Understanding how to act and engage professionally with others in the workplace and in social situations helps set a person apart from the crowd and enhances opportunities for career success, but sometimes the standards of good etiquette fall by the wayside in unfamiliar environments such as meetings and events. While it’s not a meeting planner’s job to enforce proper etiquette or good manners, sometimes it’s necessary to set boundaries and establish rules to help encourage good conduct. Here are a few strategies that might help curb unwanted behavior.
1. Create a mobile-friendly meeting. Nothing has changed the business world quite like the smartphone, and the overuse of mobile electronic devices in public settings is a new problem, especially where people are trying to listen, learn and network. You can’t confiscate phones, but you can create a mobile-friendly event and technology policy and include breaks in your programming to allow attendees to catch up with family or colleagues back at the office. Here are a few ways to encourage considerate smartphone practices:
> Ask speakers what they prefer. If they want participants to tweet during sessions, request that they share that as part of their housekeeping announcements. If the session benefits more from focused group discussions, ask speakers to request that attendees respect their fellow classmates and ignore text messages and emails during active discussion times.
> Designate areas outside of meeting rooms for wireless access. Provide enough time between sessions and before and after meals for making phone calls and checking email.
> Consider adding charging stations in designated areas outside education rooms so attendees don’t feel the need to cluster around power outlets in ballrooms.
> Password-protect Internet access in ballrooms and meeting rooms if you’re set on controlling the use of mobile devices, though most smartphone network providers probably still work in those areas.
2. Control the alcohol. Nobody thinks drinking to the point of falling down is smart in any professional setting, but sometimes attendees get carried away at receptions when free alcohol is offered. Beyond making sure your bartenders are trained to keep an eye out for intoxicated attendees, consider putting a check-and-balance system in place to help manage risk and control beverage costs. Implement a two- to three-drink maximum using drink tickets or punch cards.
Allison Saget, event marketing consultant and owner of Allison Saget Event Marketing Experts and author of “The Event Marketing Handbook: Beyond Logistics and Planning,” also advises shutting the bar down at a scheduled time, even if the party is really getting ramped up and fun. “The temptation is to keep it going, but that’s when the problems happen,” she says. “If you say [the open bar is for] three hours, shut it off in three hours.” She also suggests spacing food delivery throughout the event in hour to hour-and-a-half increments, bringing out the heavier food as the event goes on.
3. Make the dance floor a friendly zone. Using a business event to inappropriately connect with other attendees at a reception or on the dance floor may indeed be vulgar, but interfere in this arena and you might be invading someone’s privacy. What is offensive to you may not be offensive to them. However, you can help keep the dance floor clear of any problems by limiting late evening events to two hours, shutting down by midnight and enforcing a drink maximum, as suggested above. Keep the music varied with a mix of hip-hop dance music, rock tunes and disco party music, and ask your events team to get on the dance floor and initiate and encourage group dancing. Finally, keep lighting bright enough so you can still see people’s faces without sacrificing atmosphere.
4. Clarify the dress code. Thanks in part to the popular casual trend in many work environments, some people have begun to interpret business casual as simply casual. But most wardrobe problems tend to result from unclear guidelines. Be very specific and clear about your dress code policy in registration and pre-event materials, recommends etiquette expert Pamela Coopwood, certified protocol officer and owner of The Planned Event. “Make a dress code,” she says. “If you want business casual, put it in [your literature]. For example, state that ‘people in cut-offs, t-shirts, flip-flops, shorts or inappropriate clothing will not be permitted to stay in the conference area. We ask that your dress be moderate and in good taste and observe our business casual policy.’”