Surviving Long Business Dinners Can Require a Strategy and Tactics
There are times in the professional world where large teams, especially those that are geographically dispersed, come together for a few days of meetings. Inevitably there will be at least one dinner outing, which for an introvert can be a harrowing experience, unless you have a plan.
At the very outset, you have to acknowledge these are great opportunities to expand your relationship with these super important people in your life. But, no matter how well you have trained yourself at the rather meaningless banter, you will get bored and uncomfortable and that will be noticed by the team leaders.
Having survived my fair share of these events, here are a few tricks I’ve used for getting through the evening and actually enjoying the experience.
First, pace yourself, it’s a similar commitment to watching a long sporting event and in fact treat it as such. These events provide a number of brief intermissions and these dinners typically have a pace about them as well, so take them for what are, segment the experience and break up the totality of the evening with these simple tactics.
- When everyone is seated don’t sit where it will be difficult to get up, this is key to the strategy. Once you’re settled, make a game out of studying the menu. Listen to what the extroverts are saying about the different selections. Sometimes this process goes on a little too long, just relax and observe the surroundings. Sit back and relax …
- Make some small talk with those near you who seem a little quiet. Start with the menu, ask if they have made a choice? With any luck there will be someone near you will do the same and engage with you. Again, take things slowly, there’s no rushing anything at these events, nibble on the bread, sip on your drinks … be the first to offer a toast to a coworker, congratulate them on a recent accomplishment or good luck on a pending project.
- Once the table has ordered you can figure there will be quite a long gap before the food arrives. Now’s the time to have some fun. Watch for it … someone will get up from the table and visit the laboratory, this is a great time to do the same.
- While you are away from the table, take some time to scope out the restaurant, take in the scenery, if there’s any interesting artwork for possible viewing later on. Wander around a little and take a peek back at the table, as long as you’re not the only person missing don’t worry about getting back there immediately.
- Once back at the table conversations will be in full swing. Listen in and find discussions that seem interesting, you don’t have to participate, just laugh when everyone else laughs, that’s really all the extroverts expect of you.
- When your food arrives, be thankful to Almighty God what you ordered made it to your place setting. And by all means, make eye contact with the server and thank them for serving you. Continue to pace yourself. Remember, this isn’t a home cooked meal where the table is five steps from the oven. More than likely your food is warm, but accept that it will be cold by the time you’re finished. Practice slow chewing, count to ten with each bite of food in your mouth. Anything to make the meal last longer. Savor each bite. Look around at what other people ordered, if you’re lucky they’ll share!
- When the plates are all cleared, I have found there is typically another quarter of the game left. Batteries charged the talkers are ready to talk and talk more and tell stories they are good at telling … it’s going to get loud and louder.
- Have no fear, your strategy is still at work, you’ll get through this. Once the table is fully engaged watch again for one or two people to leave. Maybe they are headed to the bathroom or outside to smoke. Once again, time your departure with others. Do some more sightseeing, step out for some fresh air, take a few minutes to study the artwork you spotted on your first intermission. Visit the bar for a glass of water…
- Now, as you head back to the table, you may find some still empty seats near someone who doesn’t appear to be engaged. More than likely they’re feeling the same pain of this long evening and you can share a few thoughts on the restaurant’s artwork, which you have become an expert on.
- Once back at your seat it will be the ninth inning and you’re only minutes away from the hailing and squeezing into the cab and then back to the awesome quiet of your nice and clean and quiet hotel room.
What not to do: don’t obsess over your phone, don’t text anyone, don’t doodle or gaze off into the distance, in other words, when you are at the table, do your very best to stay engaged with people there and use your tactics to redirect your energy and focus when you need a break from the action. Your goal is to give everyone the impression that you are enjoying every minute of the evening, and with this strategy, there is no reason to believe you won’t!
Guest Author Bio:
Brian Bourque is an industry veteran and subject matter expert in corporate communications. He sails and lives with his family in the Metroplex of Dallas Fort Worth, Texas.
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