Proper personal presentations
- By Ray Carter

Growing up, your mother probably said to mind your manners. Turns out, mom was right. A lack of social skill cannot only cost relationships; it can also cost you money, according to Gloria Auth, director of the MBA Program at the University of Central Oklahoma.

That's why Auth is teaching a course on corporate etiquette and international protocol at UCO in December.

She said the course would teach students the rules of etiquette from the ground up.

"We're going to start people from scratch - how to introduce themselves, how to introduce other people eye contact, handshaking, body language," she said.

Handshaking? Eye contact? While those skills seem grade-school simple, Auth said many adults today haven't mastered them. "It seems so basic, but it has declined," she said.

Auth, who was recently trained and certified as a Corporate Etiquette and International Protocol Consultant by the Protocol School of Washington in Washington, D.C. said etiquette skills have become "a lost art" that's needed to succeed in the global marketplace.

"It costs relationships, and relationships cost businesses money," she warned.

Part of the problem, Auth believes, is that college students experience a sort of culture shock when they graduate and enter the business world.

"It's unfamiliar social territory for a lot of students," she said. "They're jumping from eating at McDonald's and eating over the sink and on the run to trying to entertain clients at a relaxed dinner. And they're so concerned about 'what am I doing, am I doing it right,' that they can't focus on the business or the interview."

She said her course would give those students a primer in social skill.

"If you know these things in advance and you're comfortable with yourself, then you're not ill at ease. And by you being comfortable, you make the person you're with comfortable," Auth said.

"I want the students to come away from this feeling comfortable and confident that they can present themselves out there to the business world."

Auth said the course would have three main components: business etiquette, a dining tutorial (with an international emphasis) and international protocol. This class, worth one hour of college credit, will be conducted from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. the Monday and Tuesday before Christmas (16 classroom hours).

"It's intensive immersion," Auth said.

She said the course was scheduled so working professionals could attend.

While the class limit is 24 students "because we do a lot of interactive, participatory-type things," Auth said those slots filled quickly.

"I could have filled it 10 times," she said.

In fact, the students enrolled in the class represent all ages and many are working professionals, Auth said.

A major focus of the class will be on personal presentation. Auth said "the way you present yourself, the way you look, your body language, your handshaking, your eye contact, your body space" all impact the immediate impression you make. She said students would learn how to gauge the appropriate response to varying professional situations, personalities and settings.

"You have to balance. You want to kind of match who you're dealing with," Auth said. "You want to match their behavior with your personal behavior."

She said that requires people to be aware of the nonverbal cues displayed by their prospective boss or business associate - and that's not as easy as it sounds.

"It takes practice. It definitely takes practice and that's what we do in the class," she said. "We practice these skills. It's not something that they walk out of the door and have this instant (ability). You have to break bad habits."

While women are normally considered to be better at picking up other people's non-verbal cues, Auth said many women still need to work on their own non-verbal signals.

"Women sometimes will present themselves as timid, just the way they hold their hands. And in the business world, some of these things are just not appropriate, she said. "In the social world they're more acceptable, but in the business world, if they want to come across as being somebody who is confident and dealing with somebody on a professional level, they have to be thinking about how they're presenting themselves."

Auth said personal space issues and cultural differences could be very important in international business situations. In Arab cultures, she noted, people are used to "intense" eye contact and being in very close proximity to people.

"That makes most Americans uncomfortable," she said.

As a result, Auth said Americans should "be aware of that and not back away" when confronted with someone from that culture. Otherwise, she said, a person could easily offend a prospective business associate. And each culture presents different issues. For example, Auth said the American attitude about time - being prompt and keeping meetings short and to the point - doesn't fly in Mexico.

"They're a little more laid back and relaxed and tend to be a little more social and drag things out a little longer," she said. "Americans just typically do it now, get it over with, and a lot of cultures just don't do business like that. They like to get to know you a little better."

She hopes the etiquette course will increase awareness of those issues and help her students avoid potential pitfalls in the business arena.

"People are uncomfortable with things that are different," she said, "And so (the class stresses) being aware and just learning it a little bit and being sensitive to the fact that our way is not the only way."

By learning that lesson, Auth said her students can dramatically increase their worth to potential employers. "Employers are looking for employees who will represent their companies in the best light," she said, "They want diplomats."

The Journal Record - Growth Strategies - November 27, 2000

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