What Queen Elizabeth Taught Me
In May, 1991 as deputy director of the city of Houston’s protocol office, I was privileged to be the lead protocol officer during the visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. She was on a state visit to the U.S. that included Washington, D.C. and a tour of Texas: Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. While it was warm, the temperature could not account for the record-breaking royal fever that broke out among Houstonians across the city.
As millions around the world watch the celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee I’m remembering some of the lessons learned during the planning and execution of the visit. These lessons apply to everyone doing business.
1. Planning and preparation are the key to success of any event or project. For the Queen’s three-day visit we started planning six months in advance. We researched previous visits by the Queen, studied her biography, asked about dietary preferences and restrictions, and tried to learn as much as possible in advance. We prepared numerous versions of draft itineraries, had rehearsals, advance visits and walk-throughs. Every detail was discussed, every menu was tasted, and every invitation list was carefully reviewed.
Today I often see business leaders overlook or leave planning for the last minute. That’s when problems arise, so dedicate an appropriate amount of time to planning for meetings, visits by major clients, trips, sales calls and trade shows. Use technology to your advantage as you prepare. Even the Queen now has a Blackberry that she received as a gift during a visit to the Canadian headquarters of Research in Motion.
2. Communication with the key players is essential. I and my protocol colleagues worked with the consulate general, the embassy, the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Secret Service, the Houston Police Department, representatives from each of the sites on the Queen’s itinerary including: Ellington Airfield, NASA Johnson Space Center, and Antioch Baptist Church as well as parade organizers, caterers, hotel staff, florists and many others. There were countless meetings, phone calls, and questions. We coordinated with our colleagues in the other Texas cities to ensure that we wouldn’t serve the same menus, give four cowboy hats as gifts and ensure that each city highlighted its own unique strengths and flavor.
When you begin a new project or event it’s important to identify who are the key people involved. Get their contact information: office, cell and home phone numbers, e-mail, physical and mailing addresses. You’ll need all three addresses for communication, meetings and thank you notes. Prepare a cheat sheet for the organizing team with emergency numbers. Determine how often you will communicate and how. Communication should become more frequent as the event or project nears.
3. Introductions matter. The Queen always stops and listens attentively when people are being introduced or “presented.” She understands the importance of those few minutes. For people who have a chance to meet the Queen it will be a memory of a lifetime. While meeting Jane Doe may not have the same appeal, introductions are just as important if not more so in the business world. They are how you start to make connections with people so remember to pause, listen and focus on the person being introduced, their name, what company or organization they represent and what they do. It’s a good way to begin a relationship.
4. Use the royal “We.” When the Queen speaks she uses the majestic plural, the royal “we” used by individuals holding a high office such as a monarch or pope.
However, it’s a good example for anyone in business. Give credit to those who contribute to the project, do the advance work and make things happen. In business there are few things that you accomplish entirely alone so use “We” not “I.”
5. Keep calm and carry on. This is by far the greatest lesson I learned. Things will go wrong-you won’t have the Queen’s favorite beverage. In fact a good plan will try to anticipate what might go wrong and prepare for it. This could be as simple as having a rain scenario for an outdoor event to having a corporate succession plan. How you conduct yourself and handle a crisis will have a significant role on the outcome. Few people have faith that all will be fine when their leader is flustered and in panic mode.
As I’ve watched the Jubilee coverage and people being interviewed a common thread has emerged. When her citizens see the Queen they get a sense of calm and continuity, of stability and comfort and they know that all is right with their world—a valuable lesson for all of us.
To learn more about the Queen and the Diamond Jubilee visit RoyalGOV.uk the official website of the British monarchy.
Sonia Garza-Monarchi is a speaker on business protocol and cross-cultural issues and the president of Garza Protocol Associates, a consulting company that helps clients coordinate productive international visits, events and trade missions while avoiding cross-cultural misunderstandings. She can be reached at 713.863.8896. To subscribe to her free newsletter “The Protocol Perspective” with business and international protocol tips send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on Garza Protocol visit GarzaProtocol.com.