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The RSVP Problem: Mingling in the Millennium
By Susan RoAne   Printer Friendly Version

When I first wrote about this problem for a San Francisco newspaper, I seemed to be a lone voice addressing the issue. But in a decade and a half, the social graces seem to have deteriorated exponentially. Whatever happened to the traditional R.S.V.P.? That question has been posed by directors of professional associations, conference coordinators, brides, and hosts, and with good reason. The use of the R.S.V.P. has diminished over the past 15 years. Some people in the workplace are not aware of it; others ignore it. Bad choice.

R.S.V.P., French for "respond, if you will," is used as an etiquette ritual to accept or decline invitations. It is still used for the social occasion, though some hosts complain that it's largely ignored in that setting. The R.S.V.P., sometimes in the form of a reservation tear-off, is also used for professional associations and business occasions.

It really is the only organized, efficient way to plan events, seminars, meetings or parties. Any business-related event that involves food or beverages must provide the catering departments with a final head count at least 24 hours prior to the event.

Savvy networkers know that the lack of awareness and ignorance of the R.S.V.P. and its facsimiles can impact a career. A person who continually drops in on events or reserves and is a no-show is making a statement: "I am too disorganized, cannot plan my schedule, cannot prioritize, do not follow through and have no working knowledge of etiquette." And people do talk. Reputations do get tainted.

Tom Peters writes and speaks of the basic common courtesies prevalent in excellently run companies. The R.S.V.P., while part of a code of etiquette, is plain, basic, common courtesy. If you plan to attend a professional association dinner, you reserve a space by phone or mail. If you cannot attend, you cancel the reservation.

We are building rapport and reputations when we R.S.V.P. Our message is: I am considerate.

If, at the last minute, you cannot attend and cannot reach the office, there's a solution. Call the hotel, restaurant or club and leave a message for the appropriate person that you will not attend. I recently did that when I fell ill and could not fly to my friend's daughter's wedding. She let me know how nice that was and helpful. Taking the time to be thoughtful is a good use of it!

Make sure the catering office gets the same message. Does that sound too complicated? Many "fashionably busy" people may balk at the extra effort because it requires "too much time."

Examine the other alternative: dropping in on an association dinner. One person doing so is usually covered in the fudge factor. What happens when 20 other professional colleagues do the same? Problems!

One professional group had its yearly exhibition fair and networking event. Based on reservations plus a drop-in number, the room was reserved and hors d'oeuvres ordered. Unfortunately, an additional 75 people showed up at the door. The room was too small and the food was inadequate. When several people complained to me, I asked if they had made reservations. If no was the answer, I pointed out that they could only fault themselves and others who neglected to R.S.V.P.

The question remains: Can busy people be bothered with the R.S.V.P.? Yes! We must manage our time and our manners. Many people in positions of power and authority who are busy manage to have the time for appropriate, considerate behaviors of etiquette. I cannot help but think that the next fashionable workshop should be entitled, "Managing your time, your manners and your reputation!"

It would be so much easier on program, luncheon chairpersons, event hosts if we all would just R.S.V.P. and then follow through. Last fall, a business consultant decided to throw an elegant, black-tie, catered dinner party at a local mansion. For whatever reason, 10 people who accepted the invitation did not show. No calls, no cancellations, no apologies. The cost to him of their rudeness - $600.

A sales manager for a 5-star Chicago hotel who was recently married was stunned, "Eighteen people who did send in reply cards just never showed up at my wedding!" The cost was considerable, not only in dollars but also in disillusionment and disappointment in her "friends."

How we behave in work-related settings is a statement about who we are. Can our careers withstand the image we create when etiquette is ignored?

There are certainly times when a response or R.S.V.P. is not necessary and it is not a breach of etiquette:

  • Mass-mailed workshop brochures
  • Invitations to "occupant"
  • Sweepstakes letters

Some remedies:

  • Reserve/R.S.V.P. once we evaluate the event
  • Consider a confirmation/cancellation policy
  • If we really must make a last minute change/decision, accompany it with a last minute call.

With the back-to-basics movement, we may find those who R.S.V.P. out-shining the competition, developing reputations as "reliable," and having their day in the sun.

(For permission to reprint this article, please contact: Susan@SusanRoAne.com.)

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