Have you ever had to invite high-profile people to your event, and then ... crickets? You nervously realize that you don't know what to do. Moreover, you have no answers to the unusual questions their staff may ask before the event.
In which order will the speakers talk, and when will the figure intervene? Where exactly will your guests sit, and what's the logic behind your decision? At what hour did you schedule the group photography? Running an event that involves protocol situations can be tricky, especially if it's unchartered territory for you.
As Maria Teresa Otero Alvarado notes in her book Protocol and event management, protocol refers to written norms and customs which influence the space-time configuration and people's behavior during certain events.
When it comes to official guests, as Judy Allen notes in her book, event managers should take the time to explain to suppliers and staff members why specific things must be done. In other words, if you invited high-profile individuals, there’s no other way around that than to follow the rules and to do everything by the book.
Ministers, deputies, mayors, CEOs, perhaps even royalty … one day you’ll end up hosting important authority figures at your events. Obviously, these special occasions will require advanced, meticulous preparation. Apart from that, there are plenty of reasons why you need to know how to manage the protocol issues.
Here are some of them:
Reason #1. To make sure you welcome the official appropriately
As an event manager, you are not qualified to welcome the official guests. This task should be accomplished by another official, CEO, or authority. For example, let's say that you are in charge of planning an international event for a tech company and one of your guests and speakers is the Minister for Communications and Information of Singapore. Obviously, the most appropriate person to greet and welcome the official is the CEO of the tech company for whom you are planning the event. Also, you may find it necessary to invite other local official representatives who could welcome the special guest.
As you can understand, in this case, your responsibility is to know the protocol rules and help your clients or the people you are working with to easily navigate this situation during an event.
Reason #2. To verify where your special guest should sit
One of the most important things related to protocol is to know where to locate your official guests. If the authority guest who attends your event is also a speaker or takes part in a round table with multiple guests, you have to know exactly where he or she should sit. For example, at the speakers’ table, the place of honor is at the right of the person who presides over the event. Yet, if the official guest is just an audience member, you’ll have to signalize with something (usually a piece of paper) the exact location in the first row where that person could sit.
Reason #3. To ensure your guest is aware of the presentation order
Similar to the location order at the speakers' table, you have to know who talks first, second, third, etc. Usually the event host will open the session and give the word to the official guest, and then to other guests who sit at the same table.
This practice is used because officials and high authorities may have a packed daily schedule, so they may not be able to stay for the entire session. It may happen that after they talk, they will excuse themselves and leave the event. However, there are different rules that depend on the status of the official guests and the event characteristics. To know all that, you should be serious about learning the event protocol rules.
Reason #4. To be able to communicate effectively with protocol departments
The activities of high-authority and state officials are usually guided by protocol departments. So if an official attends your event, you'll probably be contacted by a protocol adviser to discuss the event details. To efficiently communicate protocol issues, you’ll have to know what questions to ask and how to solve any potential challenges.
Reason #5. To make sure your guest knows where to stand in the group photo (if one is being taken)
No, this is not the photographer's job. He or she will take the picture, yet you’ll have to decide where the official guests and event hosts should stand in the photo.
If you are an event manager and you have no idea about protocol, put aside everything you are doing right now and focus on learning as much as you can on how to treat your official guests.
Each move that implies the presence of high-authority figures at your event should be correct and well executed. Avoid embarrassing moments and focus on mastering the protocol rules. By following these rules, you'll display an impeccable attitude towards the official guests and ensure your event will run smoothly.