Posted on

Protocol Professionals Make Events Run Smoothly

People often ask me what protocol professionals do. The simple answer is we ensure that things run smoothly so that business can be accomplished and relationships can develop without the distraction of logistics.

We just finished one of my favorite events of the year, the week The University of Alabama in Huntsville hosts the annual Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium, an international gathering of the world’s space experts and next-gen space pioneers who convene to imagine, discuss, debate, and strategize the future of space. It is an excellent illustration of what protocol professionals do every day.

Presented by the American Astronautical Society, the symposium is held on our campus because of Huntsville’s storied history in the space business (this is the place where the Saturn V, the rocket that launched men to the moon, was developed) our proximity to Marshall Space Flight Center, and our status as the anchor institution to the nation’s second largest research park.

One of my favorite aspects of the week is the opportunity to work with public affairs and protocol colleagues from industry and government, many of whom are friends that I see only once a year when they arrive to escort their principals. The Von Braun Symposium brings an impressive international collection of government officials, corporate executives, astronauts (including moon walkers from the Apollo era and numerous Space Shuttle commanders, pilots, and mission specialists), researchers, academicians, and students from other universities. The week includes panels, speeches, debates, private meetings, social gatherings, tours, competitions, and recognitions. It has many moving parts, each advanced by teams of public affairs or protocol officers. We intuitively work together to help each other succeed, because we know success for one, is success for all.

Throughout months of advance planning we have sorted out agendas, routes and parking, we’ve held many phone conferences and numerous walk-throughs. We’ve negotiated what will and won’t be possible. But what do protocol and public affairs professionals actually do during the gathering? Here’s a sampling:

Stand in the cold before the sun is up to welcome a VIP;

Facilitate an important government official’s short notice request for a private meeting space with sophisticated communication capabilities, marshaling staff from across the university only to watch the meeting get cancelled at the last minute;

Find a substitute meal for the luncheon speaker who is also the highest-ranking person in the room when he surprises us all by revealing he doesn’t eat the day’s entrée;

Rearrange flags on stage moments before the conference convenes when one of us notices a serious mistake in the line-up;

Soothe the nerves of an exhausted out-of-state student suffering from 24 hours of delayed and rerouted flights to arrive minutes before her presentation at an important scientific competition that could help shape her future;

Deploy a hospitality team to feed and make her stressed travelling companion, her mother, comfortable;

Noodle together as we sort out the appropriate seating for a collection of distinguished participants who hail from very different walks of life, all of whom are accustomed to being the ranking person in their universes;

Resist the temptation to request a photo or autograph from the famous people with whom we are conversing;

Abandon the first real hot meal we’ve seen in two days because of a changing situation. Return to eat it later in the hallway when it’s cold and flavorless;

Make eight large-sized bottles of Mountain Dew appear immediately for a dignitary’s car;

Facilitate a surprise award for a retiring leader by stalling his departure without annoying him;

Diplomatically redirect important people who are nonetheless “crashers,” from seating themselves at luncheons to which they were not invited;

Work with security details and know when and how to discreetly communicate critical information;

Go home when the moon is high in the sky and return when the same moon is still up;

Understand that your principal is oblivious to most of your efforts, which is as it should be;

Enjoy a great sense of satisfaction from knowing that your behind-the-scenes efforts helped make an important gathering a success.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on

Service Dog Etiquette

A woman and her service dog attended one of my etiquette classes this week. It was my first experience working with such a team. The class was learning about how to work a room with exercises that required stand-up participation and handling food and drink. It was a beautiful thing to watch the woman and her dog navigate seamlessly through the buffet line and effortlessly manage all of the mingling, hand shaking, and introduction exercises.  I was amazed at the unobtrusive, magnificent behavior of her dog and its focus on her, no matter what else was going on. For example, one of the class participants spilled food on the floor and while the average pet dog would have dashed to clean up a free snack, her working dog was impervious to the temptation.  The woman took me by surprise when after class, she asked me what she should be doing to have consideration for her hosts and show good manners when she and her dog are invited to attend functions.  The experience got me thinking that many of us may not know the etiquette of being around a service dog.

