Effective Etiquette, Tools & Strategies to Attain and Retain Your Professional Best

Whether it be a simple business call , as a speaker for a large group, or when simply dining with friends, that personal aura surrounding you when you are confident of your manners and actions, is a powerful tool in making your way successfully to the top in life and in business.  

The following are proven  techniques and skills that will allow you to smoothly navigate your way through even the most demanding of social and business situations.

Watch your posture and body language: Bill Clinton used this quite a bit, but other countries may have taken it wrong. 'Thumbs up' translates as the foulest of gesticular insults in many countries. The most straightforward interpretation being "Up yours, buddy!" In Brazil, a 'thumbs up' can be used as one way of expressing 'thanks'. In Japan, the 'thumbs up' in sign language, indicates a man, or male gender. (An extended 'pinky' finger indicates female, or a woman)
  1. Be on time, and from the moment you arrive at your destination, or receive business callers or guests, keep your posture open and relaxed.  
  2. Do not “body wrap”.  Body language and meanings of gestures can vary throughout the world and can be misinterpreted easily.  According to authorities on kinesics (the science of nonverbal language), what a person is saying verbally can be loudly contradicted by the person’s own body language.
  3. This is also true for hand gestures.  Use gestures with your hands sparingly. They can accentuate your message when done correctly, but they can also distract and detract from your message, if overdone. 
  4. When entering a room, especially if nervous, stand tall and pause slightly at the door.  Then slightly pause again before taking your seat. Oddly, the more time to pause you take, the more status others will attribute to you.  You are creating an air of importance. One caveat; Go much longer than a momentary pause, and others may see you as weak or hesitant.                 
  5. Do not let your emotions or fears allow your body to reveal themselves through desperate or  aggressive posturing.  Display assertiveness instead, by slightly leaning in toward a person to show you are listening attentively.  Then move back slightly when you are speaking, so as not to appear aggressive.
  6. Ask where you should sit before sitting down.  Survey the room casually to know who you will ultimately need to impress.  If you are in a boardroom for example, look to see who is sitting where. If you are in any type of negotiations, you will want to know who sits in the “Power Seats”.  Seated at the head of the table is the person holding the most power.  Second in power is generally to that person’s left or right hand sides.  The only other real seat of power,  is at the opposite end of the table.  
  7. When dining socially at a formal dinner in the U. S., the seats of power in a couple’s home, for example, are the opposite ends of the table.  To the right of the host and hostess are the guests of honor.  To the left of the host and hostess, are those who are the second in importance. 
  8. Never directly point to someone or at someone.  If you need to recognize someone or gesture toward an object in the room to make a point, lay the palm of your hand out facing upward and gesture by stretching your hand out in the direction of the object or person you are mentioning. 
  9. Make sure you introduce yourself to all others around you who you do not already know.  Reintroduce yourself to persons who may have forgotten your name or meeting you before.  
  10. Have business cards ready to give to people you meet.  Always ask for one in return. 
  11. If giving a presentation of some sort, request the lighting be altered  if needed.  Excess noise reduction is also a must.  To be fighting for everyone’s eyes and ears is difficult even for the most experienced of professionals.
  12. Stick to a highly structured and “safe” agenda for any talk or speech you are giving. Avoid being trapped into speaking on something you are not ready to speak about, comfortable in speaking about, or something you are not knowledgeable about to a professional degree.  Do not try to “wing it”.  Unless you are an Oscar winning actor, your chances for success are slim.
  13. Be prepared to back up anything you say publicly or even privately.  When you have inevitably been given the status of "Expert" or  “Executive” you will find that even  the most private remarks of yours will be quoted.
  14. When in doubt, before you speak on sensitive issues or giving your personal opinion, you can drop the line, “This is strictly off the record...” or   “Speaking off the record for a moment...”  Said with a smile and conviction, the person you are speaking with will hopefully understand it isn’t to be repeated.  Beware; Your comments may still be quoted or repeated. Or even misused.  
  15. Remember... You can always politely choose not to comment or give your thoughts.  Saying something to the effect of "That's really none of your business!" is not a polite, nor well mannered way, to express your decision not to answer a particular question.  That is saying aloud that the question was rude or the person asking the question is rude. Your being rude would only demean you both. Politely say something to the effect of, "I am sorry, but I am not comfortable discussing such a personal subject at the moment." and change the subject immediately, or as quickly as possible.
