Respecting Gala Guest/Host Dynamic

Written by Tiffany Adams, CELI President. For the Cincinnati Business Courier published article, click here. For article link to Business Courier, click here.

Reader’s Question: I recently attended a large-scale charity gala and was stunned by the non-stop chatter during the speakers’ presentations.  At one point, there was a speaker sharing about the tragic loss of a loved one and nobody was listening.  What is the proper etiquette at fundraising dinners during the speaker presentations?

I have received several requests to address this, and share your concern based on numerous first-hand experiences.  Attendance at galas is hearty and support is robust.  Former UK Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”  However, it seems that proper etiquette is being forgotten, or sadly, snubbed at fundraisers.  Just as there are host and guest duties to remember at a friend’s dinner party, we have equal responsibilities to be gracious guests and hosts at charity fundraisers. 

Event organizers have the challenge of creating programs that are informative and inspirational, yet entertaining.  Understandably, non-profits strive to honor those who have contributed to the event’s success by sharing the microphone with speakers such as survivors/victims sharing their testimonies, sponsors, and emcees.  Courtesy needs to be shown by keenly listening so that if a pin is dropped, it will be heard.  This shows that you know how to behave with polite decorum so that you can be the finest ambassador of yourself and your employer that you can be.

Be a respectful guest:

·         Stop talking when the program begins.  If you continue to chat, it’s viewed as being rude.  Intense and prolonged eye contact with the speakers will discourage others from engaging you.

·         Have the courage to express to others that it’s time to listen.

·         Put the smartphone away.  If you must check your cell, adjust its lighting to the dimmest setting, so that you’re not so conspicuous.

Be a respectful host (event organizer):

·         Boldly ask for everyone’s attention at the beginning of the program.  During welcoming comments, manage expectations by outlining the program’s timeline and when guests will have the opportunity to visit with one another.

·         Guard against spiraling into a program of “talking heads.”  Speakers should not be scheduled during the meal in order to respect guests’ desire to network and socialize.  Happy guests are return guests.

·         Allow the guests to fulfill their purpose in supporting the organization earlier rather than later.  Make donation requests in the first or middle part of the event so guests may socialize later.

Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said.  They will forget what you did.  But they will never forget how you made them feel.”  When everyone feels good about attending these fundraisers, it’s a win-win.  Let’s do our part and not only donate our time, talents, and treasures, but also our respect to these inspirational speakers and worthy causes.