Service dogs are highly trained specialists who assist people with a variety of physical challenges, not all of which are apparent to the eye.  The dogs are readily identifiable by the vests that they wear when on duty. Service dogs are trained for a wide variety of jobs including guiding people who have low vision or who are blind, alerting deaf people to sounds, warning people of impending seizures or diabetic emergencies, helping flip switches or retrieving items for people with mobility problems, pulling wheelchairs up ramps, and providing support for people with balance problems. Service dogs are not pets, rather they are working professionals who undergo years of specialized learning before being matched with their humans. There is a difference between service animals and the controversial emotional support animals that have recently been in the news. The Americans With Disabilities Act (https://www.ada.gov) enumerates the legal protections that guarantee accommodation in public places for people and their service dogs.

Here are some tips for respecting your guests with service dogs:

Ignore the dog and focus on the human. As beautiful as the dog may be, it is on duty and should not be distracted by others. Doing so could cause the dog to take its attention of its human and miss an important cue.

Talk to the person, not the dog.

Don’t touch or ask to pet the dog.

Don’t offer the dog food or water, the handler will take care of these needs.

Don’t offer the dog toys, whistle to it, or otherwise try to draw its attention with sounds or motions.

Don’t approach a dog that is laying down or that appears to be napping, it is simply waiting or resting, but it is still keenly focused on its duty.

Don’t ask the owner about his or her disability or why he or she uses a service dog, such questions are an invasion of privacy and are way too personal.

Keep your pet dog away from the service dog.If you encounter someone with a service dog while you are with your pet, keep your distance so the service dog is not distracted.  

In answer to my student’s question about how to have good manners when she is out with her dog, speaking as an event planner, I would:

Appreciate knowing in advance that a service dog is attending. This would give me the opportunity to ask if there are things I could do to make their experience the most enjoyable. These would include finding out if the person had a preference about seating and to offer information about the location of water and relief areas, details that would be especially important if the pair were attending a workshop or long meeting. At our president’s home where there are numerous pets in residence, knowing in advance that a service dog is coming would let us ensure that the household pets were confined.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on

It’s National Business Etiquette Week

It is National Business Etiquette Week, a chance to enhance your personal brand by practicing polished professional manners. Here are 20 ways to celebrate:

  1. Sending someone a hand written thank-you note.
  2. Taking a colleague to lunch to say thanks for all he or she does to help you be successful.
  3. Volunteering to get the mail from the mail room because you’ll be near there anyway.
  4. Paying full attention during meetings by putting your cell phone away.
  5. Cleaning up after yourself when using the office kitchenette.
  6. Being on time and prepared for meetings.
  7. Keeping your private life out of the office and off of social media.
  8. Respecting the opinions of others and disagreeing when necessary without being disagreeable.
  9. Making introductions when you know not everyone has met.
  10. Presenting yourself everyday perfectly groomed and appropriately dressed.
  11. Being cross-culturally literate.
  12. Sharing credit where credit is due and acknowledging the contributions each person on your team makes to the success of your endeavors.
  13. Pushing the elevator buttons for everyone when you are the one standing closest to the panel.
  14. Sending an on-time rsvp to business invitations.
  15. Practicing Mom’s maxim, “If you don’t have something good to say, don’t say anything at all.”
  16. Completing assignments on time.
  17. Offering to help others who are swamped with deadlines.
  18. Eschewing foul language.
  19. Respecting your office administrative assistant for the professional he or she is and acknowledging that person’s role in helping you achieve your agenda.
  20. Avoiding gossip and mean-spirited office conversations and refusing to listen to sexist, racist, or other demeaning comments or jokes.

 

 

 

Posted on

Alexander Hamilton To Get Honorary Degree

Even though he died in 1804, Alexander Hamilton is going to receive an honorary degree from Albany Law School at the college’s spring commencement.

Honorary degrees, higher education’s most prestigious recognition, are reserved for eminent individuals with national or international reputations. Hamilton certainly qualifies. He was one of the nation’s founding fathers, had a distinguished career as one of George Washington’s most trusted aides during the Revolutionary War, later practiced law, served as the first secretary of the treasury, and is considered the father of the nation’s financial system.

Why now? Honorary degrees are an opportunity to establish ties with a prominent person, to bask in the reflected glory of his or her accomplishments, and to generate some positive media buzz. In Hamilton’s case, Albany Law School said it is recognizing his contributions to the Albany, New York area where he practiced law and married into a prominent local family. With Hamilton currently riding a wave of rock star status thanks to the Broadway musical that bears his name, tiny Albany Law, an old, private school with only 372 students, is riding his coattails with a creative local angle that has brought an enormous PR bounce. Hamilton never actually earned a law degree, so awarding him an honorary is the perfect way to call attention to the school. Honorary degrees don’t typically get much publicity, but this announcement has generated extensive media coverage.

