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How to Earn an A+ in Business Etiquette

by Elizabeth Howell, guest blogger

Although public relations professionals are not required to pass an academic course on etiquette, knowing how to properly communicate outside of press releases and blog posts is a lesson that is essential. Engaging with clients and co-workers at promotional events and professional seminars requires public relations practitioners to understand the nuances of proper business etiquette.

Imagine spilling a drink on the CEO of your firm’s largest account or forgetting the name of an honored guest. Nothing could be more embarrassing for one who is expected to be skilled in the art of communication.

Judith Bowman teaches professionals how to dodge these party fouls in her book Don’t Take the Last Doughnut. Take a look at some of the highlights from my two favorite chapters to ensure your manners match up:

The first key to avoiding networking nightmares is to eat before the event. You are not there to drool over the mini quiche; you are in attendance to represent your company and make connections. Also, drink sparingly, if not at all. If you do have a glass, always place it in your left hand. This ensures that your right hand will be free for introductions and prevents it from becoming wet and clammy. Never assume someone wants your business card. Always ask, “May I offer you my card?” or “May I ask you for your card?”

Though requesting to exchange cards is usually proper etiquette, never ask very senior executives for their business cards. Protocol suggests that top-level leaders exchange business cards only among their peers. You are expected to know how to contact the individual and follow-up after the event.

Formal business introductions call for the use of honorifics. Men are “Mr.” and women are “Ms.,” unless a woman says she prefers “Mrs.”

Remember to keep the introduction parallel. If you refer to one individual by first and last name, you must address the second individual by first and last name. Forgetting to do so slights the second individual. If you have forgotten the first name of one party, it is perfectly acceptable to introduce both individuals by last name only.

Always say the name of the most important person first, followed by “May I introduce to you” (professional phrasing), or “May I present to you” (the more formal phrasing); then say the name of the less senior individual. Also make sure that the most important person is standing to your right.

But who is the most important person? Bowman provides a few examples that are helpful to remember in this tricky situation:

When introducing a customer to the CEO, whose name is said first?
“In this case, the customer’s. Without the customer, there would be no business and no CEO.”

When introducing your spouse to the CEO at the holiday party, whose name do you say first?
“The CEO’s. Not because your spouse is less important, but because this is a company party and you want to show respect.”

Suppose the individuals are equal in rank?
“You may use age to determine the order of the introduction; the elder is introduced first. Or you may use gender; the woman’s name is said first.”

When introducing a high-ranking government official to your CEO, whose name is said first?
“The official. Any elected official outranks anyone in the private sector.”

How should you introduce one very senior person to a room full of people?
“Say the name of the senior person and then invite the individuals to say their own names and titles.”

So, if you’re nervous about introducing third parties, or can’t stop looking at the seafood buffet, it’s time to kick those cocktail party blues to the curb. Remember Judith Bowman’s tips, and you can gain the confidence to earn an A+ in business etiquette.

For international etiquette tips, read Katy Echols’ Platform article “Reaching Across Borders.”


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