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Business etiquette: tips for managing time at your event

Over the holidays I attended a professional event which I arrived on time for. It wasn’t until over an hour later before we were welcomed and encouraged to network. I left before the event started as I had a prior engagement. When I responded to enquiries about why I was leaving before the occasion had commenced, a couple of people tried to shame me for imagining that an event would start on time in Sierra Leone. I left feeling disappointed that I had missed out on what promised to be an inspiring talk. My time wasn't wasted, because I spent an hour and a half speaking with someone with whom I had never had a proper conversation. However, I felt like I had been treated as though my time did not matter.

I attended a smaller one last week which started half an hour late even though less than half of the guests had arrived. However, once they got there, an hour later than they were supposed to, we had to reintroduce ourselves and recap.

In Sierra Leone, we talk a lot about change and what we need to do to catch up with the developed world. What I fear we are missing is the fact that we are required to lead the change, by action and not with words. Regardless of the circumstance, those of us that refer to ourselves as ‘drivers of change’ must behave in a manner worth emulating. It’s either that, or we make up our own rules and stick to them, but make sure everyone knows what they are so there is no confusion. We cannot keep saying that we want to be a certain way, but are not seen to be making an effort to be that way.

As part of my Business Etiquette training, I discuss timekeeping with my participants. We are all aware that unforeseen circumstances could throw the best laid plans into chaos. However, leaders handle situations, they don’t crumble under pressure. Here are a few tips for managing time at your event:

1. Welcome guests at the time of the event

Acknowledge guests, who arrive on time, within 15 minutes of the start time. This way they know you appreciate them and do not take them for granted. If the MC has not arrived, ask someone else to do it.

2. Serve guests

Serve at least one drink as soon as guests arrive, as this gives the impression that the event has already started. Depending on the type of event, while they drink and network, they will forget that the main activity has not yet begun.

3. Include event fillers

These are activities that take up time while waiting for the highlight. They could be introductions, performances, structured networking, short speeches, stories, jokes etc.

4. Share a programme

If it is a business event, share a programme that includes times for each activity and try to stick to it. This would give your guests a sense of what to expect and a chance to plan their time accordingly.

5. Apologise publicly for the late start

It happens to the best of us - for whatever reason you may not be able to start on time. Apologise to your audience during the welcome and again when you’re commencing proceedings, giving them an explanation if you can. This way, they feel respected and appreciated and that you know it was wrong to keep them waiting.

6. Do not wait for latecomers

If you can, start on time. Waiting for latecomers is never an acceptable reason for starting an event late. Please start, regardless of how many guests have turned up, and the latecomers will join in. It would be absolutely wrong to punish the people who respected you enough to turn up on time.

For more information about our ‘Employee of Choice’ training which includes business etiquette and business ethics modules, please contact us at

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