So how can a guy who has been dead for 214 years qualify for a degree? Honorary degrees are conferred honoris causa, a Latin term meaning “for the sake of honor.” They are typically doctoral degrees, though not equivalent to Ph.D. s, nor do they entitle the recipient to the same professional privileges as individuals who have earned degrees.

Honorary degree recipients are leading scholars, discoverers, inventors, authors, artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, social activists, and leaders in politics and government. Occasionally, honorary degrees are awarded to people who have rendered lifelong service to a university through board membership, volunteerism, or major financial contributions. At some schools, honorary degree recipients deliver the commencement address, but this is not a requirement.

Honorary degrees are often presented at commencement to take advantage of the large audience and the pomp and circumstance already in place. The candidate is part of the platform party and processes wearing a black doctoral gown or the school’s custom doctoral regalia. Candidates are hooded and receive a diploma and a citation. In the case of a posthumous degree like Hamilton’s, a surrogate stands in to accept these items.

What to Call an Honorary Degree Recipient

Honorary degree recipients are properly addressed as “doctor” in correspondence from the university that awarded the degree and in conversation on the campus. But honorary degree recipients should not refer to themselves as “doctor,” nor should they use the title on business cards or in correspondence.

The honorary degree recipient is entitled to use the appropriate honorary abbreviation behind his or her name, for example, (full name), Litt.D. On a resume or in a biographical sketch, they may indicate an honorary degree by writing out the degree followed by the words honoris causa to signify that the degree is honorary, not earned.

When addressing a person who has received an honorary degree from another university, it is not correct to use the term “doctor.”

Because many people misunderstand these nuances, it is courteous to provide recipients with a card or brochure to explain how to appropriately signify their degrees. Tuck the card in with the hood and citation when these items are shipped to them after the ceremony or send in a follow-up congratulatory letter.

So, while I don’t know for certain, my guess is Alexander Hamilton will receive a Doctor of Laws (L.L. D.) and were his ghost to ever to appear at Albany Law School, it would be correct for all there to address him as Doctor Hamilton. Back in his New York City law office, however, he would be just plain Mr. Hamilton.

For more information about honorary degrees, including presenting the degree, awarding it posthumously, regalia for the recipient, and how to appropriately host the honoree, order my book Academic Ceremonies A Handbook of Traditions and Protocol, available at http://case.org.

 

 

 

Posted on

Why Manners Matter

Evaluations are in from a presentation I made to a group of young professionals, all new to university advancement and eager to start raising money and promoting their schools.

My talk was about business etiquette and included skills such as how to introduce yourself and others, shake hands, initiate and sustain conversation with strangers, and manage food and beverage so that it’s easier to do your job.  After all, fund-raising is about building relationships and much of that is done in a social environment such as a reception, dinner, meeting or conference.

One woman rated my presentation as “poor,” stating that time could have been better spent on “content relevant to the emerging generation of advancement professionals,” noting that social skills are old fashioned and that “country club manners” are not needed. What’s more, she said, they are sexist. While I respect her opinion, I hope time and experience will change her mind.

Mastering these fundamentals is not about being a snob or memorizing social customs of bygone eras, rather it is about building self-confidence and making others feel welcome. It is not easy to dive into a room full of strangers and start conversations, especially when guests represent multiple backgrounds, generations, and will likely include people from other countries. Etiquette creates a common framework in which people can interact so that everyone feels welcome, respected, and valued.

It is not hard to understand why this person would deem manners to be irrelevant. Incivility surrounds us. It clogs the political system, it causes us to shout, call names, be greedy, pushy, self-centered and suspicious. Incivility closes our ears and minds depriving us of the opportunity to benefit from melding ideas and differing points of view to forge a stronger whole. It erodes our way of life and even threatens our liberties.

The saying, “You are what you eat,” is true and for the past 25 years (approximately her entire lifetime) we have ingested a non-stop diet of bad behavior that has led to a steep decline in courtesy. Things that used to shock us (like the use of the f-bomb, crude potty references from Congressmen, leaders having public tantrums, or people showing up at work looking a disheveled mess) no longer do.

