Dinner, lobbyists and Powerpoint ... really?

Photo by Allan Danahar/Photodisc / Getty Images

I had an anonymous dinner in downtown DC last night. From my small corner table, I got full view of two dinner pitch meetings unfolding in front of me. One was a four top - two prospects, two pitchers - and the other was a single prospect with a single pitchman.

I like a business dinner to celebrate a milestone - closed sale, contract award, personnel achievements. It's also a nice way to thank an out of town colleague or partner for coming to see you.  

Dinner, to me, is not time for new business. I think it's the notion of the day's end, and turning off the work clock. Obviously, though, the dinner pitch is alive and well in our nation's capital. And I am pretty sure these were conceptual pitch/influencer meetings, not necessarily hard sales.

Maybe what bothered me is how each table handled their pitch. The four-top was most appalling. The quartet enjoyed small talk through cocktails and appetizers. When the main course arrived in front of the client/influencer, lo and behold! The pitchman whipped out his single Powerpoint hard copy (printed in B&W only, no folder or binding, one copy for two prospects) and passed it across the table. My eyes widened as I glugged my own wine. The discomfited prospect held the wad of paper over his steaming entree until the pitchman paused for breath, then he shoved it under his napkin on his lap.

I never saw him read it. He didn't have a briefcase with him. Suspect he toted it, creased, and possibly stained with gravy (he had ordered the short ribs), back to his home or hotel, glanced at it and tossed it.

On to the pair at Table Two. They had a lengthy dinner. And a final glass of wine. And coffee. And as the check arrived, the Powerpoint came out. Not a bad approach - waiting for the table to be cleared. Except when the pitchman is picking up the check, the check is closed, and your host keeps you an extra fifteen minutes with nothing to eat or drink while he recites to you what is in the Powerpoint. If your guest is ready to leave, let them.

Let's have some manners and situational awareness, folks!  No one wants to read your slides at dinner. (In 2015, it's possible no one wants to read your slides.)

Consider sending a white paper as a read-ahead for dinner, and then have a substantive conversation about it over dinner, whether the prospect has read it or not. You might also follow up your dinner with a email that could include some slides or a decision brief and propose a call or office visit to discuss.

I am pretty sure I saw $500 being spent in entertainment expense last night, with very little actual entertainment taking place.