« 11. EQ tips: How to host a work event  »

By Rachel Green. Director, The Emotional Intelligence Institute; Author of "Business networking" (now out of print).

Engaging people requires EQ skills, and this applies across many situations, including work social events.

I have recently been to two evening work functions. One was a highly successful networking event and product launch and I felt at ease being there.

The other was a cocktail party that I found, as a guest, distinctly uncomfortable.

The emotional and practical differences between the two highlighted some of the essential steps needed to host a successful work function so that guests enjoy them and get the most out of them.

How can you be a top rate host or hostess? Here are some EQ tips.

EQ tip 1. State the purpose of the event.

When the purpose of the event is clearly stated and is meaningful to the guests, it makes it easier for the guests to know what they have in common with the other guests. When people feel they have something in common with other people, they find it easier to make conversation. And it's the success of conversation that makes the whole event successful.

For example, the first event I went to was for women in business. Thus it was immediately clear who else was going to be there: other business women like myself. We immediately all had something in common. Secondly, they stated it was for "networking", so we knew we were to get to know each other. Thirdly, they stated it was to launch a new online forum for women in business, so we knew we could talk about that.

The other event had no stated purpose or indication as to the intended target audience. Guess which one strangers found it easier to settle into? Give your guests a purpose and they'll know what to talk about more easily. After all, you do want your guests to enjoy themselves, don't you?

Yes, emotions are important at work social events and helping your guests feel enjoyment and engagement are important.

EQ tip 2: Big name-badges are vital.

What is the purpose of giving participants name badges? It is to help the guests (and hosts) to read people's names.

It would seem logical to me therefore that large names would be more helpful than small ones. When I say large names, I mean so large that they can be easily seen from a distance without anyone having to peer at a person's chest.

At one of my events the names were so small the organisation's name took up more space than the name itself. In fact there was 40 mm devoted to the organisation's name and logo and the guest's name was only 4 mm high. Yet we all knew the name of the business we had come to.

People like me had no idea who anyone was at the cocktail party and the name badges were of no help. I therefore felt awkward. Surely this isn't an emotion you want your guests to have?

There's a difference between something looking nice and professional and something being useful to the guests. When I host workshops or seminars, I aim to write the name so it's about 40mm high. Give guests large name badges. Make it easy for them to approach people.

EQ tip 3. Have informative name badges.

When guests do not know each other it makes it easier for them if there is extra information on the name badges as well as the guest's name.

At the cocktail party I went to the badges gave no extra information, just a name. They didn't say the person's business nor any association they belonged to, nor any information regarding their connection with the event. In contrast, the networking event included each guest's business name on the name badge.

Why does this matter? Because the purpose of being a host is to help the guests feel comfortable, in whatever way possible, to get to know each other and "break the ice". Knowing their business means a guest could say "What does Ecodesigns do?" or "I see you're from the Champions Company. What kinds of work are you involved in?" Extra information makes it easier to have something to talk about.

Also, when I arrive at a function I make a habit of reading the other name badges that are on the desk waiting to be collected. (A good reason for getting to events early.) It helps me to know who is there, what to talk about and to whom. Thus, if it says, "Jayne Byrne-Smith, Woodside", I would know to mention the oil and gas industry and to ask how she copes in a male dominated industry.

Taking care of small details can make a huge difference to how comfortable and confident your guests feel at your work event. Make it easy for your guests to make conversations with strangers.

EQ tip 4. Help guests know what will happen in advance.

If a guest is sent an invitation which only shows the start and finish times, they may build up false expectations of an event, or at the least feel unsure about what to expect. A nervous or cautious guest is not the best guest! In contrast, if the invitation includes a programme, then all guests will have similar expectations, and confidence in what will happen. This in itself makes it easier to know what to talk to the other guests about. Don't leave your guests guessing. Inform them well in advance.

One of the two events I went to had a minute-by-minute programme prepared well in advance and this was made available to all people coming to the event. Extra copies of the programme were also available on the night, and a master of ceremonies conducted the night and told us what was happening each step of the way. Help your guests feel in control.

