Last week an event planner told me she was trying to organize a networking event because she was afraid institutional knowledge is walking out the door when experienced engineers retire. This is certainly a valid concern when current figures estimate that every day 10,000 boomers are turning in their tablets. She was attempting to develop face-to-face networking opportunities so relationships could be made in order to encourage interaction between the different generations. Transfer of informal knowledge can save hundreds of hours of work.
The engineers acknowledged the problem and, like true problem solvers, they had the solution: a beer tasting. At the risk of insulting numerous engineers, frogs, and the owners of the three breweries within a mile of my house, a beer tasting is about the furthest thing from a business networking event you can imagine.
Out of the many reasons why this is a bad idea, let’s take a look at the top five reasons a beer tasting is not appropriate for a networking event:
1. Hocus pocus, who’s got the focus?
Beer has been brewed for thousands of years and we can take hours to describe the variations. At a beer tasting the focus is on the drinks, not the humans. If you own a brewery and the purpose of a beer tasting is to introduce new employees to ingredients, then a beer tasting may be effective. This is certainly not the objective with a group of aerospace engineers.
With a beer tasting the social flow goes from the bartender to the taster, with some occasional discussion among the small group sitting near the person who pours. If your goal is to have professionals meet other member of their group, then you may want a different approach.
Let’s take a look at traditional events for, in this case, engineering professionals. Most of their networking events are structured in what I call a “sandwich.”
This is a short period of networking time, a presentation, and then more networking time. For example, in the world of aerospace engineers, they may have a meeting on carbon nanotube technology. The focus is on new information, not on face-to-face networking. Much like a beer tasting, this formula is a disaster when it comes to meeting new people.
In the best organized networking events there is no bartender, there is a facilitator and the interaction goes between people at the event. Traditional “sandwich” events can help staff keep up with industry developments; networking events should encourage interactions in the group.
2. Is this a “trigger” networking event?
Many recovering alcoholics can be susceptible to “trigger” events that can cause a relapse. It is possible that your beer-inclusive event may trigger dangerous behavior in an individual. You may have recovering alcoholics in the broad group. You do not want to be responsible for any sobriety issues among the participants at your event.
Beyond problem drinkers, you may have members of your group who do not drink for a variety of reasons. We all know Mormons, Muslims, and Seventh Day Adventists. If you place them in a situation where it is expected to consume alcohol, you may be putting them in an awkward situation. Besides religious considerations, some must avoid alcohol because of interaction with medication.
The city of Bruges built an underground beer pipeline to improve traffic:
3. Where’s the grub?
However, if your alcohol-free opinion gets overridden by a committee, then make sure you have non-alcoholic options available, lots of food, and hot coffee.
If you can budget for booze, then you can budget for food. If you think pretzels come under the category of “food,” then you probably think that ketchup is a vegetable. Food means something substantial. Even if there is ample food, your participants may overindulge.
Consider having alternative transportation plans in place. At the risk of sounding like an attorney, you may want to review your liability for events that include alcohol. For example, your state may have laws for liability that vary if you pour or if another organization pours.
One easy way to avoid hours on reviewing alcoholic beverage control laws is not to have alcohol at all.
Today, everyone has a phone. and can photograph anything you do. Things can get distorted.
Don’t forget the quote from Britain’s bulldog, Winston Churchill –
A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.
You may have an event for responsible and mature chemical engineers. If the event includes people of a certain company all sitting down with three small beer samples in front of them, may be giving the wrong impression to casual observers.
Everybody has a phone. Apps like Twitter, Instagram, and SnapChat can distribute images instantly. A photo of ten employees standing next to three servings of beer each will be subject to wide interpretation. The current term in politics is “optics.” The image of an event can have unintended consequences.
Tweets go out and the next thing you hear is a bad report about your company. There are dozens of software companies who provide packages that can “listen” to social media to see what is being said about your company. There are free tools like Hootsuite to much more sophisticated platforms like Sprout Social. However, rather than worrying about a false Tweet, best practice would avoid the situation entirely before a competitor starts to distribute images.
5. The curse of beer muscles
How will your crowd react to beer? You have no idea.
Let’s use a humorous example from Cleveland, Ohio to make the point. During the 1970’s the Cleveland Indians had many promotions. One incentive to encourage attendance was reduced prices for beer. In fact, they had one event where they sold beer for ten cents a glass.
A normal human being would assume that a couple of glasses of beer would not induce chaos. However, as the newspaper reports indicate, any crowd can get raucous with the introduction of alcohol.
If you are backed up against the wall and are mandated to have an event with alcohol, you should limit the number of drinks per individual.
Expect the worst. In the Cleveland event, professional baseball players had to protect themselves with baseball bats from the alcohol-induced fury.
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While not chasing down beer guzzling frogs, John Gilroy puts on workshops to improve face to face communications. If you have any challenges with intergenerational transfer of knowledge, contact me. firstname.lastname@example.org 703-627-3830