It all started with a cookie. Seriously. A cookie*.
When I was seven I was taken to visit my grandmother’s best friend at her ‘office’. Her office happened to be the official guest house for the Governor General of Canada (senior visitors stay at the guest house, including Commonwealth prime minsters, foreign minsters, etc; heads of state stay at the Governor General’s residence). Her role was that of ‘hostess’ for the house, meaning that she oversaw all of the day-to-day logistics and planning for these visits, in addition to making sure the correct protocol was observed and that everyone’s needs were met. Not only did she have a flair for her job, she also had the ability to make it look effortless and ensure everyone who stayed there felt comfortable, respected and cared for.
Yes, I was only seven but something took hold in my young imagination during that visit and the seeds of what would become my career were firmly planted. As I grew up I became more and more fascinated not just with running events and seeing to logistics but with the idea of creating welcoming environments, the idea of making people feel comfortable and cared for, particularly in unfamiliar situations.
For me, the essence of etiquette is represented in being confident enough in yourself, your skills and knowledge, to help others feel comfortable with you even if the surroundings are unfamiliar. It’s the ability to create warm, long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships. It’s paying attention to the small details. It’s understanding the ‘rules’ so that you know when they don’t need to followed.
I have spent the past 20+ years running corporate events, for various industries and in various parts of the world, including the UK, Europe, the Middle East, India and Canada. These experiences have not only provided me with a wealth of understanding but they have also taught me the innate value of polite behaviour and good manners – not to mention how essential it is to go into situations with a working knowledge of customs, protocols, etiquette…and the ability to, at minimum, say ‘hello’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in the local language.
Manners and courtesy are hugely powerful communication tools, and when put into use are also the foundations for success.
I believe this wholeheartedly, that’s why several years ago I decided to focus on teaching others to use these tools.
My background, both personally (I mean, who takes a seven year old to the government’s guest house?) and professionally (running events for prime ministers, CEOs, be-wigged barristers and academics) might lead you to think that I enjoy insisting that everyone follows the rules. Yes, I am a passionate, experienced, and slightly nerdy etiquette expert but I’m also one with a difference.
I believe that holding onto outdated and obsolete practices and rules is not only short-sighted and single-minded but also entirely counter-productive. All of life’s rules exist to give us a starting point and structure but that doesn’t make them perfect, immovable or correct 100% of the time.
Learn the rules, understand the rules, and then adapt your behaviour to fit your audience and your situation.
I prefer to teach the parameters of the rules, what it means to follow them, what advantages there are in knowing how and when to bend them, and the value in using good manners to put other people at ease.
Not all social or business situations are created equal – it’s understanding that, and knowing how to deal with it, that gives us our ability to be our best and succeed.
My interest in etiquette and protocol was influenced initially by my parents, who taught me that everyone should be treated with dignity and respect, and subsequently by my years working in business, where I’ve observed that even the smallest injection of courtesy, thoughtfulness and humour can work wonders – and makes things a lot more enjoyable!
I am completely passionate (and nerdy) about all this…please don’t be shy about getting in touch if you have questions, comments or would like more information.
During the visit my sister and I were each given a cookie, warm from the oven. I truly believe that it was the memory of the smell, taste and chewiness of that cookie – a sugar cookie with a hint of almond – that helped to keep that visit alive in my mind for all the years to follow. I was seven, after all, so really it was the cookie that made the lasting impression…but the rest of the experience stuck too. I’ve never forgotten it, my grandmother’s best friend, or the influence both had on the rest of my life.