In complete contrast, the other event gave no timetable or order of proceedings with their invitation. They simply said Company X invites you to a cocktail party with Mr Y., 6.00 - 7.30pm. That was it. From this I presumed we'd be welcomed by hosts, have an MC and hear some speeches and get to meet the other guests. This is not what happened. Basically, nothing happened. More on this in the next tip.

Go out of your way to inform your guests of the agenda so they feel comfortable knowing what will happen and can plan accordingly. Do everything you can to inform your guests and make them feel at ease. This is an important application of your EQ skills.

EQ tip 5. Have something happening EARLY in the event.

Have something happening quite quickly after guests arrive. When guests arrive who don't know each other, nor why they have been invited, it helps them if something happens early on. By this I mean do something to unite the guests, e.g. have someone welcome everyone, or have a speech, or in some way officially start the proceedings. I would suggest something happens after 15 minutes of mingling, for example.

Why is this important? For two reasons. First, it breaks up huddles that may have formed, thus making it easier for other people to break in and mingle. Second, it gives everyone in the room a common/shared experience that they can then talk about, e.g. "What did you make of the speech?" or "I really enjoyed that, what were your reactions?" and so on. By giving your guests a common experience early on you help facilitate their enjoyment of the event and the value of the event to them. Then you'll be remembered for the right reasons.

The emotions the guests feel will influence their whole reactions to the event and your organisation.

At one of the events I went to the speeches started 15 minutes after arrival which gave everyone a focus. At the other, nothing happened after 30 minutes. I went to the people behind the badges desk and found it would be another 20 minutes before anything would. So we'd arrived at 6.00pm to have a speech at 6.50pm to leave at 7.30pm. I left! Give your guests something to do to help them focus on a common goal or experience early on.

EQ tip 6. Have a host who introduces people.

If you're holding an event, make sure that you and your staff are there from the start, meeting people and helping them mingle. Have more than one person acting as hosts for the event. The role of these people is not just to say "Hello Rachel and welcome" but to talk to the guests about their day, or work, or life, whatever is relevant. It is also to help them meet other people.

The host's job is to always keep an eye open for people standing on their own and to help them mingle. It is not the host's duty to get so immersed in talking to one or two people, or a specific group, that they fail to pay attention to the other guests. Sorry hosts, you are to mingle and keep matching people up ... and keep mingling. Always have enough people hosting to ensure all guests are well looked after. It is rare to find this occurring in my experience. Even when there are plenty of hosts I have found they don't really know how to host well!

Your hosts are there to help your guests feel wanted, welcomed and at ease. All emotions!

My experience with one of the events was that I was met at the door by someone whom I didn't know. He was friendly but formal and said, "Hello I'm Samuel from the company. Are you here for the cocktail party?" I said "Yes I am, hi I'm Rachel" and he said "Please go inside." A nice start. And that was the end of the hosting. There was no host to greet me. I knew the boss and he was nowhere to be seen. I went to the "names desk" and a lady crossed my name off a list and then said, "Your badge is on the other table" and I was left to get it myself. That was the last time I was spoken to by anyone from the organisation.

There was no one, bar the people offering me wine and food, who came to speak to me. It was only the catering staff who told me where the toilets were. Have real live people acting as hosts to facilitate the successful mingling of guests.

If you don't help guests feel comfortable it will tarnish the reputation of your organisation.

(By the way, this is not the first time I've been to an event where there was no host! I find it astonishing. The first time, though, I knew lots of people and had a role within the organisation, so it was much easier.)

EQ tip 7. In the absence of a host have an MC.

Have a clearly identifiable and visible person available who is the anchor person for your event. Ensure this person is clearly visible and known from the start. Thus, you might have an MC make an announcement 10 minutes after everyone arrives simply to welcome everyone, tell them where the toilets are, highlight special guests for the evening and give a brief outline about what is happening. When the MC identifies him or herself, then immediately all guests know one person to talk to, and they can talk to others about the MC.

Make the event comfortable for the guests, do everything you can to prevent their feeling awkward. It's an unpleasant emotion.

The first event I went to had an MC so everyone had a direct contact. The second one had no one. What a lonely event! Have an easily identifiable person to ensure the smooth integration of guests with the event.

Use your skills and be a brilliant host.

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