Business Lunch Etiquette: 5 Lessons From the Theater

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Maggie O'Keefe Acting

The author on stage – not her business attire.

My background is in theater.

Instead of heading to 9 am accounting courses in college, I was tuning my voice to sing musicals. Schools segregate business and the arts but they have common qualities when it comes to networking.

At a recent business lunch I connected the skill sets – unfortunately the business “date” did not, and it irritated me enough to jot down some thoughts on business lunch etiquette in the age of instant Internet gratification.

Business Lunch Etiquette:  5 Lessons From the Theater

1. Silence your phone

Were you glued to your phone during the 17 seconds it took the Chicago Blackhawks to score the winning two goals in last year’s Stanley Cup Finals? If you answered yes, then you need to lay off the phone.

When I head to a theater audition, watch a movie, or when I’m sleeping, my phone is off. It’s also off when I sit down to have lunch with a potential client or business partner.

When you are glued to your smartphone it is distracting you from information that may need your utmost attention and your ability to “read” how the meeting is going.  Aside from being rude, you’re sending a not-so-subtle signal to your date that the meeting is not important, or worse, that you don’t think the person you’re meeting is worth your time.

If you are expecting an important message, simply tell the person you’re meeting that you are waiting to hear some important news.

2. Come Prepared with Questions

In the theater, I prepare for a big audition by knowing who is directing, gathering everything I can about the show, and bringing a couple of songs or monologues along in my back pocket. This gives me confidence, just as knowledge about you and your business gives me confidence for a lunch meeting.

In the digital age, you can find out a lot about who you are going to meet with a simple search. Before I head to any function, event or meet-up, I research the person I am meeting with or the event I am attending and have three open-ended questions ready in my arsenal. (Linkedin is the best place to do this creeping.)

3. Bring Your Business Cards

In theater, your resume and headshot is your ticket in the door. If your photo has not been updated and you only have three productions on your resume, your headshot is being thrown in the back of the filing cabinet.

Your business card is your head shot. At Lightspan, we use apps like CardMunch often, but business cards are still important. They make an impression and often give you an opportunity to ask questions about the card or the person you’ve met, and vice versa.

4. Keep the Chat Light – Politics, Religion and Baby Mama Drama is a No-No

In the theater, you must draw on personal experiences to inhabit a character.

In business, it’s great to divulge a bit of yourself, but there are limits. I would love to see a picture of your light and joy but I DO NOT need to know why you went to court for full custody.

We don’t know how individuals are going to react about political conversations. What makes you tick and what makes you stand out is what inspires me to work with you.

5. Follow Up With an E-Mail

When you receive the “Thanks but no thanks” email in theater, you still send a thank you e-mail.

If you were invited to the meeting it is a best practice to follow up with a “thank you” e-mail as well, even if you don’t see any immidiate need for that person’s services. You never know where you’ll be in a few months or years.

Lightspan started sending out cupcakes to potential clients and friends who have been with us since we opened in July 2010. Without going overboard, we remind them that we care and appreciate their support and offer a treat that has our logo on it.

Do you have any tips on making a successful business lunch or dinner? We’d love to hear them!

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Since founding Lightspan, Mana has quickly established herself as one of Chicago's leading voices in social media and digital marketing. A decisive problem-solver fluent in five languages, Mana believes in clear objectives, simple solutions and the power of purpose in marketing. Credos: "No excuses" and "Find a way!"
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  • Jessica Funcannon

    Great blog post Maggie! Totally agree with all of your points. Don’t you think this should be taught in school as well?

    • I do! Given how kindergartners are using iphones these days, let’s start in prek!

  • T60 Productions

    Great stuff! I love it when we can connect other endeavors to the business word. A change of perspective is always refreshing.
    –Tony Gnau