Tips for the endless events 

City Sage

Life, as all of us learned in elementary school, is a matter of choices. Study, work hard, stay in shape, interact appropriately with others, choose the right career path and the world will embrace you.

My sixth-grade teacher at Steele School, the illustrious Miss Agnes Pace, taught me those things and much more, but she couldn't have foreseen the dismal future that awaited some of her charges.

I speak, of course, of breakfast/lunch/early evening events. In her day, breakfast meetings were unknown, gigantic lunch events rare, and election to local office an amiable civic duty.

When I joined City Council back in 1991, long before Al Gore invented the Internet, future Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace issued a stark warning.

"Welcome to City Council!" she said with a chilly smile. "You'll find that you have to go to events that you'd cheerfully pay to avoid."

She was right. During the next six years, I trudged dutifully to hundreds of such events, picked at inedible meals, listened to earnest speakers, applauded dutifully, shook hands and gracefully exited as soon as possible.

Such events follow predictable patterns. Here are some sailing directions:

• Networking! Arrive early, prowl the room and talk to interesting people. Don't spend too much time with anybody, or you risk being trapped by a bore. Pretend to be looking for your table if necessary, but work the crowd.

• Sit down, folks! Veteran attendees will have already staked out their spots. Don't be surrounded by empty seats, don't be flanked by people who aren't fun to talk to, don't be seated with the power elite. If you're at the head table, you're trapped; you can't sneak out.

• Your smartphone is, like Zombie Dust beer, a sign that God loves you. Bored? Take it out and pretend to respond to very important messages, especially those concerning your fantasy football league.

• Introductions of very important people. Stay off those lists! If you're a VIP close to the head table, you're double-trapped, unless you're a mega-VIP. Former Mayor Steve Bach marched to his own drummer, showing up (or not!) and leaving when he pleased. Similarly, Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Michael Bennet usually arrive late and leave early. But if you're a super/mega VIP like Phil Anschutz, you never go to such events.

• Food. Ask for the vegetarian or kosher option. The regular meal is usually inedible.

• The program. Speeches, awards, unwatchable videos, obligatory applause. Once the event's over, go for the door.

At some point, you may find yourself on the other side, running or sponsoring such an event. Some tips:

• Go long on the networking, short on the speeches.

• Simple food — buffet is fine.

• Seating for all. We're a geezer-heavy city; create geezer-friendly events.

• It's not about you — it's about the people who have donated their time/money to come. Make 'em happy!

A couple of recent events, one sponsored by the Independent's sister publication, the Business Journal, were amazingly enjoyable.

The CSBJ event, honoring the city's fastest-growing companies, was themed as a Roaring '20s cocktail party. Created by CSBJ publisher Jen Furda, it was an opportunity to dress up, have a drink and have fun. Networking with the fabulously smart Hannah Parsons was even more fun than usual, given her period-appropriate flapper dress. Where did she get it?

"One of the benefits of having a friend who co-owns Zeezo's," she said.

Later that week, that same friend (Jessica Modeer) was featured in an engaging video at the Business and Arts Lunch, praising downtown dynamo Susan Edmondson, who had just received the Business Leader for the Arts Award. The luncheon was like any other, except for nonstop entertainment from eight performing arts groups.

Polite chit-chat with tablemates is fine, but a blow-off-the-doors rendition of Charlie Daniels' "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" by WireWood Station is a lot better. Add a dance performance by Krithika Prashant and her daughter Shreya, a music/dance comedy routine by members of the Air Force Academy Band and four other wonderful acts, and the hour flew by.

And when Edmondson's graceful acceptance was done, I bolted for the door. Thanks, Susan, for knowing something few politicians ever realize.

There's no such thing as a bad short speech.


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