Sunday, November 21, 2010

House of Cards: The Protocol of Business Cards

Recently, at a conference, I noticed how a colleague kept thrusting his business card in the face of anyone who spoke one word to him. I’d cringe each time I introduced him to someone I was speaking with and he’d flash his card out.

It is important to remember when networking, that the attitude should not be “what’s in it for me”, but instead, “what’s in it for them”. There is a set of protocols for giving out business cards, and the cardinal rule is that you don’t give out your card without being asked for one. I’d like to modify that one somewhat: True, you must wait to be asked for your card, but you can create the situation for someone to ask for your card. Otherwise, just ask how you can contact them, if they haven’t offered you their card. Or, at the very least, create a reason for someone to want to have your card. 

For example, I was speaking with a gentleman who manufactured specialty cosmetics and I offered to put some information on my website about his products. So I offered to give him my card so he could contact me if he ever wanted to take me up on my offer. Notice I created the situation first, I offered to give him my card before I gave it to him. 

It is also useful to take a cue from the Japanese who see a business card as an extension of the person it represents.
  • Always give the card out with your right hand (or with both hands, as the Japanese do) and never with your left.
  • Present the card with the writing facing the person you’re giving it to.
  • It’s probably not a good idea to whip out your card from your wallet in your back pocket – a business card holder in a front pocket is better way to go.
  • A business card holder will also keep your cards in mint condition for when you have to give them out.
  •  Remember your business card is a representation of you – make sure it reflects your values and personality.
When receiving a business card, the Japanese mindset is still a good one to keep.
  • Accept the card with your right hand (or with both hands). The use of the left hand is insulting in many cultures.
  • When you accept a card, never put it away immediately without looking at it with some interest for a few seconds. Better still, make a comment about the card or ask a question about some information on it. It shows you’re paying attention and not dismissing the person who gave you the card. You might also find some information which will be a good subject for discussion.
  • Don’t put it in your back pocket and certainly not in front of the person who just gave it to you!
  • Do follow up if you say you will. Only ask for cards from people you intend to contact.
  • Make sure you transfer the information into your electronic contact management system or Rolodex (does anyone still use those?) – It is bad form to tell someone you need another card because you lost the one they gave you.
Happy networking!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Perfect Dinner Party

I love to entertain and people always ask me what the secret is to throwing the perfect party. Today, I will focus on elements for a mid-sized dinner party for 6 to 12 people. Now, for any gathering to be successful, you will need what I call 'the Fab Five': Atmosphere, Drink, Food, Company and You.

Creating an atmosphere for a successful event will include elements such as lighting, music, decor and any other elements that will enhance the atmosphere of any gathering. Focus on what the guests with see, smell, feel (tactile and emotional). Candles are usually a good idea, creating soft, forgiving lighting and hiding a multitude of sins! Music should not be too noticeable if you want to encourage guests talking, but just enough to create an ambience. Flowers can be a nice touch, but, really almost anything can be used to make great centerpieces.

Give your guests something to drink within 5 minutes of their arrival - wine, a martini, beer, champagne - just something! And always remember to have something for people who do not drink alcoholic beverages. Water and soda will not cut it! Get creative: seltzer with fruit garnishes is a very simple mocktail idea. (A 'mocktail' is a virgin, or non-alocholic cocktail). You can find other mocktail ideas at websites such as, or Don't have people drinking for more than one hour before dinner is served - your guests will either drink too much, or get too hungry. It's called cocktail hour for a reason! Have about one bottle of wine per guest and probably a little more red than white. According to Esquire's The Big Black Book, red wine drinkers will generally not switch to white wine, but white wine drinkers might not mind as much.

Once your guests have drinks, have some hors d'oeuvres ready for them. Crudités with an assortment of dips are always a good idea, so is a fruit and cheese platter. But of course, you can make stuff as well. You are only limited by your creativity and how much time and effort you have available at your disposal. But don't give your guests too much to eat, otherwise, your painstakingly made dinner will go to waste!

If you are cooking dinner yourself, never, ever, try to make a dish you have never prepared before. Anything could go wrong. If you want to try something new, do a practice run first to make sure you can get it done the way it's supposed to be before you try making it for your guests. Also make sure you ask your guests if they have any dietary restrictions so you can plan your menu with that in mind.

If many of your guests will be strangers to one another, invite people you think have something in common. That way, you are free to interact with all your guests without thinking you need to babysit anyone. And, for the love of all that's good, don't invite people who don't like each other or are not talking to each other! It's safe to seat people in boy-girl-boy-girl fashion, but I prefer to separate couples and place people next to someone they may not have met before, but will have something in common. And, next to them, I'll seat someone they already know, just in case they need an out, if my hopes for connecting new people didn't work!

Finally, you should plan your prep time so you can spend as much time as possible with your guests and not trying to get things done. You need to enjoy your party as well. Your guests came because of you. Don't drink too much, so you can be alert. Just be your charming self, enjoy your company and everything else will fall into place and be just fine.

Happy entertaining!