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You love connecting people. You reckon that Molly will get along really well with Mandy. And that John is likely to do business with Jen. So you organise a table at a corporate lunch or breakfast so they can get to know each other in an easy-going environment.
Corporate tables are a great way to connect people – especially if you’re not 100 per cent sure they’re going to click. If they do, that’s great. They can chat away, exchange business cards, do millions of dollars of business together and thank you profusely for introducing them. But if they find they have nothing in common, they can focus on the speaker at the front of the room or talk to other people on the table.
However, if you’re going to be the hostess (or host) with the mostest, there are a few golden rules to consider when you’re organising a table.
1. Introduce everyone to each other
There are various ways to do this. If you’re in a private room with few distractions that’s going to be easy. Make a point early on to ask everyone to introduce themselves briefly. Don’t wait until dessert before you start your introductions. The whole point is for your guests to get to know each other. While they may take the initiative to introduce themselves to the people nearby, many are going to expect you – as the host – to create a structured opportunity for introductions, especially if it’s boardroom-style.
However, if you’re on a table at a larger event, chances are there’s going to be a bit of noise around. I always make a point of standing while I’m waiting for my guests to arrive. That way, they’re less inclined to take a seat themselves. As each guest arrives, I introduce them to as many of the other guests who are already there. When you’re standing, it’s so much easier to walk around to chat to other people. But by the time guests have parked themselves on their chairs, many will do the polite wave and hello, followed by sign language which can be translate as: ‘Too noisy. Let’s chat later.”
2. Be inclusive
If you’re at a private boardroom-style lunch, make sure you include everyone in the conversation. That also means steering the conversation away from a dominating personality (if one emerges) and drawing out the quieter people in the group who perhaps are finding it difficult to get a word in edgewise.
It’s not just about making small talk. If you really think that Jen can benefit from getting to know John, mention what John does in conversation so that Jen is alerted to it.
Hopefully, you actually know the people you’ve invited. If you don’t, then it pays to do your homework on your guests. It’s amazing what Google can tell you. Remember, if you’re the host, you’re going to be busy. You won’t have time to chat to each of your guests long enough to find out too much about them. Do your research beforehand so that you’re already familiar with who’s on the table so that you can foster the right connections between people.
Also remember that you’re not stuck to your chair. If the guests on the other side of your table haven’t had much time with you, make a point to rotate yourself around so that you get to catch up with everyone you’ve invited.
3. Set the tone
As the host, your guests are going to look to you for clues. If you don’t order wine, some of them will take that as a cue not to order it either. If you wave dessert away, some will take that as a message that you’re not that keen for them to indulge. While you might be a a tee-totalling dessert-hater, if you’re happy for your guests to partake then make sure they feel comfortable about ordering wine, multiple courses or coffees.
I love getting like-minded people together, especially if I think they are going to get along or do business together. It’s so rewarding when you see relationships flourish as the result of a simple invitation to lunch or breakfast. If Mandy doesn’t end up signing a deal with Molly, and John doesn’t end up doing business with Jen, as you hoped, that’s fine too. Because chances are that when you weren’t looking, Molly actually went into a strategic partnership with John. And they have you to thank for it!