss topics that are important to you.
  • Listen for key words, facts and details-and remember them.
  • Seek out common interests and experiences.
  • Be enthusiastic, friendly and upbeat.
  • Ask open-ended questions that begin with words like How? Why? In what way? How did you get involved...?

After the Conference

Invest in quality social stationery and use it to write brief, warm notes to the following:

  • The host of the conference
  • Those who had crucial roles in planning
  • New and old colleagues
  • Key members of management with whom you conversed.

In today's competitive business climate it takes more than job skills or the right education to succeed. The socially confident executive is concerned with the comfort of others and knows how to interact with ease up and down the corporate ladder. To be an invaluable asset to your company you must possess the crucial social skills that help you navigate a business event with ease, and ultimately represent your company with poise and polish.

Amy Mills Tunnicliffe is the Director of The Proper Manner, a Boston-based training company. Her seminars specialize in business communication skills, corporate etiquette, international protocol and executive dining skills. Programs are held at companies and fine hotels across the country. For more information contact The Proper Manner at 877-399-3636.

2004 Amy Mills Tunnicliffe