Instead of teaching children how to interact with others, we’ve taught them to withdraw because of “stranger danger.” Television news has devolved from reporting to angry people spewing slanted opinions. We’ve spent a decade glued to the television to see what outrageous things dysfunctional families will do to each other, who the bachelor will dump, or which person will be fired or voted out of the competition. People no longer seem able to separate entertainment from reality and instead mimic these rude, crude, mean behaviors in their daily lives.

The absence of public figures who serve as positive role models exacerbates the effects of our bad behavior binge. Incivility reigns everywhere from the local school board to the halls of congress and is becoming accepted as the norm. With a president who calls people names on Twitter, belittles those who disagree with him, and a pop culture that worships the gods of “me first,” and “in your face,” it is easy to understand why a young adult who has only seen these examples would find consideration for others to be irrelevant.

While not the cause of the decline in our interpersonal skills, the digital revolution is also a contributor. For the many great benefits of technology, the downside is people no longer need to expend the energy to interact with those around them. Instead, we use our devices as defensive barricades, studying them with intensity when we want to avoid engaging with others. We wear ear buds to send a “don’t talk to me” message and we use the anonymity of social media to shoot comments into cyberspace that we would never have the courage say to a person’s face. We battle tech neck, gamer’s thumb, and email eye because of our device addiction. We can order everything from airline tickets to groceries without ever having to talk to a human, and when we’re bored, our devices offer ample entertainment options and will even explain the choices. Why would we ever need to interact with anyone in person?

Through the decades, politics, cultural, and economic situations have always caused the manners pendulum to swing back and forth between periods of formality and times of little manners whatsoever.

There is no question we are in a period of social change, but I believe that this climate makes it more important than ever for us to reconnect as individuals by learning and practicing common courtesy and respect for others.

I, too, started my career in an era of cultural change and lack of civility. The nation was struggling to regain its footing after the Vietnam War and the resignation of a president. Fueled by the then new idea that women could be more than coffee fetchers, I firmly intended to change the world by junking most of what I had been taught, beginning with stodgy social customs.

What I didn’t realize then is that civility is the glue that holds our society together. It is what we are missing today. It is the practice of courteous self-control that gives us the ability to listen respectfully to another point of view and to disagree without being disagreable. It is the kindness of deferring to an older person. It is willingness to think of others before ourselves. It was formerly the grease that allowed the wheels of our democracy to turn and that gave legislators the self-restraint to effect compromise.

Civility and manners are timeless marks not of class or status, of “good” or “bad” people, but of leadership and humanity.  Contemporary manners are not an exclusive, elitist social code intended to exclude others. Rather, they are the lingua franca that allows us to transact our societal and interpersonal business in a global society and achieve great results.

Today’s etiquette is not that of 25 years ago. Instead, contemporary business etiquette has evolved to be gender neutral. It is not sexist like old-fashioned social etiquette, but rather, it is empowering because it levels the playing field with a defined set of norms under which we all can all operate equally regardless of religion, race, culture, gender, sexual preference, or socio-economic upbringing.

Polished manners are an equalizer that gives people the confidence of never having to feel ill at ease in any social or work situation. What’s more, using manners costs nothing and may even yield a payback—the satisfaction of knowing you have been kind to someone else.

These are the reasons we practice and study etiquette and why the effort is relevant to today’s generation of advancement professionals. None of this is unimportant or old-fashioned. Rather, it is essential to our cultural survival.

 

 

Posted on

Live Performance Etiquette: Clapping and Other Courtesies

Whether it’s the third-grade pageant at your child’s school, a university concert, the local ballet’s presentation of the “Nutcracker,” or a visit to the symphony, chances are you’ll attend a live performance during the holiday season.

Live performances demand that we observe a set of courtesies that show respect for the performers as well for as our fellow concert goers. Americans seem to have forgotten many of these standards and behave at a play or choir concert in the same way they would at an outdoor ball game, wandering in and out, talking out loud, eating at their seats, and fiddling with their cell phones. It’s all very disrespectful.

