Eyring is an expert in protocol and etiquette services and was the first civilian chief of protocol at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, where she planned and directed military, government, international, and civic ceremonies; conferences; special events; and Presidential visits. She has presented seminars and briefings to a vast number of audiences, including corporate and government executives, Fortune 500 companies, and academia.
Eyring also has a monthly advice column in the Washington Business Journal called Biz Etiquette, and has been featured in national publications such as The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. Eyring is an active member of Protocol and Diplomacy International—Protocol Officers Association, the International Public Management Association for Human Resources, Meeting Professionals International, and ASTD. She also serves on the board of directors of Business for Diplomatic Action.
Q| What was your first job, and what lesson did you take away from it?
My first job was working with my mother at a restaurant as a hostess. I worked on the weekends during the lunchtime rush, seating and greeting people. That was my first experience with customer service, and my mother taught me how to be polite to customers. She taught me how to give eye contact and smile, how to make small talk while I was seating customers, and how to say courtesies such as "Enjoy your lunch," or "Good afternoon."
I think I was 12. When my mother would get her tips, she would give me all her change. That was my comic book money, as I recall. I think the big lesson from that was I learned how hard my mother worked as a waitress. I had a very high respect for waitresses and waiters in the service industry.
Q| Could you briefly explain what constitutes protocol and etiquette services?
Protocol consists of the rules that dictate our behaviors in society. Many times, people think it only applies to military and diplomatic circles, but it really goes back to the caveman days when he who was the mightiest made the rules. We've thankfully become more of a civilized world, but now there are rules as to how we engage in business or our social lives. In other words, there are guidelines that help us prevent issues or chaos. Protocol is the science behind those rules.
The etiquette side of it is more the art, and it's how you take the aforementioned rules and portray them in your behaviors. So if the business rule is to greet each person as you meet him with a handshake, it's how you deliver that handshake, how you give eye contact, how you smile, and whether you shake his hand if he's from another country. It's having that highly skilled ability to portray those rules.
Q| How did you first become interested in protocol and etiquette services?
I was 18 years old when I began working at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, and I was going to night school at the same time. A friend suggested that I apply to her job as a protocol assistant, and I remember asking her, "What's protocol?"
She emphasized all the glamour of planning special events and ceremonies for the four-star general, as well as the purchasing of gifts and mementos and meeting people from all over the world. I was excited, so I applied, and I got the job. But what she didn't tell me was how hard we had to work. She forgot to tell me that when you're planning all these special events and ceremonies, you're not invited to the event - you're working it. I worked mostly 60 to 70 hours a week, including nights and weekends, but I loved it.
I worked my way up the protocol ladder, and became the first civilian chief of protocol for a major command. Usually this position was held by a military personnel member.
Q| Do you have any memorable anecdotes from your experience leading seminars and briefings?
There's one that just sticks in my mind that I'll never forget - it's the funniest one that happened to me. I was doing a training, and we were filming in the class to create our first marketing video for our web site. Either I or the videographer forgot to turn on my microphone before I began instructing, and so, in the middle of my presentation, he walks up to the stage, comes behind me, lifts up my jacket, turns on my microphone, and walks away.
I stood there for a moment, and then I said, "Thanks, Manny, for turning me on." I didn't say it meaning it that way but the audience went crazy. They thought I meant that Manny had turned me on in front of them. I went pretty red with embarrassment, but it was funny. My face was so red because I was wondering what he was doing, and he was like, "I'm a professional." They always say that.
Q| What is one common misconception about your specialty?
First, people think we just teach manners or that we're the Betty Ford clinic for really rude people. Some people don't understand the importance of learning international etiquette and business entertaining until they're publicly embarrassed, and then the calls come flooding in. But I think the misconception is, "Why do we need this? We're executives," or "Why do we need this for our people? They should already have good business etiquette and entertaining skills." But in reality, they don't, and every day, they're embarrassing their companies or even their country because they don't know what they don't know.
Q| What is the importance of etiquette in conjunction with globalization and international business?
Our business today is very competitive, and potential clients are looking for cutting-edge differences in customer service. The people who represent companies are a direct reflection of their organizations as well as their country. We have to stop being ignorant of other customs and courtesies and learn as much as we can about another country's history, religion, art, and behaviors so that we can engage these areas to help build business relationships.
More countries are spending money on business etiquette, and they know our country's behaviors and customs better than we do. The Japanese spend millions on etiquette training, and I think the United States needs to step it up, not just on the money side, but we need to intensively build these skills back into our school systems. We need to be teaching people in business. The United States is global, and we have to keep working on our image in business to continue being respected.
Q| What is one change you hope to see in the training and development field within the next decade?
As we become the first accredited protocol and business etiquette school in the nation this month, I plan to use this status to help training and development organizations drive the importance of protocol and business etiquette into their orientation and onboarding programs, as well as their continuing education and learning programs. That's really what I'd like to see. Besides workers' technical skills, I want us to go back to the basics and bring in more of the business and professionalism skills.
Q| Are you working on any new books or projects?
I am. We just rolled out our first set of e-learning lessons on the principles of professionalism (which include lessons on body language), business attire, how to make an entrance and work a room (that's my favorite), and electronic communications. Then, in 2010, we will be publishing a book based on our master training program, and co-authoring a book on business etiquette and image in China as well.
Q| How do you enjoy spending your free time?
My real job starts when I get home. I have a 15-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter. I like to spend my time with them. I live in South Carolina, but I commute to D.C. We like to go golfing and boating, and we like the outdoors.