*by Patricia Benoit-Guyot
As you all may realize, in Protocol the first impression starts at the entrance door. From the very first minute a VIP arrives they should feel expected, welcomed and looked after, a little like a very special guest at your home whom you wish to impress. I have organized many events with a large number of VIP guests (both ministerial and private sector) and as my full-time team only consists of me and one Assistant we often have to rely on the good services of willing volunteers in my organization in order to ensure an appropriate welcome.
I usually ask those people I know on whom I can rely and they often suggest other volunteers who would be interested to help out. However, it is absolutely essential to give some training to these volunteers before the event. Not because they may not know how to act, but because people who do not regularly work in Protocol can be quite nervous about welcoming guests – how to react – to shake hands or not – who walks in to the lift first – how to dress. Things that, with experience, will come to you naturally, but are not obvious to those who only help out occasionally.
Volunteers get asked to do a number of jobs and some of them would not appear to be very important, however, it should be explained that each one plays a vital role in ensuring the smooth-running of that all-important first impression. For example, I may ask someone to stay in a lift moving the guests from the entrance level to the meeting room level, or to walk the guests from the lift into the meeting room and hand them off to another volunteer who will accompany them to their seat. These are small tasks indeed, but they all add up to making the guest feel truly special.
At one event my Assistant was asked to stand in a certain spot and ensure that the delegation accompanying any VIP was conducted to a larger lift. A Director in our organization asked her to accompany someone else personally, and she refused, politely explaining that this was the task that was given to her and she could not move away and suggesting he should speak to me directly. Of course, he didn’t appreciate that and complained to me later. However, my Assistant was absolutely right! If she had left her post there would have been a lot of confusion as to how delegation members should proceed to the meeting. I was very proud of her and had to (once again very politely) explain to the Director that it was normal that she had to refuse. Her job was to stand still – and she did it very well.
*About the author:
Patricia Benoit-Guyot is the Chief of Protocol of the International Telecommunications Union and ISPD lecturer.