A few weeks ago, at our school’s production of “The Threepenny Opera,” a man and his children who were sitting behind me opened rattily potato chip bags and munched and crunched their way through a student soprano’s solo. Though she probably didn’t realize that half of three rows were thoroughly distracted during her performance, I felt sorry for her because she had worked so hard to perfect her part only to have it marred by salty snacks consumed by thoughtless people. A few weeks later at our community holiday concert, every time the audience applauded, two small girls leaped from their seats bouncing, clapping, and shouting as if they were cheering a touchdown. Sadly, their parents did not utilize the moment to explain the difference. Perhaps they don’t know themselves.

Much like our language, etiquette changes and evolves to be consistent with contemporary standards, but for evolution to occur, people must have a common understanding to begin with. It wasn’t too long ago that audiences showed their displeasure by throwing rotten vegetables at the performers—something that would certainly get you tossed from the hall (or worse) today. While I am not suggesting that we return to those times or to snobby “pinkies up” behavior that is intended to intimidate, I am advocating that we deploy a common set of courtesies that ensure everyone can see, hear, and enjoy a performance without disruption.

Here are some tips:

Dress up a bit. A concert or play is a celebration, the proud presentation of hours of study and weeks of practice. Show respect for the performers by looking your best.

Leave babies and small children at home. No one wants the sound of a crying child to obscure the performance of an actor or musician whom they have paid to hear. When children are with you, require them to sit in their seats and be quiet. Do not let them play with electronic games because these make bright light and irritating sounds.

Pick up a program when you arrive so you can follow the performance and know what to expect.

Be in your seats at least 10 minutes before curtain time. Arriving late is not acceptable because it disturbs both performers and patrons. If you do arrive late, ushers may ask you to wait to be seated until a suitable break in the performance.

If someone is in your reserved seat, don’t make a scene, but get an usher to resolve the problem.

To get to your seat, enter the aisle and slide with your back side facing those who are already seated. Say “excuse me” to each person you pass and thank those who stand or otherwise assist you.  If you are seated, swing your legs to one side so people can pass without tripping. Put objects such as handbags under your chair so they don’t become an unseen hazard. Leave your bulky coat and items such as umbrellas at the coat check.

Remain in your seat until intermission and do not wander in and out of the hall to talk on your phone, greet others, or get refreshments.

Turn off all electronic devices so they don’t ring, buzz, or light up. Never text, take pictures, or talk on your phone during a performance. Smartphones have brought a new term into contemporary etiquette, it’s called “manner mode,” and it means placing your phone on silent mode vs. vibrate, so it is just that—silent!

If you are a physician or someone else who is on call, give your phone to an usher so he or she can come get you if needed.

Never take food or drink to your seats, including bottled water or coffee. Finish before you enter the hall.

If you have a cough, bring unwrapped cough drops with you and be quick to exit if a coughing jag happens.

Keep your feet on the floor and off the seats in front of you.

Remember, the excellent acoustics in a concert hall may render whispers and talking audible to many people seated around you. Be silent.

How and When To Clap

Applause is the way we show our appreciation for performers, but clapping at a play or concert is different from clapping at a sporting event. The rules aren’t complicated, but applauding appropriately helps avoid destroying the mood and interrupting the flow of the performance.

At the beginning of a symphony or concert, the concertmaster arrives on stage and the audience claps as a sign of welcome. After the orchestra tunes, the conductor and possibly a soloist will walk onstage. Applaud to welcome them. When the conductor steps on the platform, however, and raises his or her baton, it signals that the music is about to start and everyone should become silent.

Once the concert begins, the audience only applauds at the end of each piece. Confusion can occur when there is a pause in the music. People mistakenly assume the piece is complete and start to clap, but in fact, the pause may simply be the separation between movements. Pay attention to your program to help determine if you are hearing a pause between movements, or are at the end of a piece. Pauses in music are there for effect, to create a mood. Clapping during one of them can dispel the mood and interfere with the momentum the musicians have worked to create. To tell if a piece is complete, watch the conductor. When she or he lowers the baton, and drops his or her hands, the piece is done and it’s time to applaud. Another way to tell is that the conductor may turn around and acknowledge the audience. If you’re in doubt, don’t be quick to applaud, but instead, wait and take your cue from others.

At a play, don’t interrupt and interfere with the flow of the performance by applauding, shouting, or whistling, no matter how wonderful the scene. Instead, hold your applause until the end of each act. Applaud again at the conclusion of the performance.

