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'Protocol is about emotional intelligence and how you make someone feel'.

ANKARA (CyHAN)- Protocol is a word we hear often, especially in matters of public life, yet few know what it really entails. For many, protocol is about boring and hard-to-remember rules that only the experts know about. In an effort to understand what protocol means and how it is exists in all areas of life, Sunday's Zaman talked to one of the leading experts in the field, Pamela Eyring, the president of the Protocol School of Washington (PSOW), the only accredited protocol school in the United States.

When asked what an ordinary person should know about protocol, Eyring says that "protocol is about emotional intelligence -- how you make someone feel" because "even non-verbally, we can make someone feel special or dismissed." As an institution running open-enrollment protocol and etiquette certificate programs in the US and in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the school conducts "customized on-site programs for clients all over the world with more than 4,500 graduates in 59 countries," Eyring says.

According to her, everyone needs protocol, which is "really the rules society puts in place in order to prevent chaos" and to guide our behavior in our social life and business. "These rules are just guidelines for us to prevent embarrassment, disrespect, incivility and, of course, breaking the law," says Eyring who started her career in protocol 18 years ago. Describing her story as "falling into the field of protocol," Eyring started her first job in the field when she was working for the US Air Force, and a friend who worked in protocol had been promoted and was leaving her position. Talking about the difficulties behind the glamorous-looking side of the protocol world, Eyring says that it was hard work. "I planned special events but wasn't invited as a guest. I worked nights, holidays and weekends. But I loved meeting people from all over the world who would visit my commander," she adds, referring to the initial years of her career at the Air Force. Eyring heard about PSOW when she was appointed chief of protocol and attended their train-the-trainer course on corporate etiquette and international protocol, the first step on a journey that resulted in her taking ownership of the school from the founder, Dorothea Johnson in 2005.

"We used to have consequences when we demonstrated improper protocol. Today, you get your own reality show if you break protocol rules," complains Eyring, yet she also acknowledges the changing nature of the world. "Many societies around the world are becoming too casual and focusing more on technology than on their people skills. We prefer to sleep and eat with our iPhone now instead of building relationships with our loved ones or colleagues," says Eyring. However, it is not all about bad news. According to her, "The good news is that governments, academia and businesses are tired of the embarrassment when their employees are ignorant of protocol and are searching for education and training."

Consequently, the "graduates" of PSOW, which, although it does not grant any degrees but offers certificate programs of up to 20 weeks on courses such as presidential protocol, for example, are protocol officers or managers, event and meeting planners, public affairs specialists and personal assistants working for high-level government agencies, the military, corporations and universities. Eyring says that one-third of their students in the US are foreigners, and they have also opened an office in Dubai. She talks about an "educational alliance" they formed in 2009 with the Dubai protocol department to conduct regular courses in the UAE.

Concerning her experience in Turkey, where her school provided protocol training at the Office of the President, Eyring seems impressed, providing a very positive account of what she saw there. She says she was "amazed by the hospitality they [the president's staff] showed towards their international visitors and at the level of pride in their country." Eyring states that "more importantly they understood that their protocol office is a direct reflection of their president and their country." When it comes to the application of protocol rules at Turkey's highest office, Eyring says, "I was truly impressed with the renovation of their presidential receiving rooms and banquet areas, and appropriate cultural gifts for international visitors."

To what extent are protocol rules universal? According to Eyring, "Most countries have rank and precedence, titles and forms of address for their officials, seating plans, flag etiquette, public and private ceremonies and official banquets. Of course their culture dictates 'how' they showcase these rules based on the country's history, religions, food and arts."

Regarding the "interesting and fun" parts of her job, Eyring cites meeting with people like US Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, the first lady of Turkey, Mrs. GE-l, as well as celebrities such as John Travolta. However, for her, the most unforgettable memory is planning a ceremony for a Medal of Honor recipient who had died in Vietnam because his elderly father was to receive the medal for his son.

Responding to a question about what it takes to be a protocol expert, Eyring has a long list: "They are always on call 24/7, with many traveling with their principals all over the world. They are peacemakers by showcasing respect to guests or when they are visiting officials or clients in another country. They are flexible and able to change things at the last minute and problem solvers, in order to avoid international incidents or poor perceptions. They are trusted advisors to their principals even if their principal takes out his frustration on them. They have to be diplomatic and sensitive at all times, bridging gaps between their officials, the community and visitors. They have to think strategically about the visit or special event in order to make it a fond memory for someone else. Lastly, they can be fired for a faux pas or a lack of personality."

Eyring believes that protocol taught her many life skills. She says, for example, "Confidentiality was non-negotiable; you must be able to tell your boss or others 'no' diplomatically; helping others without asking for anything in return; showing courage and confidence even if you were being reprimanded for something you didn't do; and being kind to people -- all kinds of people, no matter how different they are from you."

However, like any job, being a protocol professional has its downsides too. For Eyring, it is a "lack of energy" because she is always "on stage" when she attends special events or is with important people. "I have to stay focused on others, be creative with my small talk, respond appropriately, remember names in order to introduce others, maintain eye contact, try not to peek at my iPhone and even dress the part. I always enjoy myself, but by the end of the evening or event, I feel mentally and physically drained," says Eyring in frank remarks.

Eyring concludes with her favorite rule of the protocol world: Treat others as you would like to be treated. As she says, "It is simple but you must be self-aware at all times, not letting your mobile device get in the way." (Cihan/Sundays Zaman) CyHAN

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Publication:Cihan News Agency (CNA)
Date:Dec 16, 2012
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