Guest Etiquette at Events

1. Be clear about start time
Never leave guests wondering about what time to arrive, lest they appear rude. “Unless there is an emergency, [showing up] late is never acceptable,” says etiquette expert Diane Gottsman of the Protocol School of Texas. Do be prepared to welcome guests a few minutes early—but only a few. “As a rule, guests should arrive no more than 10 minutes early. Fifteen minutes early is too early because it causes people hosting the meeting to feel obligated to accommodate you, plus they need to find some place for you to sit, offer you coffee, etc.,” she says. “If you are the speaker, however, you need to arrive 30 minutes early, set up, check your technology, and be ready to start on time.”

2. Advise your guests on dress code
For event guests, “your dress code should resemble the client you are meeting with,” Gottsman says. “If you are on a yacht, dress casually. If you are in a corporate boardroom in a conservative environment, dress accordingly. It shows respect for your client.” Constance Hoffman, owner of Social & Business Graces Inc., advises both men and women wear a jacket with large pockets to networking events. One pocket should be devoted to incoming business cards; the other, to outgoing cards.

3. Hold guests accountable for an R.S.V.P.
Give guests a reasonable window to reply to an event invitation, but expect them to respond within a few days of receiving it. “Otherwise, it looks like [they] are waiting for a better offer,” Gottsman says. And for guests: “Once you have committed, you cannot back out. It would be terribly rude to try and attend several parties, just ‘popping in’ to each. The host has prepared in advance and expects your participation.”

4. Encourage guests to stay tidy
Once seated at a meeting, attendees should not spread out their papers into their neighbors’ space, advises image and etiquette coach Kay Hunter. And when they leave, they should “clean up any cans, glasses, and napkins.”

5. Tell guests to speak up—nicely—if they can’t hear the speaker
“We’ve all been in that situation where the microphone doesn’t work well and you can’t hear the speaker,” Whitmore says. “Somebody usually blurts out, ‘We can’t hear you.'” While it is acceptable for guests to let the speaker know that he or she can’t be heard, Whitmore suggests doing so with a bit more tact—and using the speaker’s name. “For example, if my friend Jim were speaking, I’d say, ‘Excuse me, Jim. We can’t hear you in the back. Could you please adjust the volume on the microphone?'”

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