by Heather White

How to host an event

Everything you will find in How to work a room professionally applies here, but there are a few other things you need to consider if you are the host rather than the guest. These are

  • The pre-event briefing to your team
  • How to ‘work’ your guests
  • How to introduce guests to senior executives and how senior executives should respond
  • The post-event briefing to your team

The pre- and post-event briefings

It is amazing how many companies invest in running events for their clients and yet fail to hold pre- and post-event briefings. Yet these are two of the most important parts of the event if you want to optimise on your investment.

The pre-event briefing

Your people can enhance or destroy your reputation, depending on how they react and respond to your guests. So surely it is not too much to suggest that you spend 60 minutes making sure everyone knows what is happening, their roles and their guests’ expectations?

If this is a regular event, your team (and sub-teams, see below) need to know what works well. If this is a new event, they should be briefed on what you want to push, test and so on. Your people need to know why this event is being run, what guests have been told and who you are expecting.

Below are guidelines on how you could make best use of a team, though the details will very much depend on why the event is being held and the tone you want to set.

Not everyone is suitable to attend events, so only select those who really want to join in and/or are looking for the experience. Please don’t force people – it rarely works!

When you have selected the team divide them into sub-teams. These teams could include

  • Welcome committee – badges, handouts, being of service
  • Runners – those who will help guests find senior executives and do other introductions
  • Expert team – some people are great when they can talk about their expertise but are not so good at social skills, so you can set up an area highlighting who the experts are and encourage guests to wander over for a chat; when the guest has had enough, they simply rejoin the main group
  • Mixers – their job is to circulate, though this group could split down even further.
  • Senior executives will be wanting to talk to their specific guests and therefore may not find it easy to move around that much.
  • The second group may not have any specific guests and individuals are therefore free to move around more. Their role is to make sure the party is moving, to check that people are not being left on their own, make introductions and so on.

Make a point of instructing staff that they are expected to stay sober...

The main point to put across in your brief is to make sure everyone is having a good time and they feel nurtured and looked after. The bottom line is that you want your guests to leave you talking happily about your event to others, to have met the right people and, where relevant, to have done business.

The rule of thumb being this – they are your guests not your prey!

The post-event briefing

Post the event, it is very important that people follow through quickly on whatever was agreed upon during various conversations. The trouble is that many people leave in a ‘relaxed’ manner, and it scores a lot of points when your staff are efficient and remember to follow through. Sometimes, commitments are made to ask another member of staff – someone who was not there perhaps – to call a client/contact. Because the relationship was with the person your guest met at the event, it is highly unprofessional when a colleague does not follow through. Therefore, part of the briefing should be to the wider team who were not attending, making sure they support their colleague, if requested, the following day.

The rule of thumb here is to get back to a contact within 48 hours.

How to work your guests

If this is a stand-up event, refer back to the above and to the page on How to work a room professionally. However, there will be times when you will be hosting a table. This is a different form of networking and requires you to hone your skills.

These events are set up slightly differently and you will be with your guests for at least a few hours. You may therefore decide that you do not wish to chat with them during the drink stage, but ‘save’ conversation until dinner.

If you are hosting a table, do your research on your guests as this will help with conversation every time. What’s more, it will impress your guests and they will be flattered that you are knowledgeable about them.

It is important that you introduce the guests around the table before the starter, as it is far harder to do so when dinner is under way. The best time is when everyone is gathered around the table, but not yet settled. If they have settled down, do take charge and do this exercise. Either get them to introduce themselves or make the introductions yourself. Try and encourage movement around the table with the introductions, as this takes away the feeling people are tied to their chairs. At some events, this can be done by asking everyone to do a 60-second introduction.

If you want to include more people around you in a conversation, sit back in your chair, but show a lot of engagement and join in the conversation. Your body language will allow others to join in and see that it is not a closed group.

Make sure you watch the table frequently and ensure everyone is engaged in a conversation. If you see someone who is not, try and bring them into your conversation at a convenient time. You can do this in a couple of ways:

  • While you are engaged in a conversation, make eye contact with them and smile – they will see they can join you
  • When there is a pause in your conversation, tell them what you are talking about and pose them a question to get them engaged.

Sometimes, hosts suggest that after the starters guests move around the table. This can be done by asking the ladies to stay where they are while the men move, or visa versa. But it is simply (assuming a table of eight) that four people move while four people stay where they are. If you want, you can repeat this before the main course. Of course this might throw out the waiters, but hey, it adds more fun to the table!

Of course, as with all these suggestions, timing and appropriateness is vital, so try things out one at a time to get your confidence up and test the waters.

Introducing senior executives

Often, a junior member of your staff may meet a guest who wants to meet a senior executive and asks them for an introduction. The difficulty arises when the senior person is already engaged with another guest, which makes it hard to interrupt them. This is again where teamwork is vital. We don’t want to make any party feel rejected, or look stupid, or indeed to make the guest feel in any way uncomfortable.

The senior person should really take the lead and brief the teams how best to interrupt them. This is a personal thing after all. Time and time again, I have seen junior people literally hanging around trying to entertain a guest who clearly does not want to chat with a junior. So painful and so wrong.

Senior people should therefore take the lead and brief their teams on what works best for them, but the senior should understand that the junior person may need their confidence built in order to feel comfortable entertaining another senior guest.

Below are a couple of suggestions on how to instruct junior staff or those less confident.

Option 1

When the junior person is asked to do an introduction, they should suggest that the guest carries on circulating, perhaps staying close to the area they are already, while the junior host goes and finds the person they want to meet. This way, if the executive is in a conversation, they can finish it before joining the junior to find the other guest.

Option 2

If the junior staff member is sure where the senior executive is, they should take the guest with them, approach in a confident manner – this is an important part of the job for the night – and make eye contact with the senior person. The senior person should acknowledge them with a nod or smile and look to make the person they are with aware that someone else is joining them. The senior person, using appropriate body language, should open up the ‘group’, allowing the other guest to join them.

Now, if the timing is not right, the junior person should be ready to stay with the guest and entertain them until the other conversation is finished. This is when their research will come in handy. But the senior person should be prepared to go straight to the other guest once the current conversation is finished and not move elsewhere.

The bottom line is that the guest should experience a seamless experience working with a team that is friendly and polished. They should experience a team effort. If they don’t, what impression does that give to someone who may be either working with you or placing work with you?