What about those long head tables?

I'll get back to my blog series on "Industry Education" in a few days. For now, a short digression with highlights and questions from my viewing of the recent White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, held Saturday, April 25, 2015, at the Hilton Washington in DC.

No, I didn't attend in person nor have I ever. Junkies for politics and news, my husband and I try to watch it every year, always on C-SPAN. Sure, listening to the roar of the crowd before the program begins might be boring but listening to inane comments on various broadcasts as they watch and listen to the roar of the crowd is more annoying!

Before the program content—awarding of scholarships, recognition of retiring journalists, honoring journalists killed in the line of duty, encouraging those watching and in attendance to sign a petition to free Washington Post reporter, Jason Rezaian—was an interview with Steve Cowan, The Hilton Washington's General Manager, who was gracious in his explanation of how and when their staff begins to prepare and how early (4:00 a.m.) on the day of the event many of the banquet staff arrive. Never did he mention what a pain this dinner (like so many of our own industry associations' dinners) must be for the servers: so many people up and schmoozing in a room packed with more than 2,500 and servers trying to get through with trays.

And safety...well, you'll see and wonder as I did, how in the hell anyone could have been evacuated easily? I had claustrophobia and would have been happy to be at a table in the "hinterlands" just for that!

Mr. Cowan's comments resulted in a tweet from me, using #NerdProm (as it's known "inside the Beltway" and for those other political and news junkies throughout the world), asking for praise for the hardworking staff of the Hilton. I hope they received it in addition to the $400,000+ payment noted for the dinner.

I'm curious of those who also watched and those who will now at least glimpse some of it on the recorded versions about these issues:

1. Why, still, long head tables for important people? The VIPs at the head table (President and Mrs. Obama, the WHCA President and other officers, and others) do need easy access to the lectern (OY! it was always called a "podium") and security and easy in and out especially for the president and first lady. And yes, it means that they aren't annoyed as frequently as those at the tables on the floor may be. It also looked like the space between each person at the table made eating and turning to talk awkward. And I've always wondered how it must feel to be watched by millions while eating. BizBash and others – what are the alternatives?

2. How can presentations of scholarships and awards be made without a parade? The table and podium on which it sat looked narrow. Those who were honored and who received scholarships—yes, I kvelled at the journalism students receiving scholarships and hoped that my friend and mentee, Arion Ford, would one day be among them—were paraded in a very narrow space between the backs of those at the headtable and the curtain behind.

The journalists who received awards  were seen in a great video explaining why and showing them in action. But then they had to walk the narrow space too. 

3. If the president and the hired entertainer (this year for only the fourth time, a woman!) are the main attraction, how is the order determined? Just asking.

4. What is it that makes journalists and politicians and celebrity guests attending this dinner sit down and stay and listen when asked to do so when at our dinners (recalling PCMA's Deborah Sexton "shushing" everyone!), people keep talking rudely? How can we translate this to what happens elsewhere?

5. And mainly, is this still the model for formal dinners? I thought we must have come up with better ways of doing it but this wasn't an example.

Maybe Patti Shock, in her Meetings Today webinar on June 24, will solve these and other event mysteries!

Posted by Joan L. Eisenstodt

Follow Joan on Twitter: @joaneisenstodt

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