A standing ovation is the supreme compliment to performers and musicians. Not every performance deserves one, yet people have started to render this honor as if it is a matter of course. Save standing “Os” for those times when they are truly sincere.

In addition to following these courtesies yourself, give your children a lasting holiday gift by practicing these skills at school programs, church, Saturday afternoon movies, and at their annual dance and music recitals.

 

 

 

 

Posted on

Maximize Holiday Mingling

Year-end brings a flurry of opportunity for holiday mingling at receptions, programs, and other entertainments to thank donors, congratulate December graduates, celebrate with employees, and welcome the New Year. In our office, December 1 begins a string of entertaining that continues non-stop until the last graduate leaves the parking lot after commencement on December 10. Universities spend thousands of dollars and hours of staff time to make certain each guest list is accurate, the program is perfect, the décor sets the right tone, and the food is delicious in order to thank and impress guests with an eye toward affirming or deepening their future involvement. We’ve got event logistics down pat, but are we getting the most out of our staff involvement?

Too often advancement and other university staff, such as deans and vps, attend functions only to congregate in a cluster talking to primarily to each other, or appear just long enough to have a drink and nosh on prime catering before mentally checking the “I did it” box and making an early exit. Meaningful engagement between staff and guests is the only way to garner ROI on any kind of event, but it is especially important during year-end gatherings when giving is in the air and people are in a charitable mood.  Here are some tips to help your team maximize their effectiveness:

Be clear about the event’s purpose. Who is the audience and why is this function being held?

Review the proposed guest list before invitations are issued, adding new prospects and subtracting people who have moved, elected officials who are no longer in office, and cleaning up data base land mines like names of former spouses still linked to their exes, or worse, names of people who have died.

Always take Rsvps and assign advancement staff to greet and spend time with, a specific list of guests. Staff should research each person on their list to understand each guest’s interests, history with your school, and his or her current involvement. Make certain staff are aware of significant occurrences in guest’s lives such as a recent death in the family, or happy news, like a job promotion or child’s graduation.

Notify the deans and other ranking personnel about which of their key constituents, donors, or prospects will be present.

Require advancement staff to arrive no later than 30 minutes ahead of the event starting time. This ensures school representatives are present to greet guests as they arrive.

Be certain advancement staff know details like the locations of food, bars and restrooms, what time the program will begin, and where to put coats.

Brief staff on what to do in case of emergencies such as sudden illness, falls or fainting, or the need to evacuate.

All advancement staff should be up-to-date and ready to converse on school happenings ranging from athletics teams’ records to the latest news on research projects.

Keep cell phones out-of-sight and concentrate on conversing with the guests.

Because many people are sensitive about their reputations, particularly if they are attending an event where alcohol is being served or that might be associated with a political point-of-view, never take photos of guests without their permission, especially if the intention is to post images online.

Staff should not enter “behind the scenes” areas such as the kitchen or prep rooms. Having extra people in these areas impedes workers and, depending on local ordinances, can also constitute a health department violation. Besides, staff belong with the guests, not hiding backstage!

Require advancement staff to remain until the event is over, otherwise, guests can be left without university representatives with whom to converse.

The next business day, conduct a debriefing with your team to collect information resulting from the conversations they had and to develop next-step action items.

For more tips on how to work a room, download my CASE webinar, “Conferences, Receptions, and Cocktails” at www.case.org. Click on Publications and Products, Store, and under Product Type, find Webinars. To arrange an on-site customized training for your team, contact me at april@aprillharris.com.

 

 

 

Posted on

Catering to Dietary Requests

A recent “Special Events Magazine” survey of caterers revealed that special dietary requests from guests attending meetings and events now constitute 20 percent of an audience, up from five percent 10 years ago.

While requests for special meals due to religious or medical reasons must be honored, these days, requests are often more a matter of personal preference than necessity. Vegetarian, gluten-free, vegan, and organic are common and easily accommodated requests. Things get more complicated (and expensive) when guests request specific food items or preparation techniques. Last week’s requests included steamed vegetables only, a particular brand of coconut water, and meat sourced from a specific vendor. The most challenging are people who walk in and announce their restrictions, expecting to be accommodated on the spot.

In our “have it now” society, guests don’t realize that catered events don’t have the flexibility of restaurants and that the menus for meals at a private home, the president’s official residence, for example, are planned well in advance. There is no larder behind the kitchen door stocked like a gourmet grocery store. Options for unexpected substitutions are often quite limited. What’s an event planner to do?