  16. Tuck your chin downward, and keep your posture erect, to maintain eye contact on a level basis or lower.  Do not throw your head back, or over exaggerate in any way physically, to emphasize a point. 
  17. Do not “play” with bracelets, necklaces, ties,  earrings, accessories or items of clothing.  It will distract your listeners from your talk.  If nervous, make any movements out of  your audience’s  eyesight; bouncing knees, fiddling with items in your hands, etc... 
  18. Make your statements assertive as opposed to aggressive or passive.  For example: “I truly believe this is the correct choice.”  Not the passive; "I really hope you will agree with me."  Or the aggressive; “This is only choice for me and it should be for you too, if you're smart!”  Avoid the 'Wishy-washy'; “Maybe we should look at some other choices... I don’t know...  But for right now this is what I think...” That doesn’t work well in any  in any situation unless you want to be perceived as someone who has no real opinion. 
  19. On that note; Never use false sincerity or false personal statements as a gimmick to make a sale, win friends, or in an attempt to get your point across.  Phony testimonials, fake clients, and misleading statements can be more transparent that you think.  Aside from that, it is the most unethical and impolite of all business habits that some companies and business people engage in.  Listeners will see through you faster than you think and will leave them questioning your abilities, product or services.
  20. Unless your business is politics, refrain from discussing personal political opinion.  The display of political pins, buttons, or even bumper stickers on your car, etc... can kill your business and social ties 50% of the time.  If cornered by someone with little social savvy, who demands to know your affiliations,  use caution when giving an answer.  This same person was most likely a school yard bully in younger years, and may require “creative” or evasive answers.   Do not invite emotions or passions in to your business negotiations or social relations unless the politics are more important to you than the relationships themselves. 
  21. Control listeners with a brief pause if members of the group are whispering or otherwise causing a disturbance.  That pause will be heard loudly and generally will get the attention of the offenders. 
  22. Let listeners absorb what you’ve said before moving from one point to another.  Use a momentary pause or two to look around the room and make eye contact with several people before saying something like, “The next  point I’d like to mention... ” or “Another matter that needs to be discussed is...” 
  23. The average attention span for a speaker to an audience or group is only 20 minutes. (video or photo presentations- 8 minutes)  Attention drops considerably after the first 20 minutes and significantly more after 30 minutes.  Get key points across within the first 10 - 15 minutes to make your talk or presentation more memorable.  
  24. Try to sound natural.  Do not use tired phrases or jokes unless they are truly spontaneous or suddenly timely again.  “Culture speak”, or phrases and terms heard continually in popular songs, television commercials and advertising jingles are also best left out of professional conversation and presentations. 
  25. Archaic phrases, words and references may make you sound well- educated among some groups, however, they may also confuse your audience and throw off the effectiveness of your speech, or presentation, entirely.  Speaking plainly and simply will get you heard.
  26. Avoid using slang, buzz words or “ethnic speak” that you think might endear you to a specific group.  It can cause numerous problems, create misunderstandings and leave others with an impression of you that is unflattering.   One needs a big personality to pull that kind of speech off.
  27. When you are the one listening, try to recognize the needs and desires of those speaking.  Experts believe that a person’s conversation can have 2 or 3 differing levels of interpretation.  Do not assume you know someone is in agreement with you.  You can hear, “That’s a good idea...” and think the person agrees with you, when actually, he just thinks it’s a good idea, but not a good plan. 
  28. In mainstream American culture, nodding one’s head signifies agreement with someone.  Nodding one’s head, in many other cultures, only means the person understands you, not that that he or she agrees with you.  
  29. Just as you watch your own body language, watch those around you. What signals are you getting? If you are unsure of what people are saying to you, based on their physical posturing or behavior, do not be hesitant to ask them to elaborate.   
  30. Use personal stories and anecdotes sparingly.  If you frequently speak to the same people, chances are you’ve told the story previously.  
  31. Leave personal problems at home.  Don’t bring them to the office, meetings or your job or any public speaking events.  Everyone has bad days now and then.  You are not the rare person who experiences stress.  When you are in a place of business, keep a businesslike demeanor.  


  1. Great tips and helpful advice! Thanks for listing them. Not enough people come to business lunches or dinners actually prepared to do business.


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