To be a global player, we must display globally accepted business etiquette

We are fast approaching the end of the year and the “silly season” is about to come upon us. So this is probably a good time to broach the subject of something that has long bothered me about Cape Town business etiquette.

My organisation organizes a number of business events, and in my role as the CEO of Accelerate Cape Town I am invited to numerous business functions. What always stupefies me is the massive number of name tags that are left sitting on the table after the event has started, waiting for people who simply haven’t bothered to turn up despite sending an RSVP and receiving reminders. Do these people think they won’t be noticed?

What amazes me more is that organizers of these events have just come to accept that this is the way that people do things in Cape Town.

In fact, there are three things that Cape Town business invitees do, all of which make it equally difficult to get the logistics of an event right and all of which are equally unacceptable as business etiquette:

  1. They RSVP at the last minute. We often get final bookings for a breakfast event the night before.
  2. They arrive without having sent an RSVP.
  3. They RSVP and then don’t come.

At one event we received 200 responses. We had 80 name tags left on the table (a 40% no-show rate), but 80 people who had not sent an RSVP turned up anyway. We were lucky in this case that the numbers worked out, but how can organizers be expected to have to put up with this? These are business professionals, whom one would expect to behave in a professional manner. In another case we helped an international organizer put an event together and 50% of the confirmed attendees didn’t arrive. Our international partner was flabbergasted.

Explanations that we’ve received include that Capetonians wait till the last minute to see whether a better option comes up, and that if the weather is really good or really bad they would rather be on the beach or at home by the fire than at the function they said were coming to.

What sort of message does this send about how Cape Town does business?

If Cape Town business is to compete globally then we have to behave like global players, and not like we are in some isolated village where an “ag whatever” attitude is acceptable. Professional behaviour by global players includes letting organizers know if you can’t make it, apologizing afterwards if you couldn’t make it and it wasn’t possible to send an apology beforehand, and sending an RSVP (well in advance) if you intend going to the function.

Perhaps now, in the run-up to the spate of end of year functions, is a good time for us all to start practicing good business etiquette and respect the organizers of those functions as we would like to be respected ourselves.

As a postscript to the organizers of events in Cape Town, here are a few things we have learnt that help to improve turnout:

  1. Give people notice of about 4-5 weeks. People are busy, diaries get full and anything under 2 weeks is not enough.
  2. Choose the right days for business events. Mondays and Friday evenings are bad. Friday mornings work well because people often like to come back from business travels on Thursday night.
  3. Send a reminder the day before.
  4. Charging a fee increases commitment.  The bigger the fee the bigger the commitment.
  5. Choose a venue and time that reduces the potential of people deciding at the last minute that they really just don’t feel like dealing with the traffic.

If people RSVP and don’t arrive, let them know that their absence was noticed. If they do it again, don’t invite them in future.