Company Picnic Pointers

Arky Ciancutti Does going to a company picnic take "business casual" to a whole new level? Should we fire off water balloons at co-workers or hit them between the eyes with the latest high tech water guns? I hope the word "no" popped into your head just now. The point is that business is business, no matter what the setting. However, there are ways to relax and enjoy special company functions while being professional. Here are some ideas to keep in mind while you are standing in line waiting to get to the ketchup and mustard:

Dress for the Day. Be sure to mark your calendar so that when you get ready in the morning, you do not put on a suit or long dress. At a company picnic you'll want to feel comfortable and fit in with the environment. However, this still means dressing somewhat conservatively (leave the bikinis, tank tops, and short shorts in the closet). Look at yourself and think about how you'll come across to someone. Remember that 55% of what we communicate about ourselves is visual, so the only thing that's sizzling should be the grill, not you.

Pass the relish. Let's say you're standing in line for hot dogs, and the CEO of the company shows up. He or she may not even know your name, and you might be thinking, "This is my chance to make a great impression." So you jump into a dissertation on the company's stock price or how you plan to reduce expenses in the upcoming year. Bad idea. This is certainly not the time to discuss any serious business issues. You and the CEO will be put in an uncomfortable position. On the other hand, this could be a great time to introduce yourself and say, "I'm so-and-so and I work in the marketing department and love being a part of the company. I have learned so much here. By the way, I really enjoyed hearing you speak at the sales meeting last week and took your comments to heart. Thank you for being so involved in the company." Then smile and move on.

Play guest interviewer. After you've eaten and have put down your plate, make part of your mission at company picnics to have informal "interviews" with people from other departments who you do not see every day. Without being stiff, ask the basics: "What department are you with? How long have you been with the company? What brought you to this company?" Then you can move to non-invasive personal questions such as, "Where do you live? How is the commute to work?" By asking such questions, you'll get to know about the people in your company, and you might make some new internal friends at work.

Keep the kids under control. If the party invitation says to bring your kids, make sure that you've started your disciplinary action long before you arrive. The company picnic is not the place to correct your children in front of your co-workers. If the kids are not behaving properly, take them to the side and explain that this is your business meeting and you expect them to act accordingly.

Enjoy your outing and keep in mind that your relationship and reputation with the company will be affected, even in such a casual and festive environment.

Andrea Nierenberg, "a networking success story" (The Wall Street Journal), is the author of Nonstop Networking: How to Improve Your Life, Luck and Career. Ms. Nierenberg works with leading companies to improve interpersonal communications for management and staff. She offers keynote addresses and custom-designed programs on motivational techniques, networking tactics, and presentation skills.

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