Firstly, make sure you know what the event is all about. More often than not, these sorts of events have a specific cause to it, from earning money to cure certain illnesses or to help a particular less-fortunate community. It's simply foolish for you to go to a charity event without even knowing that it's for, especially if your own company is co-sponsoring it. Though the night's proceedings may eventually tell you what the event is for, if you don't do your homework beforehand, you risk embarrassing yourself when you chat with some of the prominent attendees. Some of which can make or break your career.
If you've ever heard of the saying, "dress to impress," then you should know that this applies the most to these types of events. Start with the dress code. If the gala dinner or charity ball you're attending has a specific dress code, adhere to it as best as you can. Very rarely do these big business events have themes anyways, but when they do, don't stick out like a sore thumb by ignoring it. And if all else fails, there's nothing like a well-tailored tuxedo for the guys and a nice floor-length gown for the girls.
It always pays to be extra prepared! Business galas often start in the late afternoon, which is mostly rush hour for many major cities. This means there might be traffic and, if you're commuting, it's a free-for-all for taxis. Lyfts, and Ubers out there! And there's nothing worse for your career if you go to such events late. So it may do you some good to plan your transportation beforehand. If you share a car (and possibly driver) with other people, tell them that you'll need it for the event so that you're free to use it that night. If you're commuting, you can book a car well in advance to better your chances of getting one for the event.
Remember that business galas are social events so be social! Don't' just go find your co-workers or colleagues in the industry and stay with them throughout the night. Meet people, talk to them, and leave a lasting impression. If you were invited by your boss or superior, he/she will likely introduce you to many of his/her peers and colleagues, a lot of whom may hold important positions in both the company and the industry. Remember every name, shake every hand, smile, be polite, and act courteously. It might also pay to prepare with a few small talk topics to avoid awkward silences!
Of course, not everyone you meet will remember you instantly. And if there's one person that you know can actually help you advance in your career, you have to do what you can to ensure that he/she will remember you beyond that night. A good thing to do is to bring and hand out business cards. a couple that shows your name, contact details, and your profession. However, don't just hand them out willy billy too. Learn to read the room and to know when it's appropriate to give someone your business card. If it's not yet the right time, you can always try to gear the conversation towards that end as well! Do it subtly, though!
As important as it is that you bring and give away your own business cards during a gala event, also ensure that you keep each and every business card you receive too. And expect that there will be a lot! Obviously, the ones from important executives, prominent businessmen, CEOs, and the like are the most important to keep. But safeguard even those from people who hold similar positions as you or perhaps even lower within the corporate hierarchy. It pays to keep their contact details handy. You never know how they might be able to help in future jams that you may get into down the line!
As already mentioned, business galas are often charity events set up to benefit a certain cause or a certain community. And it's not enough anymore that you just know the objective, you also have to be part of it. Simply put, prepare to spend some money! The mere fact that you're attending such an event means that you're privileged and financially secure enough to mingle with society's and the corporate world's elite. It wouldn't hurt you to spare some money to those less fortunate that the event is earning the money for. Unofficially, this has become quite the requirement for many attendees.
Okay, now it's time for dinner. Do you remember what fork to use for which dish? What each spoon set out on your table represents? How your posture should be while eating? Remember that in this environment, you're surrounded by the cream of the crop of your industry. Do you really want to embarrass yourself by now knowing basic eating etiquette? On the night before, brush up on your knowledge on how to properly partake in fine dining. Remember all the rules and apply them when the food is served. This will help your career more than you can ever know!
Finally, there will be drinking at these sorts of events. As a rule of thumb, only have a maximum of two glasses of whatever liquor they're serving. It's a good way to control your drinking whilst still having a good time. When you do get poured the wine and champagne, don't gulp it all down either. Let it stay, and even as you converse with other people, it's a better look to leave some in your glass. You wouldn't want to be the fool who got drunk at an important business gala, would you? If you do this, you can consider yourself fired even before the next workday starts.
Attending a business gala can make or break your career. It holds as much weight as going to an important meeting or attending an international conference. When you do get invited to such events, know how to behave and what to do in order to not just safeguard your career, but rise in it too!