Posts Tagged 'English'



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

A Sample Thank-You Letter

Many people struggle when it comes to putting pen to paper with what exactly to say in a thank-you letter. Below is an example letter to give those with writer’s block some inspiration. It is by no means the most perfect thank-you letter, but it is certainly a more than acceptable one. As I said last week, these letters do not have to be make literary history – remember that a rather basic letter is better than no letter at all.

Dear Samantha,

We are, once again, in awe of your culinary skills. Thank you so much for a delicious dinner last night. It was such a wonderful evening and David and I had so much fun.

It was such a surprise to see your brother after so long – the last time we saw him must have been at your wedding; we enjoyed hearing what he had been up to over the past few years. He sounds like he has been very busy.

Once again, our most sincere thanks. You must also give me the recipe for that trifle – David has not stopped going on about how much he enjoyed it.

We look forward to seeing you all next week at Simon’s.

With every best wish,

Julie.

As I also said last week, once a formula is learned that writing such letters will become much easier.

One final word on thank-you letters – always sent by first-class post, or delivered by hand.

William Hanson
Tutor, The English Manner

That’s Gratitude for You: Thank-you letters DO still matter

My colleague John Robertson had to be forcibly restrained one day when we were teaching at a business school in Italy where the majority of the students said that they agreed with everything we said but could not see any point in writing a thank you letter. And this is the trouble, many people, sadly, think that such letters are a waste of time. But they are missing the point.

If anything, I would argue that a well-penned, hand-written thank you letter carries more gravitas than in previous generations, only because they are becoming a rare breed. We live in an age of instant communication, but this is no excuse for letting standards of civility slip, although it is, for many, an easy excuse.

Thank you letters should be written (by hand) after you have received either hospitality or a present. If someone has thrown a party and you were one of the guests, the reasoning of ‘I’ll be the only guest who does write a thank you letter so I won’t bother’ is ludicrous to say the least. If others aren’t writing letters, it does not mean to say we have to copy them – try not to be a sheep.

When I was younger, my parents used to say to me that if I didn’t write someone a thank you letter for a present then I would find that the giver would stop giving me presents. Being young, naive and slightly materialistic, this would not do at all and so I duly wrote my letters on my parents’ writing paper.

These thank you letters do not have to be lengthy essays with bibliographies and academic references: one page on A5 writing paper (letterhead optional) will suffice. If someone has put in the effort of cooking for you or taken the time to buy you a present then it is common sense (and courtesy) to show them that you are grateful.

Many people say to me that they find it a chore writing such letters and they struggle with finding the right words, but once a winning formula is learned then they become second-nature. Again, these letters do not need to be the next Harry Potter, or match the mellifluous prose of Oscar Wilde. And to avoid confusion, I shall post a mock-up thank you letter on this blog next week.

One final word, please just don’t thank someone over Facebook or a similar site; a telephone call is the best option for the lazy individual.

William Hanson
Tutor, The English Manner

The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race

This annual event is seen as a prelude to the British Season and this year takes place on 3rd April; it has taken place every year with exception of the two world wars. The course is four-and-a-quarter miles long and is held on the Thames river from Putney Bridge to Mortlake. The sporting event, which lasts around 20 minutes, is a race between two crews: one from Oxford University, referred to as ‘the Dark Blues'; the other from Cambridge University (‘the Light Blues’)..

The event never fails to draw large crowds, often with alumni from both Universities turning up to support their alma mater. Savvy spectators station themselves at rowing clubs along the course, or, the slightly more keen will get on a launch and follow the race for the duration.

Unlike other sporting events in the Season, spectator dress is casual (sometimes very casual) although past and present students of either Oxford of Cambridge University tend to turn up wearing varsity colours.

