Shelton protocol event serves up tips for coping ‘when life gets in the way’

Life – especially in business settings – presents plenty of unexpected situations, like, what should you do when ….. (fill in the blank with your worst awkward moment).

Kay Leonard, chief of protocol for the Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) and previously chief of command protocol for the U.S. Special Operations Command, has coached many through the same kinds of situations, including members of the military and government officials, helping them learn to face such situations with confidence and poise.  She did this while serving as chief protocol advisor to General Hugh Shelton, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. The NC State University Shelton Leadership Center is named in Shelton's honor.

Leonard spoke from the depth of her 20-plus years’ experience when presenting the annual General H. Hugh Shelton Leadership Center’s “Advanced Protocol: Outclass the Competition” seminar on Saturday, January 25, 2014, at NC State’s McKimmon Center. Nearly 100 NC State students attended sessions covering topics like the importance of protocol and greetings; how to eat – at home or the White House; dining like a diplomat; dress for success; and social graces.

Among the participants were six Poole College undergraduate students who had been nominated by the college to receive scholarships for the event: Eboni Bryson, freshman; Arnasha Jones, freshman; Vijayalakshmi Kasi, junior; Elizabeth Lor, senior; Lisa Redfearn, junior; and Jonathan Sitter, senior.

Also attending were at least five other Poole College students who had been nominated through their involvement in other University programs such as Hamilton Scholars, Chancellor's Scholars, Park Scholars, and Caldwell Scholars, explained Dr. Shannon Davis, Poole College associate dean.

Professional and personal skills

Several of the Poole students shared their key take-aways from the event.

Hearing about and being able to practice everything from a proper handshake to table etiquette, plus tips for proper professional attire was helpful, said Arnasha Jones, a freshman intending to major in accounting with a financial analysis concentration. She added that the event “was more than I expected, because I learned not only professional skills but personal skills … that will stay with me as I develop and achieve my career goals.” She also said she was surprise to learn of some of the real world incidents involving some of today’s “important individuals.”

Eboni Bryson, a freshman planning to major in accounting, said the event “was a complete surprise.” From the program’s title, she said, she had expected a seminar on leadership. What she experienced was “an engaging event where I could learn about how to (distinguish) myself when approaching employers,” she said.

Bryson said she was “able to relate to some of the stories the presenter told during the event, such as being a witness to genuine and selfless acts of kindness and how to cope in professional situations when life gets in the way.”

She also gained a greater understanding of the value of networking.

“During the luncheon, we had to sit with other students who were invited to the event. While it was uncomfortable at first, I learned the true value of networking in that hour and 30 minutes or so. I met students who were in programs that I eventually want to be a part of. Also, Kay – the speaker – showed some valuable items to have and (use) while job searching, such as a pad-folio and personal business cards,” she said.

My career starts now

“The event inspired me to brand myself and showed me the true value of preparing early for the real world. In reality, my career starts now, with networking and building my resume. Now I'm inspired to make business cards for myself and take even bigger steps to prepare for my career after college,” Bryson added.

Elizabeth Lor, a Poole College senior majoring in business administration with a concentration in human resources and a minor in accounting, said she had a pretty good idea of what to expect from the event: dining etiquette, including how to hold a conversation while dining with people you don’t know.

“The event met my expectations and took it even further by introducing me to a variety of solutions to help in any situation,” she said. “I learned that you should never discourage yourself from asking a question, regardless of the situation; there is no such thing as a dumb question. Even if there was, I'd rather ask a ‘dumb’ question than make a foolish mistake,” she said.

Leonard, Lor said, “was a wonderful presenter that kept the atmosphere fun and educational. One of the stories that she shared made me smile and want to be an inspiration like that as well. The story was about a four-star general who had been mistaken as a waiter, and was asked to get a drink for a young woman. Instead of being haughty, he got the woman the drink and laughed the whole incident off casually. That's someone I strive to be like, someone who is held at the highest standard and still humble enough to be a great person.

Two other key points that Lor took from the program:

  • Always thank the wait staff after the meal.
  • When talking with someone, make that person feel that they are the only person in the room.

That last point was particularly impactful, Lor said, because “I couldn't count the number of times in which I've been in a situation where I'm speaking to a person and they are turning away (toward) somewhere else.”

She added, “This, by far, was one of the best events I've attended. Not only do you get a delicious meal, but you get the opportunity to advance in your etiquette skills for future dinners or events. I will always remember the lessons I've learned (including) which way the forks go and how to make a toast at the end. Ms. Kay gives you great tips, not only on protocol but just proper lessons that anyone can benefit from. This has helped me gain an insight on proper dining and given me life lessons that I couldn't learn in a book. Anyone given the opportunity to attend an event like this shouldn't miss out.”

Jonathan Sitter, a senior in business administration with a concentration in finance, said he had expected a smaller group of student participants, but enjoyed the larger crowd. “I met many more students and new friends from different academic backgrounds than I had anticipated,” he said.

Among the learning points he took away was how to include people in groups, including:

  • You should verbally invite outsiders into a group. Though it may interrupt a conversation for a short while, it relieves tension and shows class.
  • Ask for permission before entering a group; it's a matter of being polite and not (causing) anyone to feel uncomfortable.
  • Defuse the situation. This consists of the first two (points) and things like introducing your friends to other friends when at a dinner or party or even dressing appropriately for an occasion.

“The main takeaway for me was how good everybody felt when we put extra attention on being polite and making sure everyone was respected,” Sitter said.

“It was a great time and everybody there wanted to learn,” he said. “The lunch was fantastic, the topic of etiquette made for funny/interesting conversation – believe it or not – and the environment was formal but very relaxed. I would recommend it to future students,” he said.

About the Gen. Hugh Shelton Leadership Center

The Gen. Hugh Shelton Leadership Center was founded in 2002 by Gen. Shelton following his retirement as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as a means of “giving back” to his alma mater and to assist in the development of the next generation of values-based leaders. The Poole College of Management partners with the Shelton Leadership Center to provide innovative approaches to executive and student education. More information can be found at the Shelton Leadership Center website.

In the photo

Left to right, front row: Eboni Bryant; Aaliyah Singleton; Kay Leonard, chief of protocol, Joint Special Operations University; Elizabeth Lor; and Vijayalakshimi Kasi. Back row: Chris Hitch, director, Shelton Leadership Center; Dr. Shannon Davis, associate dean, Poole College of Management; Jonathan Sitter; Sierra Moraven; and Taylor Beauprez. Poole College participants not in the photo: Jon Charest, Arnasha Jones, and Lisa Redfearn. 

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