Make Your Way Around the Table

One of my business partners told me this wonderful networking story. He had been a long time employee of Hewlett-Packard and was proud to tell me that he’d had a few great opportunities to interact with former CEO, Carly Fiorina. One in particular sticks in his mind.

He once attended a team celebration dinner at which Fiorina was the keynote speaker. When he and his colleagues entered the room, they noticed it was set up with five round tables of nine seats each. Every place setting had a place card bearing a guest’s name and a dinner menu listing the components of each of the five courses.  Five courses?  The team members were worried they were in for a long night.

As everyone took a seat, they noticed one more puzzling nuance: there was one open seat at every table; well, every table but one (the one at which Fiorina was seated).  They initially thought the catering staff had miscounted.

Course one came and went; Fiorina quietly excused herself from the table at which she was seated. She then moved on to table #2 and took a seat just as the second course was served.  The team members at table #2 were delighted to get a little time with their lead executive… tables 3-5 looked on longingly wishing they had been seated at either table #1 or table #2.

That said, the second course plates were cleared. Once again, Fiorina thanked the team members for dining with her, stood up and moved on to table #3. EUREKA!  Five tables, five courses, one empty chair at each table, one mobile executive spending time with every person in the room. BRILLIANT!

Fiorina had orchestrated a wonderful evening to celebrate the accomplishments of one of the company’s divisions and ensured that every member felt recognized, appreciated and heard. She ensured that she was accessible. She made certain every associate felt he or she had a voice and an audience with the senior-most leader.  Fabulous concept and a great idea for us all to adapt for our own purposes.

What does that mean?  Well, we may not all be senior execs. It may not be necessary to play musical chairs during the course of an evening. But, we can all maximize the amount of interaction we have with our tablemates at business dinners, bar mitzvahs, weddings, fundraisers and other banquet-style events.

When you arrive at your table, be sure to be the one who goes around to each person to say hello and introduce yourself if you’re meeting for the first time. Tried this myself at a Special Libraries Association – Kansas/Western Missouri Chapter dinner earlier this week.  As with my own experience, I guarantee that your actions will be recognized, appreciated and you will be heard!

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