It is one of those very English occasions where everyone watches, either on the television from their armchair, or cheering on the river banks, whether or not they follow rowing for the rest of the year!  The weather is usually cold and windy, and by the time the boats have lined up the 20 minute race lasts for some considerable time.  Because of that, dress, which is casual (sometimes very casual) needs to take into account warmth and practicality as well as correct form.  We suggest a good warm scarf, blazer and possibly waterproofs, sturdy shoes, and warm layers.  Avoid taking umbrellas so as not to impair the view of your fellow spectators, and do remember to cheer without bawling, and to be a good sport.

Sporting etiquette is at its peak at this event, with the losing team leading the applause and congratulations for the winning crew.

William Hanson
Tutor, The English Manner

Ya Boo Sucks: Please Don’t Boo JEdward!

John and Edward perform on 'The X Factor'

I do not like The X Factor, but during the series that has just passed I found reason to watch it (or at least some of it). Their names: John and Edward (‘JEdward’). The young Irish brothers were not the best of singers, but they were performers. They danced their socks off (sometimes not in time to the music or each other) but it was clear to see that they were having great fun doing what they clearly enjoyed. However, every time they came on stage during the live shows the studio audience would boo and hiss as if Hitler had risen from the dead just to come on to perform ‘I Did It My Way’.

John and Edward coped magnificently during their ritual humiliation each week. They did not once acknowledge the blood-hungry mob of an audience; they just smiled, soldiered on and did what they liked doing best. Even now (they are currently promoting their debut single ‘Under Pressure’) some people have the audacity to boo them. But why do people feel the need to boo?

There are always going to be people in life that we do not like, wish to associate with, or want to support. Yet this does not give us carte blanche right to berate them. If we do not wish to encourage or acknowledge someone, then we just do not clap (or clap less). There is no need to boo, hiss and shout insults. In doing this it does not make the booer more superior than the person they are booing. If anything, it makes the booed look vastly better and more righteous.

It must be something about the mentality of a crowd. Humans obviously feel that when en masse we can get away with doing things we would never dream of if we were on our own. Look at the proposed video the UK’s Football Association (FA) were going to launch this week to combat homophobia at matches. The video uses the shock tactics of showing a businessman walking around his office shouting pejorative words at his homosexual colleagues. The caption reads ‘this sort of behaviour is not acceptable here…’ The action then switches to the same man in a crowd at the football match shouting similar words to players on the opposition and the referee. The caption changes to: ‘so why should it be acceptable here?’

Presumably this mentality can be linked to the JEdward/X Factor situation. If we saw the pop stars walking down the street, we would not boo them as we passed, but if there are 400 other faces around us, we obviously feel like we won’t get caught. Not only is this the height of cowardice, but also is it rude. If we do not agree with someone’s view, believes, lifestyle or performance, then we should just be quiet and learn to deal with it. No one is asking anyone to convert to being a JEdward fan (for the record, I am) or switch their opinion on a certain matter, but just to respect other people’s rights. There’s something just not cricket about it all, if you ask me.

William Hanson
Tutor, The English Manner

Compliments: Harder Than They May Seem

The British are notoriously bad at accepting compliments the correct way. Whilst it can be seen as an endearing quality, we Brits often use self-deprecation when it comes to receiving compliments. When someone admires our work we’ll say, “Oh well, it was nothing, no trouble at all” or perhaps expresses a like of our clothes, “This old thing? No, I worn this many times before”. But correct form says that when on the receiving end of a compliment, we should just accept it with a gracious, ‘thank you’ and move on. There’s no need to waffle on and argue with the complimenter: that wastes time. Just say thank you and make a note to return the compliment to them in the near future: complimenting them back straight after looks silly.

Then there’s the art of men complimenting women. More often than not, men will sound like a bit of a leach when doing this. The important thing to remember is maintain eye-contact with the woman when giving the compliment. Don’t go for the obvious compliments, such as ‘Nice shoes’ or ‘Nice colour’, show your softer side with, ‘that’s a nice neckline on the dress’.

But there’s also etiquette when it comes to replying to compliments, don’t ever say ‘Well, thank you, yes I love this top too, it’s good, isn’t it?’. We should never actually brag following a compliment, even though we may wish to inside.

William Hanson
Tutor, 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


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