How to survive a business dinner
time ago, I was seated next to a senior church figure. I thought, to my shame, “this is going to be dull”. The senior church figure turned out to be one of the wittiest and most charming dinner companions I have had the pleasure of being seated next to. Never prejudge a dinner companion – though it must be said that many celebrities are quite dull.
Do not speak across your dinner companion to someone who is adjudged to be more interesting, powerful or attractive. Do not ask a question of someone and then proceed to look over their shoulder to see if there’s anyone more interesting to talk to. Do not be rude, insulting, sexist, racist or anything “ist”; rather, be pleasant, warm, mildly amusing if possible but at all times charming.
If at a formal dinner function the MC says, “I’ll let you get back to your networking”, you are at the wrong event. No one does business with anyone they casually meet at a dinner. Networking is a myth. They might take a card; they might “have their people contact your people” but dinners are for socialising, for seeing who’s there, who’s not, who engages with whom and who lets their guard down with an ill-considered but revealing comment. It’s for seeing who’s seated at which table and who bowls up to the CEO and falls about laughing at his or her not-very-funny jokes; who cannot hold their drink after 8.30pm.
Do not start speaking at an event after 8.30pm. That’s sufficient time for corporate novices, hacks and poseurs to believe that everything they say is funny. Never stick around at such an event beyond 9.30pm,
10 at the latest. There is no secret insider chit-chat that takes place in the wee hours.
Turn up on time, be polite, be charming, be witty, mix with everyone, remember everyone’s name, do not get tipsy, let alone drunk. And make sure you discreetly leave before the crazies come out. All of the above is just the first lesson in my as-yet unpublished manual Salt’s Guide to Corporate Survival.