Posts Tagged 'courtesy'

Let’s Get The Parties Started… Etiquette in the 1st UK Political Leaders’ Debate

Last night was the first ever publicly televised General Election Debate.  The pre-debate excitement was almost unbearable, as the Nation waited with baited breath to listen to what the three main parties had to say and, most importantly, to see who would triumph as Victor of Round One.

Public speaking matters.  It should reach beyond spin and PR and show the orator’s true convictions, beliefs and aspirations.  How often nowadays do we hear politicians speak on such a stage:  in the House of Commons exchanges are often no more than spats between quarrelling children, and soundbites are absorbed by text, email, newspapers and video broadcasts.  Last night was different, we were given a chance to listen to the three men who are asking us to allow them to govern our country – for better or for worse.

Communication is a powerful tool of etiquette and is perhaps increasingly so nowadays when so much is media-driven.  Pitch of voice, tone, body language and expression form an impression, together with grooming and presentation which far exceeds the importance of content.  As the Americans say, the winner is the one who can ‘walk the talk’.

Michael Foot and Margaret Thatcher, William Hague and Winston Churchill – all are memorable for their speech content and delivery in individual ways.  Nowadays so much is about the way we look and sound – and it is easy to forget that what matters is what people say and the way in which they say it.

First impressions count.  Last night each were immaculately turned out at first glance.  Gordon’s collar was too tight, but the silk ties were well knotted, and appropriately coloured.  Always use blocks of colour and avoid vivid patterns when appearing in front of the camera.  Their hair was well tamed and cut and each looked suave – though David Cameron by far the most poised and sophisticated of the three.

David stood at the podium as a headmaster might at a public school; authoritative, wise, and approachable, though slightly nervous at the start.  Nick slightly more relaxed in stature, still smart and correct, but giving an aura of chattiness – this was the one who would appear to be our pal, moderating the other two not just in stance but by appearing to stand up for the ordinary man.  Trouble is, the Lib-Dems are always well meaning, and have some idealistic and admirable policies, but they are usually rather ‘pie in the sky’ and the costs are not easy to add up to ensure they can deliver…..

"Gordon's collar was too tight"

Gordon looked, as usual, entirely ill at ease as Alistair Stewart began, but relaxed visibly after the start gun sounded and the first heated exchange came to the fore! How this proves the value of tutoring and media coaching in an attempt to improve image.  If only it wasn’t for that false smile that he remembers to flash like a lightbulb (at least it is better than ‘Teflon Tony’s’ wide eyed grin), we would almost believe him, though after 13 years of trying to get it right and failing dismally, the pretence is wearing rather thin.  We are politically biased, but there is no disguising the fact that Gordon trotted out the same old lines, trying to convince us that he knows how to run the family budget.  However, his rhetoric was well articulated and it was persuasive – he appears to have a genuine conviction that he is right and he made it sound as though by trusting him to spend more he will get us out of this black hole – how many though are happy to have that wool pulled over their eyes?

An important tool in communication is appearing to be pleased to be there.  Our three looked sincerely happy to be on parade although, as mentioned earlier, Gordon took a little longer to warm to the theme.  It was pleasing to see that each demonstrated the basic good manners of courtesy towards their opponent – which reinforces that first impression and continues to set the tone of debate.

Nick’s delivery was ‘chatty’ all the way through.  His voice is pleasant, middle England, and easy to listen to.  He uses body language and gestures well to get his point across that he is there for us and believes in a fairer system for all.

Much will be made of David Cameron’s public school background by those who care to forget that many socialist politicians send their children to private schools to secure a better education for them.  What private school does give though is supreme confidence.  You show me a room full of people and the ones who are the most at ease with small talk and networking will be those who have attended one of our private institutions.  Pitch, tone, the ability to seek out conversational topics which appeal to those of us who are less forthcoming – that is the mark of a public school child, and David Cameron has that in spades.  His body language is good and he uses hand gestures sparingly.  Eye contact is exceptionally important and he has a confidence when looking directly at the camera. In short, Cameron looks polished and he sounds polished.  Thankfully, he has the policies now to back that up.

