I like sports. I played a few in high school, and I still do my share of Super Bowl, March Madness, and Final Four office pools, but I’m certainly no athletic expert. And when the office chatter starts trending on trading activity—and I’m not talking stocks—I tend to zone out a bit.
At some offices, this wouldn’t be much of an issue. But at my office, during any given sports season, we get tickets to the games. Games at which my clients are present. Games at which I am expected to represent my firm.
The first time I had to attend one of these events, I sort of freaked out. Yes, I “get” sports, but I have absolutely no idea whether Jeremy Lin’s streak is just a fad or what LeBron eats for breakfast every morning (I just assumed a combo of Wheaties and a Flubber smoothie). How on earth would I be able to respectfully represent my firm, while not contributing to the stereotypes about women and sports?
Lucky for you, I’ve had a decade or so to figure this out. Here are a few tips to help you keep up the pace the next time you’re at an office event on a field, court, or arena.
Do Not Fake It!
The absolute worst thing you can do at a sporting event is try to pretend you know what you’re talking about when you don’t. People who dig sports tend to really, really be into them, which means they’ll call your bluff before your first bite of hot dog.
Am I really telling you to admit you don’t know something? Yes, and here’s why: Everyone likes to be the expert. So as long as you can ask intelligent questions, your seat-mate will likely be thrilled to explain the complexities of the game, play, or bogus call by the ref.
By showing a true interest and genuinely trying to understand some aspect of what’s unfolding in front of you, you’ll not only engage your clients in the conversation, but they’ll appreciate your respect for the game (not to mention love the fact that they get to look like stars themselves).
Do Your Research
While admitting you aren’t an expert is perfectly fine, going in completely blind is definitely not advised. So, the second you know you’ll be attending an event, summon your good friend Google and do a little research.
Use the extra search tools to seek out headlines for the past week, and maybe the last year. Skim through the news and get a sense for where the home team stands in the rankings, who the exceptional players are, or any current controversies. You don’t need to be able to recite everyone’s standings for the season, but you should have at least heard about the latest big news.
For extra points, dig a little deeper to find a player that’s somewhat lesser-known but has potential. For this, I ask my sports-obsessed friends—they always have an opinion on an up-and-comer everyone should be watching, but isn’t. Once you determine who that is, burn a few basic facts into your memory (oh, and make sure the player is on the roster for the evening and not injured or benched).
When the game begins, if you’re feeling left out of the conversation, you now have a few tidbits you can use to spark a debate. Remember, again, you’re not trying to be an expert here—but knowing some trivia is a great way to weave yourself into a discussion (and impress a few people in the process).
Choose Your Drink Wisely
It may seem silly, and I’m probably being a bit judgmental on this one—but whenever I see a woman drinking a glass of Chardonnay at a game it makes me cringe a little (and I love wine!). Nothing singles you out faster than a dainty glass in a sea of plastic cups.
Scan your group to see what everyone else is drinking and order that. No fancy cocktails or wine, and definitely not anything that requires a blender or a toothpick umbrella. The only exception to this rule is if you happen to be in a suite with a margarita machine—and in that situation, well, just remember that too many margaritas and clients rarely mix well (even if you’re convinced otherwise at the time).
When your clients see you slugging a beer with the rest of them, you’ll come off more as a fan and as part of the group, not just a spectator.
Regardless of the sport or the teams involved, with a little pre-game warm-up, you’ll be well prepared to join in on all the gametime chatter—and enjoy the game!