While it won’t always be possible to accommodate all requests, our job is to make everyone feel welcome. The foods we serve are perhaps the most personal way to do so.

The best way to prepare is by thinking in advance about the guest list, your locale, and the capabilities of your caterer. Caterers report the Millennial generation is the most apt to make special requests. More than half of the top ten vegetarian cities in the U.S. are university towns. If you live in one them, it goes without saying that you should be prepared to host many vegetarians at your events. If your alumni include a high percentage of people who observe religious dietary laws, obviously, you need to plan accordingly.

Discuss the guest list with your caterer in advance trying to anticipate special requests. For a served meal it is preferable to select a menu that can be discreetly customized so that all plates look the same. For example, a beef entrée with several sides of vegetables can be easily modified by substituting the meat with a vegetarian product and keeping the same sides.

On a buffet, offer a wide variety of options labeling each food, noting which are vegetarian, which have common allergens such as nuts or seafood, and which are gluten-free so that guests can select the foods that meet their needs.

Create a special request drop-down on computer registration sites or on rsvp cards. Limit the number of choices to help control frivolous requests such as one we recently received from a woman who replied to attend an academic symposium. She provided a long list of foods she doesn’t like and won’t eat, noting at the end she is, however, willing to eat organic honey.

State a deadline for special requests and note that while you will try to accommodate requests after that time, no guarantee is made. This gives you and the caterers time to prepare and some wiggle room when people show up at the last minute demanding a special meal.  One word of caution: When one events planner recently took dietary requests online, the responses jumped to 30 percent of the guest list.

If you’re the one with special dietary needs, it’s polite to confine your requests to restrictions based on serious needs (allergies, religious laws, vegetarianism) vs. simple preferences (you don’t like tomatoes). Always make your needs known when accepting an invitation.  If you forget, it is poor form to put your host on the spot by expecting to be accommodated when you arrive. Instead, simply avoid or discreetly decline the foods that you cannot eat and catch a snack on the way home!

 

Posted on

Fly the Flag Proudly, But Don’t Eat On It!

My favorite holiday, July 4th, is next week, bringing with it all of the picnics, fireworks, outdoor concerts, parades and top of the summer fun that Americans associate with the occasion. It’s a red, white, and blue long weekend of food and festivities to celebrate the birth of our country. Flags will be everywhere. That’s great on one hand, but it’s also important to remember what the flag symbolizes and treat it with respect. The Stars and Stripes are the sacred symbol of our country and represent the ongoing successful evolution of the greatest experiment in government the world has ever known. Thousands of people have died for our flag and the freedoms for which it stands.

In our exuberance to celebrate America, we often unintentionally disrespect the flag by using it in ways that diminish its meaning.

The flag is not a decoration. Instead, it should be displayed as a symbol of patriotism. If you need a holiday-appropriate decoration, use red, white, and blue bunting instead.

The flag should not be printed on disposable paper products such as paper plates, napkins, or tablecloths. “Patriotic Party Ware” kits are advertised in this week’s circulars and include everything from plastic silverware to flag beer cups. It’s hard to imagine why covering the flag with beer, bar-be-cue, and baked beans would be a fitting way to show love of country.

The flag should not be represented on swim trunks, flip flops, tee shirts, beach towels or used to cradle your behind on a flag-festooned folding umbrella-style chair while you watch the fireworks.

The flag should not be draped over the hood, top, sides, or back of a car or boat.

If you and your family don’t own an American flag, now is a great time to purchase one and display it proudly at your residence throughout the July 4th weekend.  Just remember to bring it inside when you get home from the fireworks so it’s not left outdoors in the dark.

A comprehensive guide to properly displaying the American flag can be found in a pamphlet called, “Our Flag,” available from the U.S. Government Printing Office at http://bookstore.gpo.gov.

Information about flag protocol is posted on my web site http://correctoncampus.com under the Etiquette and Protocol tab.

Happy 241st Birthday, America!

Posted on

Dress for Summer Success

Summer weather arrived this week in full hot, sticky force making getting dressed for work a challenge. Despite the skimpy and skin-tight clothes that Hollywood wears, most of us live and work in far more conservative environments meaning no matter how hot it is, we can’t go to work barely clothed.

