Everyone knows someone who could use a few lessons in business etiquette. While their occasional missteps may sometimes make us laugh, more often than not that is frustrating at best and offensive at worst. In the end, every professional should be more than hopeful not to be the subject of such stories. The only way to ensure that, of course, is to be on our best professional behavior at all times. Corporate business events are no exception.
Business etiquette doesn’t have to be complicated. But there are a few common etiquette mistakes of which both business event guests and their hosts are guilty. Don't become a business faux pas statistic. Here are 8 business etiquette mistakes to avoid when faced with common business meetings and events like seminars, conferences, business meals, and cocktail receptions.
Failing to Respond to the RSVP
Bad Etiquette Scenario: You are a manager in the company and receive an invitation from the director of another department, inviting you to attend an important product launch. The RSVP requests that you call a specific individual to confirm your attendance.
You put the invitation to the side of your desk, and it quickly gets covered by a stack of work. Two weeks later the inviting host calls you up and extends a personal invitation, also asking that you interact socially with key customers at the launch. At that time, you give an enthusiastic, “yes.”
Etiquette Pro Tip: Don't force event organizers to follow up with you. Respond within five days of receiving an invitation or by requested RVSP date.
Failing to Follow the Dress Code
Bad Etiquette Scenario: The printed invitation you left 10 weeks ago on your desk served as a scrap piece of paper for some random conversation since then. The product launch is a breakfast seminar at a local hotel.
Because you work at a software company where the dress code is always business casual, you’re wearing khakis and a long sleeve shirt. You’re greeted at the registration table by a colleague in the company, and then step into the meeting room and find everyone else is wearing business attire.
Etiquette Pro Tip: Read the invitation prior to the event and note the dress code. When in doubt, overdress.
Failing to Arrive on Time
Bad Etiquette Scenario: The invite agenda of the product launch you’re attending indicates arrivals at 8:30 a.m. and opening remarks at 9:00 a.m. There’s a breakfast buffet for guests during this time. You look at your watch and it’s 8:50 a.m., but you feel confident that you have still arrived on time.
In a hurry, you failed to notice the two internal emails that were sent, summarizing the agenda and asking that you arrive between 8:00 and 8:15 a.m. so that corporate managers are present when important clients an (and some always arrive early).
Etiquette Pro Tip: Corporate managers and staff are always expected to be the first to arrive at an event. Know when you are expected to be there.
Failing to Extend the Handshake
Bad Etiquette Scenario: With 10 minutes on your side before the presentation begins, you scan the room to acknowledge colleagues quickly and check if you recognize any specific customers (you failed to review the guest list that was sent to you in advance).
You walk past two or three clients wearing name badges and say hello to another corporate manager, shaking her hand. Then, you grab a plate of food and a bottle of water. With both hands full, you’re finally ready to say hello to a client.
Etiquette Pro Tip: Nobody is interested in shaking your wet, clammy hand. Shake hands after you’ve properly eaten and washed. At this point, greet verbally, and your client will understand.
If you're at a cocktail reception, on the other hand, try holding your drink in your left hand. It leaves your right hand free for handshakes without risking a cold, wet hand.
Failing to Make Introductions
Bad Etiquette Scenario: You find a table for your muffin and water, and sit down – three minutes before the meeting begins.
Lucky for you, everyone at the table knows you, but only three of eight people know each other. Thinking you don't have enough time, you turn to speak with the three familiar people and overlook the others.
Etiquette Pro Tip: Remember to introduce everyone in the group, and make every effort to introduce lower-ranking individuals to the higher rank in the group (in that order).
Also, remember to include titles and formal names. (“Mr. John Smith, let me introduce you to Dr. Jane Jones, our vice president of product development. Dr. Jones, Mr. Smith is director of client relations at Acme Corporation.”)
Failing to Keep to Appropriate Topics
Bad Etiquette Scenario: The first hour of the meeting has passed, and it’s time for a break. You finally remember to introduce some of the people at your table.
Then, you remember that a child of one of the people at the table was battling a an illness a couple of months ago, and decide to ask about the status of his or her health.
Etiquette Pro Tip: Several topics should be avoided in group event situations, and personal health topics are among them. Other topics that should be avoided include matters of personal finance, divisive topics, and anything in the realm of gossip.
Leave personal conversations for more appropriate times and always leave those topics inappropriate for business at the door.
Failing to Yield Respectful Courtesies
Bad Etiquette Scenario: Everyone at the table is getting along during the break, and the discussion goes into more depth on some of the talking points from the previous presentation. A client at the table is extremely interested in what your company has done to develop this new product.
You have attended a product development training about this, and decide to share some perspectives with the table. You don’t notice this right away, but Dr. Jones was just about to respond to the question. You hear that she started to utter something, but continue speaking.
Etiquette Pro Tip: Show deference to others in a variety of social and business settings. Dr. Jones is the senior executive at the table, and this is her question to address unless she defers to you.
Failing to Follow Other Business Etiquette Rules
Okay, the product launch event has long past. It’s the end of the year, and your colleagues decide to offer you a departmental roast. Your four favorite colleagues in management do their best to entertain the rest of your department about your business etiquette violations of the year. A few of the additional topics include:
- Excessive drinking at company events
- Inappropriate table manners
- Lack of chivalry
- Lack of thank you messages/acknowledgments
Etiquette Pro Tip: Don't be this person. Business etiquette may call for some of its own unique rules and circumstances, but in general, your best behavior at a business event should be no less professional than any other business activity.