Events with Heart: The Kelly Principles

By: Nicole Keeny

“Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.”
– Meg Ryan, You’ve Got Mail

Meg Ryan may just be a business maverick. Okay, not Meg Ryan herself, but the character she plays in the movie You’ve Got Mail—Kathleen Kelly. Here is this young woman who finds herself fighting to keep her children’s bookshop afloat when a large bookstore chain moves into the neighborhood. A classic David and Goliath scenario.

Now, if you have seen this movie, you are probably thinking, Wait a minute. She lost that fight. Goliath won. How exactly do you want to hold her up as a successful business example?

Because she teaches us that business is personal. Because she shows the big corporation that small, intentional acts of hospitality are what set businesses apart and turn consumers into lifelong customers. Because she demonstrates that business is not merely a matter of checklists but rather a matter of heart.

And Kathleen Kelly has a thing or two to teach us about hosting events, no matter what size or scale they may be.

Be Our Guest – Kelly Principle #1

Putting on an event, whether it is a small business luncheon or a large company convention, involves guests. Prioritizing your guest is paramount to event success. Prior to the event, ensure invitations are sent out promptly and with enough time for guests to plan and provide their RSVP. The more formal the event, the more formal the invitation should be and the more advance notice your guests will need. The invitation reflects your business and the tone of the event, so be certain all information is accurate and clear and that the invitation itself is designed appealingly.

During the event, speak to your guests personally and by name. If you are hosting many guests, provide preprinted name tags for everyone, including yourself. As much as possible, know your guests’ names ahead of time, even if that means studying leading up to the event, and use their names intentionally in greeting them and throughout conversation.

Ultimately, remember that you are hosting people—not merely consumers or colleagues. And for a little while, you can influence their lives. You can bring a feeling of comradery and warmth to their corner of the world. See what may bloom when you seek to facilitate connection both between you and your guests and among the guests themselves. As Kathleen Kelly says about her mother, who taught her how to run her business, “It wasn’t that she was just selling books. It was that she was helping people become whoever it was that they were going to turn out to be.” As a host of your event, you have that same opportunity.


Add a Personal Touch – Kelly Principle #2

Throughout You’ve Got Mail, Kathleen Kelly focuses on making her events and spaces inviting, filled with personal touches like vases of fresh flowers, cloth tote bags for customers to carry their purchases in rather than a paper sack, small pieces of candy in a crystal jar to sweeten a buyer’s day, dazzling window displays to capture the eyes and delight the heart. As you plan your event, ask yourself where you can add a personal touch, enhance the beauty of the event, and put your guests more at ease. Consider theming the event and prioritizing styling.

If you are facilitating an event at a venue other than your typical office space, do your due diligence. Perhaps you are hosting a business prospect and some colleagues for a luncheon at a new restaurant; visit that venue in person well before the day of the event to confirm that the location is just right for your guests. Websites can be deceiving, so do not rely purely on their narrative to choose a space for your event. Plus, getting to know the staff at the venue beforehand will allow you to partner together to make your event run as seamlessly as possible.

Help your guests know where they are going and what to expect. Provide place cards and a seating arrangement so guests can avoid the awkwardness of determining where to sit. If guests will be selecting food as part of the event, perhaps print menus and include them at the tables. Be sure guests know who is running the event and that the individual is warm, attentive, and above all, personable.


Decorum Is Not Old-Fashioned – Kelly Principle #3

Even when You’ve Got Mail came out in 1998, pocket handkerchiefs were not very common. Ah, but Kathleen Kelly lives by a different principle and keeps her embroidered handkerchief with her at all times. Because she knows that despite what culture says, manners (including the ability to dry one’s face discreetly) do not go out of style.

Now, we are not suggesting that we all bring back pocket handkerchiefs, particularly considering the current pandemic. The point is larger than that: How you dress when facilitating an event matters. How you speak matters. How you eat matters. Decorum matters.

Whether your guests are clients or colleagues, your professionalism should be seen by all. Choose your words wisely, as well as your food and drink selections. Even if others are on their third drink of the evening, even if it is a merely gathering of coworkers, consider limiting yourself to one alcoholic beverage or none. Order food that is not messy to eat. (Yes, we love tacos, too, but save them for when you go out with your family, okay?) Place your napkin in your lap. Sit with good posture.

All three of these Kelly Principles point toward the same goal: being someone people want to do business with. Someone people enjoy being around. Someone who can be trusted. Someone who cares. Because business is personal. As you facilitate your event—from a corporate meeting over dinner to a celebratory gala—remember that your hospitality reveals your heart. And ask yourself, What would Kathleen Kelly do?

If you have an upcoming event and just aren’t sure about your inner Kathleen Kelly, visit the Powerhouse website and see how we can help you build the event of your dreams.