A couple of weeks ago Kraft Kennedy held the second in its series of “Cocktails on the Terrace” nights, a party that included experts from Kraft Kennedy and Intralinks, a document collaboration platform. As a junior employee asked to attend, I decided to research the do’s and don’ts of cocktail party etiquette before attending as a way to educate both myself and the readers of this blog of what is and isn’t appropriate at company cocktail events.
Chock full of Internet information, I prepared for the event accordingly. Knowing it would begin at 5:30 PM, I had an early dinner around 5:00 PM after reading that one should never drink on an empty stomach or count on the appetizers served to be enough. I gathered business cards and changed into a relaxed but professional suit and new high heels, and arrived promptly fifteen minutes before the soiree was supposed to begin to offer assistance to the host.
Walking out onto the terrace after helping distribute name tags, I mentally reviewed talking points as I had been instructed to so by many different websites. I observed from the side as the time drew closer to the event’s official start and saw Kraft Kennedy clients and employees arrive. I read their name tags while sipping seltzer water, afraid to overindulge in alcohol, and saw which clients were already familiar with Kraft Kennedy and which were new to the party (pun intended).
Nervous, a little hot in my blazer and dress shirt, and noticing that my toes had started to hurt, I set out to mingle and chat, happy that I had taken the time to look around me and see where it would be polite to interject. The host introduced me to two long-term clients and the conversation flowed easily as they were familiar with our team and practices and were both eager to discuss our new location and how wonderful the terrace was for events such as this. After my first initial plunge into chit chat, I felt much more confident, even helping myself to a fruit skewer and rolling up the sleeves of my jacket.
I began speaking with another client, then another, and the evening passed quickly and enjoyably, though I realized what a large mistake it was to try out new high heels when I would be on my feet for hours. That evening I realized that, when it comes to company cocktail parties, you can’t always believe what you read on the Internet.
Some of the etiquette recommendations held true:
- Have business cards on hand
- Make sure your name tag is visible
- Scope out the room before barging into a conversation
- Do not depend on the appetizers to be dinner (though at this event they very well could have been if it weren’t for my unfortunate dairy allergy)
- Repeat each person’s name after meeting them, in case you later have to introduce them to someone else
- If you need to excuse yourself to use the restroom, do not explain what you have to go do
All of these online tips were genuinely helpful at different points throughout the evening.
Much to my pleasant surprise, however, I found that not everything that was listed online as a “don’t,” were things to be avoided.
- It is OK to have a drink or two as long as you don’t lose control of yourself.
- It is OK to talk shop if the client feels comfortable doing so or has initiated the conversation.
- If you are interested in speaking to a client for longer than five minutes then, by all means, chat. It is as equally important to have meaningful, memorable discussions as it is to introduce yourself to a lot of people.
- It’s OK to give out your business card even if the other person doesn’t ask for it. If anything, it helps the different people you spoke with put a name to your face.
- It’s OK to take some food home if there is a heap left over. Our host even insisted on it so that it would not go to waste.
- It’s OK to talk with your co-workers and share a few laughs; they might be just as nervous as you are and the familiarity can put them more at ease. Just make sure to stray from the comfort of familiar faces at some point in the evening.
- It is also important to mingle and break the ice with questions or topics everyone can relate to, which in turn will make conversation more comfortable.
- Finally, it’s OK to have a wet handshake. If it’s hot out, as the summer months tend to be, condensation is going to somehow make its way from your glass, to your hand. Roll with it, and just make sure you keep a spare napkin on hand just in case.
Cocktail parties are a wonderful bridge between company and client. They are not something to fear, but rather something to look forward to as a way to present yourself to the client as a friendly and professional face, who can talk as easily about software as about Mad Max: Fury Road. If you find yourself invited to a cocktail event, don’t fret. Revel in the opportunity to market yourself, meet some friendly new people, and indulge in an appetizer or two (or three).
If you’re feeling confident after reading this post and want to test out your handy new cocktail party and conversation skills, join us for an upcoming Kraft Kennedy event.