Musicians play during the Carnegie Hall Opening Night gala is shown at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012. In the ballroom, an orchestra serenaded guests as they mingled. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg (Photo: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg)

(Related: 17 Reasons Financial Advisors Should be Proud of Their Profession)

“And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile…wondering ‘How did I get here?” Sound familiar? It’s from “Once in a Lifetime” by the Talking Heads. Great song.

As an insurance agent, you may find yourself all dressed up, attending a charity gala at a fancy hotel. What should you do?

How Did I Get Here?

Back to the Talking Heads. “How did I get here?” It could happen in many ways.

  • This non-profit might be your major volunteer activity. You are on the board. Board members are expected to attend. You bought a ticket.
  • Maybe the firm bought a table. Someone on the management team asked, “What are you doing on Saturday night?”
  • This charity is near and dear to your best client’s heart. You are supporting their cause. The fact they will introduce you to their rich friends is an added bonus.
  • You are prospecting the organization for business. You want to stand out from the competition, so you bought a ticket. It’s been said: “Sometimes the best way to get someone as a client is to start by becoming their client.”

It Looks Like a Wedding. I Know What to do.

Sometimes these galas seem like a wedding minus the bride and groom. What do you do weddings? Some people wear clothing that will get them noticed. Others drink too much. Some cluster together with their friends. Others sneak out at the first opportunity.

Please don’t do any of these. You will be throwing away an opportunity. You might create a negative impression of you and your firm professionally.

10 Things You Should Do at Charity Galas

Approach it like you’ve been invited to a party at your best client’s home. Be on your best behavior.

  1. Dress professionally. Check the dress code ahead of time. Sometimes it’s black tie, but often it’s business dress because it’s a weeknight. People are coming after work. Dress like you were going on a client appointment. Put business cards in your wallet. Wearing a company lapel pin is fine. Bring singles for tipping at the bar and the valet station.
  2. Mingle. At a wedding, you would congratulate the bride and groom. You would do the same with their parents. Gently wander through the cocktail reception. Find the organizers and organization bigwigs. Tell them it’s a great event. Look around for clients and people you know. Make polite conversation.
  3. Prospects. You’ll see people you couldn’t possibly get on the phone! It’s them! Walk over. Introduce yourself. Ask about their connection to the organization. Smile.
  4. Don’t talk business…except. This isn’t the time to be selling. Make polite conversation. I’ve found there’s an exception. I was at a ribbon cutting recently. Met a guy. Once he learned what I did, he said: “You know, I’ve been actively prospected by (firm). I have my money at (another firm). Let me tell you what I’ve done…” You would listen politely, be complimentary and look for a way to continue this conversation another time.
  5. Live and silent auctions. They usually have them. Cruise the display tables. You might or might not bid, but it’s an opportunity for a conversation with a stranger.
  6. Know your limits. There will be a line at the bar. This is an ideal opportunity to start conversations with people ahead or behind you. Don’t be checking your phone for messages.
  7. Eating. If there’s a buffet, it’s another opportunity to talk with people standing in line. Don’t pile food on your plate. Assume you can go up for a second helping afterwards. If it’s a plated dinner, sit patiently. Food will come to you.
  8. Sitting. You will likely have assigned seating at a big table. If you are a man, stand when ladies approach and are seated. Introduce yourself to everyone around the table. Use their first names in the introduction. Try to make conversation with the people seated to your immediate right and left.
  9. Paddle raise. Another standard activity is the “paddle raise.” It’s like bidding at auction. You pay, but you don’t walk away with anything. Someone quiets the room and talk about a project with a price tag. “Who will help us by donating $ 10,000?” People stand and are counted. The last level is likely $ 100 or $250. Raise your paddle. Be counted. Expect to pay by credit card before leaving. The organization will see you participated. This is good if your client is here too.
  10. Avoid the rush. Try to settle your “bill” for auction items or the paddle raise before everyone else gets the same idea. Ditto collecting your coat and car. There will be lines. This is another opportunity to chat.

What have you accomplished? You met a lot of people. You projected a good image. You supported the organization. Your clients in the room might be able to put you together with some of the people you met in a business or social setting.

— Read How to Order Wine Like a Boss (Without Paying Like One)on ThinkAdvisor.


Bryce SandersBryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. He provides high-net-worth client acquisition training for the financial services industry. His book, “Captivating the Wealthy Investor,” can be found on Amazon.