It was disappointing that not one member of the audience invited to ask a question had the courtesy to stand up when they spoke.  Perhaps that is indicative of the low regard in which our politicians are held, and it is very worrying if that is the case.  Only one called the three ‘Gentlemen’ and he was the only interrogator who thanked them too.  I wonder how many viewing noticed that?  Good manners begin with please, thank you and treating others as you would wish to be treated.  Let us hope next week’s audience remember that the impression they each create will be formed for the nation too!

An important final note.  Alistair Stewart, that veteran broadcaster, looked immaculate and chaired the debate in a firm and forthright fashion throughout.  There were moments when he interrupted perhaps a little too readily, but clearly things could have got out of hand if he had not been ready to intervene sooner rather than later, and all in all, he did a very good job.  Chairing a meeting or debate requires authority and the ability to listen and disseminate information rapidly.  Well done Alistair.

Our politician’s must reach out to every voter and ‘connect’ if they are to hope to command a majority in the forthcoming polls.  They must appear sincere as well as polished, and the gloss will soon wear thin if the content is not there.  Who appeared most genuine last night?

The audience at home and in the studio will have returned to their homes and perhaps analysed a little more closely what was actually said.  At that point, the content of course matters, but the memory of delivery will prevail.  That all important ‘first’ impression.

"Round one to Nick Clegg"

"Round one to Nick Clegg"

Conclusion:  Round One to Nick Clegg for overall ease of delivery and the impression that he wants to be our friend, but David Cameron wins for content – and who will you trust to have the overall ability to form the next Government?  My money is firmly on Cameron – he looks as though he will stand up to the naughty children, and the warring parents any day.

In a nutshell:  old fashioned oratory demonstrates good manners if the delivery is right.  Communication etiquette matters.

The English Manner offers training in communication etiquette, with the option of voice and media training. To find out more, please contact us.

Alexandra Messervy
Founder, The English Manner

The Etiquette of the New Year Diet

As we start the year, many of us are considering how on earth to get rid of the mountains of mince pies, chocolates and brandy that have passed from lips to hips over the last few weeks.

Every newspaper and magazine is full of top tips on how to lose pounds fast, and we find it easy to get swept away in the euphoria of becoming a sylph or Adonis in ten days.  Beware, however!  If you are like this household, there will still be outstanding invitations to shooting, supper or drinks parties lingering over January and early February, and whilst you will be keen to stay on the wagon, you must not impose your new fad diet of cabbage tea and pine kernel wraps on an unwitting hostess.

As a host, it is always politic to ask your guests if they have any special dietary requirements by way of ‘is there anything you cannot eat?’, but it would be taking it far too far if a guest responded with a long list of the diet menu components, or even mentioned that they were following any form of regime whatsoever.

The only exception is for breakfast, where if you are staying in someone’s home and they ask what you like for breakfast, it is perfectly acceptable at that stage to mention one or two options, as long as they are easily obtainable and likely breakfast foods, and you do not get your hostess to start trawling the shelves of Selfridges Food Hall for Himalayan ‘yugi’ berries or the like!

If your hostess forgets to ask, or worse, you do not inform of any genuine dietary issues, then you must eat what is put in front of you.  It is acceptable not to finish, and if the items on your plate are going to make you mentally quake, then you can push them around a bit and have a few mouthfuls, but remember:  never over-burden a hostess, friend or a lover with details of your dieting regime.  Never inflict your diets on others, and save your new-found ways to skeletal happiness for conversations over coffee with your best friend.

Alexandra Messervy
Founder, The English Manner

Sticking to Your Guns: Shooting Etiquette Faux Pas

shootingOctober sees the pheasant, woodcock and capercaillie shooting season begin and so listed below are The English Manner’s top etiquette blunders to avoid at all cost when out in the fields.

