Protocol and Ceremonial Procedures by Captain José Paulo Lucena, Staff Officer at NATO SHAPE, Protocol Expert

1. Introduction

This text pretends to help those who have direct and indirect responsibilities regarding the organization of events and ceremonies. This moment forward I am going to refer to them as protocol practitioners. They can be either from the public or private sector.

When we are organising one event or ceremony we must keep in mind what is the purpose and that we are going to have guests attending our special moment. These guests, independently of their “importance” they have expectations that should not be hampered. Said that, and phrasing Ines Pires[1], Protocol is not about us (protocol agents) is about the others (guests).

There are lots of actions to be taken in order to plan, organise, coordinate and execute an event or ceremony. I am going to try to list, based on my experience as a protocol practitioner, the most important and critical steps for the achievement of a good performance during a complex and demanding moment as a ceremony or event are.

As mentioned we are dealing with people´s expectations and those most be manage in an adequate manner to avoid misunderstands and no return situations that potentially jeopardise the aim of the event or ceremony. Therefore, a protocol practitioner must be seen as a sensibility manager. That´s why, in the protocol world, we tend to state that protocol is 10% of rules and 90% of judgement (common sense).

An event or ceremony might be very well planned and organised, but, if during the execution the protocol practitioner is not trained and prepared for react to unexpected situations the chaos might raise and the aim of the event is going to be failed.

I am going to explain, step by step, what are the main actions that a protocol practitioner must do and those that must be taken in consideration to have a full control of the event. Or, at least, to minimise the possibility of having an uncontrolled situation.

[1] CEO and President of ISPD+

2. Procedures

a) Planning

For planning purposes the protocol practitioner should have a planner for the following time frames, annual, monthly and weekly.

Sometimes it is not very easy to have a very accurate planning, but at least we must have a clear view of the main events and ceremonies that our entities, under our responsibility, are going to attend or have to prepare. For this the annual planner fits very well. Then, a fine tuning must be done for the others planners, the monthly and weekly.

Keeping an up to date planner minimize the possibility of overlapping events and to guarantee that the entities, under our responsibility, do not misses important events or ceremonies. My suggestion is for the annual planner being approved by a higher responsible than the protocol practitioner. Normally this should be approved by a director´s level. Nowadays, it is very easy to use outlook calendar to help managing this kind of events. But, it is up to the protocol responsible decides which tools will suites better his or her needs and way of working and managing things. For some people, an Excel spreadsheet still is the best way to plan events, for others the outlook calendar or tasks are other means. There is no unique solution. We most tailored the tools accordingly with our needs and skills. At the end, what matters is that the protocol practitioner has a full control over his or her activities and can forecast potential risks and react in anticipation.

As an example, typically, we plan the internal events that occurs every year, like, the organization or enterprise anniversary day. Then, we plan those events we are 40 to 70 % sure that our responsible will attend. This should be done based on experience taken from others years. Finally, we will plan the invitations received in advance. Keep in mind that “poor planning precludes poor performance.”

b) Execution

During this phase, we might be involved in two ways: as responsible for the event organization, or, as responsible for our entity attendance.The latter is normally less complex. We just need to schedule the event and confirm our entity presence in the event. For the other we have, normally, a more complex role, which requires a set of tasks that usually involves a team. The first step is to list all tasks and each responsible in order to have a clear view of what is need to have done and who is in charge of what. Accountability is very relevant to make sure everyone realises their role and feels involved in the mission and task or tasks necessary to accomplish for the success of the event. This might be achieved by means of a check list. This list should be tailored to the event we are going to manage and should go as deep as necessary to guarantee that every detail is mentioned. In an overall approach, we would say that this list must have the tasks in chronological order, with a description of what we do pretend to achieve and the actors as well as the responsible. This tool is very important to make sure everything is done prior to the execution of the event, as well as, everyone is aware of their responsibilities and tasks. Sometimes, several steps overlap during planning and execution phases, for instance the guest list. Every organization should have a standard guests list, desirably approved by the direction. Although an organization have her standard guests list, it is common to tailor the final guest list accordingly with the event type and the final message we want or need to communicate.

The guest list is the main tool to clear the invitations. This list at least must have the following information: Title, Name, Post, Address, Contacts (mobile, e-mail), seniority (diplomatic and military) and a field for confirmation. This field must have room to identify who confirm the presence or no presence and date. For confirmation purposes, it is common to use a colour code as follows: Green – Presence confirmed; Red – Absence confirmed; Yellow – Confirmation unknown and Black – Not invited.

If everything was properly planned, invitations should be issued between 25 to 30 days prior to the event. This procedure allows our guests to have more time to plan their potential attendance and gives your organization more chance to have the target audience attending the moment you have planned with so many dedication and effort. Keep in mind that in the Protocol world, as protocol practitioners, we are not doing this actions for us, we are doing this work for the others, which are the organization’s guests. By inviting them we are creating expectations that must be match, otherwise we are dropping opportunities to influence others or passing a very important and determinant message. Depending on the cultural of the country, of the organization and even the enterprise activity, when we have the organising role, we can either put the onus on the guest or not regarding the positive attendance confirmation. This means that, sometimes, after the established deadline for a guest to confirm his or her attendance an organization can either assume the person will not show up or you will try everything to obtain a positive attendance confirmation. With the later approach, which means more internal work, you will have a more clear and accurate list of attendances. Following the primary approach, you are putting all the burden on the guest and assuming that you will handle potential hard situations on the event’s day. Meaning that you might have guests showing to the event that didn’t confirm their presence and are willing to take part of the ceremony. As I mention, this is a matter of cultural awareness. My experience dictates that the South European countries it is not common to transfer the onus to guest, for the other hand, the North European countries, it is more common to pass the responsibility to the guests. Now you have a closed confirmed list of guests. Depending on the type of event you might need to do a seating or siting plan.

c) Seating or Siting Plan

We have a guest list and now what? Are we going to seat them, to keep them stand?

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