The Side Effect of Royal Weddings for (real) Protocol Professionals

The Side Effect of Royal Weddings for (real) Protocol Professionals
A personal comment by Thomas Sladko

A post on ISPD’s social media channels recently attracted a lot of attention when the ISPD mentioned, on the very day after the recent British royal wedding, that it would not comment on such a ceremony. The ISPD posted a picture taken by an expert in London (where the event did not take place) to underline this message.

Most observers immediately understood the essence of ISPD’s message and totally agreed; however, to others, the matter had to be explained and that is how it came to my attention and I felt the need to defend the profession of protocol – again!

In fact, the post illustrated a quite interesting phenomenon that exists in the world of protocol, etiquette and ceremonies: Every time such an event takes place, numerous self-proclaimed etiquette experts pop into the limelight to convey their opinions about just the most superficial aspects of the ceremony, and endlessly discuss the dresses, the flowers, the meal, the behaviour, etc. I doubt that these opinions (packaged as the term ‘etiquette’ and wrapped in an insubstantial veil of ‘expertise’) are indeed based on self-generated know-how or experience. Nevertheless, this phenomenon exists and, for the sake of passing amusement, they should exist.

One could ask what all this has to do with the title of this blog. Well, the fact is, most people don’t know a thing about protocol, and some even assume that a protocol is used to track IP numbers. The situation is similar with the term ‘etiquette’: it is all ostensibly about small talk, sitting upright, and not speaking while chewing. This restrictive attention to detail is the reason why some people shiver just thinking about using their fork and knife in the correct way at a formal table. It is easy to assume that etiquettes are only for the rich and famous, and therefore not applicable to people’s day-to-day life, and that those who teach etiquettes must be somehow strange just thinking about all these things every day. Furthermore, many consultants have the “I know all” approach that can be super annoying to anyone who has to listen or read their books or comments.

Because the public misunderstands and confuses the terms ‘protocol’ with ‘etiquette’, the bad reputation of etiquette consultants is transferred willy-nilly to the poor and innocent us – the protocol professionals.

Well, we already appear to be a little strange because we concern ourselves with details that seem irrelevant or obvious to everyone else: Where exactly is the entrance to the venue? Where are the restrooms? Which way will the VIP go when exiting the building? How many people fit into this elevator? Where will the cars be parked? Are there sufficient umbrellas for the delegation? The list is endless, and many hotel managers, event organisers or museum directors have lost their patience with me over the years!

Furthermore, when we work, we don’t eat, drink, sweat, go to the toilet, take photos with VIPs in luxury locations (or worse, post selfies of events and guests on our social media profiles), take breaks, sit, or sleep. This dedication is simply unthinkable for most people!

Standing next to the best and most gorgeous buffet and not helping ourselves to the spread (or packing food for the family and friends at home) makes protocol professionals appear ‘not human’.

Not taking a selfie with @leaelui (the latest Instagram phenomenon) when meeting her is incomprehensible.

Moreover, we tend to be perceived by everyone (drivers, pilots, hostesses, journalists, protocol staff of the counterparts, technicians, etc.) as individuals with whom no one – except the security guys – can have a normal conversation.

Of course, it might look strange to many people that we do not get nervous when the President of the European Commission enters the room, or when Jean Penn, Heidi Klum or Arnold Schwarzenegger are around. But then, everyone who has escorted a VIP from the backstage area to the stage and has had the chance to chat or swap a small talk with the rich, popular and powerful leaders of our world knows exactly how easygoing top level VIPs can be when the cameras are off.

On the other hand, some of the top VIPs I’ve had to take care of are literally sitting in prison at this very moment. I am not going to mention names but this is a fact. Maybe that is why protocol professionals gain – after some time – these special attitudes when dealing with the VIPs. Perhaps, we simply see them as quite human.

And if all these stereotypes and assumptions by the public about the protocol profession are not sufficient, we also have to bear an undeserved share of the bad reputation of etiquette consultants and coaches. They present protocol to the public as being all about etiquettes, dressing, grooming, holding a cup of tea correctly, hairstyle, table manners, manners in general, outfits, dancing classes, behaviour, finishing, table set-up, eating with the correct cutlery, making small talks, candles, superficiality, luxury, caviar, champagne, security, police, snipers, bodyguards, celebrities, jet-set life, weddings, wedding planners, knowing the difference between a smoking jacket and a tuxedo (yes there is one), short dresses, cocktails, spending unlimited money and other vanities. This is simply ridiculous and not true at all! And imagine, these so called “etiquette specialists” are charging people a tidy sum for their finishing courses when, sometimes, the courses consist of basic knowledge and know-how obtained from, well, Wikipedia(!).

Royal weddings – especially the ones from the Great Britain – are career high points for these consultants (mushrooms or mosquitoes as they are sometimes called, because they are attracted by the glare of the public spotlight). Once again, etiquette consultants snatch at the opportunities, reinforcing the incorrect perception of the protocol profession and making protocol as a profession look strange. If you don’t believe me, check the social media profiles of all these coaches, consultants, experts, and commentators. The more posts you find about 19 May 2018, the more you’ll understand what I am talking about.

I observed during the many years in this profession that really talented protocol practitioners are super hard to find, which is a great pity. Many of ISPD’s course participants have the talent to become outstanding. Unfortunately, some simply underestimate the scope of the real protocol environment by assuming that knowing how to set up a table in Italy provides sufficient knowledge to organise a business forum in the Middle East.

They assume that as a protocol expert, one attends cocktail receptions and weddings, drinks champagne, talks about the weather with the Prime Minister of Greece and how lovely the table is set up for the state banquette, or gossips about the horrible dress worn by the Guest of Honour’s spouse – all while earning 25.000 Euros each month for this jet-set life.

I may be destroying a lot of illusions now, but the profession is not like that. I honestly advise everyone who would like to work in this profession to think really well before attending any of the so-called finishing classes by an etiquette coach.

The image of the world of protocol which you will receive from these courses would not fit reality.

Recently, I had a very interesting privatissimum with a young man from Brazil who wanted to become a protocol professional, and I was horribly candid. We had a long conversation, and at the end, he thanked me for being honest with him.

To become a really good and highly respected professional, I believe one has to work hard, resist the urge to be in the public spotlight and copy others, be humble and willing to learn, observe, listen, and live his/her own experiences.

You should develop intercultural and soft skills in negotiation, and talk as much as possible with experienced protocol professionals, or receive a sound education that follows an academic curriculum and structure with a programme which offers courses on a step-by-step learning approach.

Only then you will know that organising a wedding with a budget of 50 million Dollars is actually quite easy. Organising a wedding – or any type of event – with zero budget can be quite a challenge, but I have never read any comment by an etiquette consultant about any such events. Is this a coincidence?

The blog mirrors the personal option of the author. The ISPD cannot be held responsible.

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