-       Never attend a shoot if you have never held a gun or had adequate training. Being dangerous is considered frightfully rude

-       Pick up all spent cartridges at the end of drives. This used not to matter but now in the environmentally-friendly society we live in, it is considered bad form not to

-       Make sure you mark your quarry for pickers-up and their dogs: never leave a dead bird to rot

-       Always ask what one is allowed to shoot before commencing. Hosts will have different rules from each drive to the next

-       The polite guns never boast about their scores

-       In the unfortunate circumstance that one shoots something that one is not supposed to, or that you cause a fellow gun an injury, it is expect that you leave the party immediately. Other guns are expected to be discreet about the incident, too. NB: If a major accident occurs, unwritten rules of etiquette dictate that the guilty gun never shoots again

-       Restrain yourself: a shoot is not the place for loud, bawdy behaviour

-       Under no circumstances should one shoot a white pheasant

-       Never swing your gun along the shooting line or in the direction of other guns

-       Make sure each bird shot is dead before proceeding onto the next one. It is better to use both barrels on one bird than two barrels on two birds (with the first barrel not yet fully killed).

-       Do also remember to tip the keeper. Anything from £15 upwards is usual; more if he has cleaned your gun.

Unsure about the terminology used in this blog? Next week: a beginner’s guide to shooting terms.

William Hanson
Tutor, The English Manner

Swearing: Think of Our Language!

Three in ten of us are subjected to swearing every five minutes, according to a recent report. When I was asked to comment on this for BBC Radio 5 Live the other day, my initial thoughts (apart from how bad this is) were for the English language itself. We have such a rich, vibrant and beautiful language and to limit it to a handful of words is such a pity.

People use the F-word and the like now as nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, pronouns and prepositions. We hear swearing on the television, in the cinema and on the street. These taboo words are not only unnecessary but also horrid for the ear: they have no mellifluous quality that some words do: none of us want to hear those abrasive sounds. Perhaps then they are well suited to their purpose.

But swearing all the time devalues it. There is (sometimes) a time and a place for the occasional swear word (although using a curse-word to describe someone is never acceptable). If someone who never swears does occasionally exclaim something a bit off-colour, then those around will know that the person is truly annoyed and angry But if we go about swearing left-right-and-centre, willy-nilly, then we automatically take away the gravitas and oomph that any invectives may have.

William Hanson
Tutor, The English Manner

The Modern Student

A teacher at my old school once remarked to me in a conversation about higher education, “University is a reward for the intellectual, where one can do as one pleases and do very little work for a period of three years”. However true or false this may be, it seems that many contemporary students have misinterpreted this concept. It is certainly not a rest or lapse period for decency and basic courtesy.

Student life is something that most of us have looked forward to from our early teens: we break away from our parents and begin to become our own person. We become domesticated, we become mature; we become adults. Alas, it isn’t quite as straight forward as that. The average student dresses in baggy, comfortable clothes, goes out drinking at least five times a week, and probably comes close to (or actually partakes) in dealing in substances of disrepute. We are only young once, however, so perhaps such behaviour is acceptable.

Yet, just because we are students, it doesn’t mean to say that we actually have to behave like them. Nevertheless, this is not a call for us to attend lectures in morning suits and address our peers with high reverence and grandiose language. A modern, savvy student is someone who respects and considers those around him. Many adults get cross with students and their lifestyle – perhaps they are jealous – they argue that they are slovenly and uncouth. Maybe they are right: there are times when one really doesn’t want to be formal or worry too much about what others think.

However, I argue that University is a journey, a bridge. It marks a transition between childhood and adulthood. There used to be no word for the inter-regnum, until someone created the concept of a ‘student’. A majority of students subconsciously believe that we become adults the moment we graduate, and this grants us with an excuse to behave as we wish for the three or four years in between. This is not the case. We become adults during the period of our enrolment. Some will grasp the (really quite straight forward) concepts of adulthood sooner than others.

As I say regularly, good manners are a skill for life, which will stand anyone in much better stead than any degree or qualification. Clarence Thomas said, “Good manners will open doors that the best education cannot”. Think what you could do with both.

NB: Educated people go to ‘University’. The rest go to ‘Uni’.

William Hanson
Tutor, The English Manner


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