Top Tips for Business & Social Etiquette

Nervous about networking? You’re not alone.

In fact, an estimated 90 percent of people admit to feeling socially nervous or awkward in a business networking setting, such as a luncheon or speaker event. The good news is, there is plenty you can do to learn how to network and to do it well.

Patricia Rossi, host of the weekly segment “One Minute Manners” on NBC Daytime and nationally-acclaimed business etiquette coach, came to Southeastern the evening of February 15. SEU students, staff and faculty attended this presentation, where Rossi discussed the “rules of engagement” for proper business etiquette, effective personal interactions, and a successful personal brand.

She offers advice that can help you whether you’re an up-and-coming graduate, or you’ve been to more business functions over the years than you can count. “Honor people in your demeanor, your body language, and your words,” Rossi says. She notes that everything about you builds your “personal brand,” which encompasses how you are seen by everyone you interact with in person, via phone and online.

Building Your Personal Brand

Here are just a few of the many skill sets Rossi recommends working on to build your networking abilities and, by extension, your personal brand.

Choose the right conversation topics.

Some topics are widely acceptable and can give you the right “point of entry” to a pleasant conversation with a potential employer, business contact or client. These include family, travel and food. Rossi advises that controversial or uncomfortable topics, such as politics or money, must be avoided at all times in a business/networking setting.

Remember names.

“Never make people feel that you’ve forgotten them,” Rossi cautions. “Use visual cues when learning people’s names to help you remember them.” If you didn’t catch a name, don’t be afraid to ask to have it repeated. Then use it in conversation as appropriate to boost your memory.

Make contact the right way.

Everything from how you shake hands to what you do with a business card sends subtle messages to the person you are interacting with. For example, never put a business card in your pants pocket after someone gives one to you, and always hand out your own business card with your logo facing the recipient.

Rossi points out that while it is crucial to make personal connections with tangible items, such as handwritten thank you notes and business cards, she also touts the value of online connections that are made after meeting someone (such as connecting on LinkedIn). “Business cards can be lost, but online connections can last forever.”

Use correct body language and posture.

Rossi says that people can inadvertently send the wrong message just by how they stand or what they do with their hands. You can communicate confidence and kindness with how you hold yourself, such as by pointing your “toes, tummy and heart” toward another person.

Walk with confident posture by imagining that you’re being held up by an invisible string, and never cross your arms. Rossi calls these “tiny soft social skills” which make you come across as an open and welcoming person.

Abide by social media etiquette.

Social media is where people may get their first impression of you or their subsequent impression once meeting you. This is why Rossi says your social media presence can be either an asset or a detriment to your professional career. Sharing articles relevant to your personal interests and your academic or business field will elevate your personal brand. Ranting about controversial topics will not.

Learn the language of table manners.

Beyond knowing which fork to use and when, Rossi says that sharing a meal in a business setting is crucial. “Breaking bread is sacred,” she explains. “Business is often conducted over meals because dining engages all of the senses and tells others a lot about your character.”

Rossi also explains that your eating style should follow that of your host (“continental style” or “American style”) to avoid giving the wrong impression.

Disengage politely.

If you’re attending an event for the purpose of networking and someone is monopolizing your time, don’t just give the brush-off. Instead, offer a legitimate reason for needing to step away (e.g. “It was great chatting with you, but if you’ll excuse me, I need to speak with Mr. Smith before the program begins.”) Say something positive to the person that directly references your conversation, so that he/she will know that you were listening to them. (“Hope you enjoy your vacation next week.”)

Afterward, be sure to do what you said you would so that both your actions and your words are authentic.

Patricia Rossi’s Visit to SEU

“These are topics that everyone should know about, and that everyone can benefit from, no matter your stage of life,” said Pamela Crosby, senior director for COMPASS — The Center for Calling and Career at SEU. “When I met Patricia at an event and heard her speak, I knew that learning from her expertise would be an asset to our campus community.”

She was right. Rossi kept the entire SEU audience engaged with her lighthearted humor, energetic attitude, interactive teaching methods and real-world examples. The students in attendance especially appreciated that her approach to etiquette focuses on relationships rather than rules. Rossi enjoyed her time here as well. “Thank you [all] for making my heart full,” she tweeted shortly after the event.

“You always want to make another person feel at ease, and to be seen as likeable, respectable and trustworthy,” she explained. “The purpose of etiquette isn’t rules. It’s kindness.”

Rossi is also the author of the best-selling book “Everyday Etiquette: How to Navigate 101 Common and Uncommon Social Situations.”