People sometimes go through the exercise that asks, if your house were on fire, what would you grab first? (Which, when you think about it, is a pretty miserable exercise.)
High on my list (after family photos and financial records and all the obvious stuff) would be my grandmother's etiquette book from 1935 — a wonderful mix of vanished era and evergreen good sense.
On the vanished-era side, we are reminded that “Visiting cards are always engraved; do not buy a printed or written card.” And on the common-sense side, the book explains that polite dinner guests remain silent if presented with a food they don't like. To be well-mannered, “The best thing to do is to rid one's self of one's hate list.”
While the book is referring to Brussels sprouts and liver, that advice extends well beyond the dinner table. What a kinder, more cosmopolitan world we could live in if we all rid ourselves of our “hate” lists.
My job at Special Events means I have the pleasure of listening to smart people talk about their work, and, by the same token, I often find broader truths in the practical advice that event professionals give me.
For example, during one particularly long, particularly boring awards ceremony, I noticed the audience growing restless, chatty and oblivious to the winners they were supposedly there to honor. Steve Kemble, of Steve Kemble Event Design in Dallas, explained why. “Don't forget,” he said, “most of the people in this room aren't winning anything.”
A point to keep in mind: Event producers sometimes fall in love with what they can do, forgetting what they should do. You forget your audience when you give in to the temptation to throw in one more act, one more speaker. That can turn what should be a thrilling evening into a marathon snore.
When I interviewed Pat Ryan, head of Party Planners West in Los Angeles, on how she pulled off one complex event, she noted that event producers can accomplish just about anything on time if they have enough crew. Simple on the surface, yes, but why I've thought about it so often since is that it says a lot about how event planners approach problems. When things go wrong — the sky looks threatening, the fire marshal is making threats — the client can swear and stomp and burst into tears. But the event producer can't. The event pro has to find a way to make the event happen. And the readers I interview do that because they are professionals who are passionate about events.
When it comes to great advice, you said it.