Special events planners and development officers must always look polished and put together. We never know when we may be called to arrange an impromptu meeting for the president, give a presentation, or have lunch with a donor. Here are some easy ways to look professional regardless of the humidity.

Women: Trade in your suits for polished dresses. I’m not talking about strapless sun dresses or those with spaghetti straps. Stick with sheath-style dresses that have a jewel or U-neck and short or cap sleeves. Light weight ponte knit is cool and resists wrinkles so you always look fresh. Dresses are more cool than pants because your legs aren’t wrapped in fabric.

Dressy sandals are ok in many offices; as long you have a pedicure. Flip flops are never appropriate for work. On important days, closed-toe pumps are the most professional. Either way, stick with heels that are three inches or less and avoid thick platform soles so that you can walk comfortably. Stockings are optional, but for important occasions such as a board meeting, or if you are interviewing, very sheer panty hose add a more finished look to your legs.

Jackets communicate an air of authority but there is nothing more uncomfortable than a heavy, lined jacked in the summertime! Summer suits are sometimes inevitable, so choose lightweight fabrics that hold their press and resist wrinkles such as tropical weight wool or synthetics that offer a bit of stretch. Linen is a great summer look, but it is notorious for wrinkles. Scale back what’s underneath to a breathable silk or lace tank, but choose a style that completely covers your bra straps and does not show cleavage. It’s fine to cool off by removing your jacket while in your own office, but definitely put it on when you leave your office for any reason.

Unless you are attending the office picnic, or an outdoor alumni gathering, skip capris and shorts at the office. Instead, pick full-length pants that send a polished and put together professional message. When the occasion is an outdoor function, good casual options are knit summer dresses or casual skirts and knit tops. The caveat is that dresses and skirts should not be super short, skin tight, or display your cleavage. Golf outings call for Bermuda shorts or golf skirts. Choose a length that extends to just above your knee.

Despite aggressive marketing messages to the contrary, unless you are a fitness instructor, clothing that falls in the “athleisure” category is not appropriate for the office. This includes leggings, stretchy skin-tight tank tops, yoga pants, sneakers, and slouchy sweatshirts (even those made of cashmere!). This entire category of admittedly very comfortable clothing, belongs at the gym or at home, but not at work or in public.

Summer means offices, restaurants, theatres, jets, and hotels are often freezing cold with overly aggressive air conditioning. Toss that ugly, old sweater that you keep in your office for this purpose and replace it with a stylish, lightweight shawl called a pashmina. Choose one in a summer color for a versatile and portable defense. A travel essential, a pashmina can be rolled into your computer bag or tucked into your in-flight carry on so it’s always conveniently at hand.

Men: At least one tropical weight wool suit is a summer staple and depending on where you live, can be worn up to nine months a year. Choose a classic navy for the most versatility. If you wear a suit often, other cool fabric options are seersucker, poplin, or linen. A summer-weight blazer in blue is a wardrobe essential.

On casual days, a dress shirt (plain or patterned with or without a tie) with sleeves turned up paired with khaki trousers and a great watch, is a good look. Never choose a short-sleeved dress shirt. Collared polo shirts are the next level down in casual, but appropriate for outdoor activities, sporting events, and golf outings. Polos should be in new condition, not faded or sagging. Tee shirts that have advertising or other sayings should never be worn to work.

Good casual pant choices are khakis or chinos that will hold a press and look polished. Resist the temptation to wear your favorite jeans (you are not a college student), especially ones that are faded or have a saggy seat. Shorts are not appropriate for the office but you may need a pair for outdoor activities and the golf course. Shorts should be tailored, pressed, and worn with a belt, of a length that reaches to just above the knee, not the shapeless, super-casual pull-on variety. Many golf courses have dress codes that require men to wear collared shirts and that specify the length of shorts. Always check to avoid being denied access or asked to change into a spare pair of “house shorts” kept on hand for this purpose. You can never go wrong doing as the touring pros do and wear long slacks instead.

Sandals not appropriate for men at work, but remember that you will need seasonal footwear to match your summer attire. This includes dress shoes for your suits, and loafers or similar for more casual looks. Socks are essential when wearing trousers or a suit. Ditch the athletic shoes. They are too casual for the office. For those times when you do need sandals (escorting an alumni kayaking trip, for example), be sure your feet are appropriately groomed by treating them to a pedicure.