Protocol to Manage Relationships Today

How can you make your event more impactful with 'protocol'? Jean Paul Wijers wrote the book 'Protocol to Manage Relationships Today'. He is Kevin's guest in the studio.

Kevin Van der Straeten
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Hi Jean Paul.

Hello, welcome.

Last week I received this very interesting book of yours. Protocol to Manage Relationships Today

And I thought: well this is an interesting topic to discuss in an eventplanner-episode.

Now, the title of the book, Protocol to Manage Relationships Today, already suggests that there might be a difference between how protocol is today and how it was in the past.

Well, I'm glad to hear that this is the association you have with the title of the book. Because that's exactly what we're trying to achieve. I mean: that's the main message of the book.

I've been a protocol professional for twenty-five years now. I know there's a lot of resistance against the formalities of protocol. There's a lot of misunderstanding. And I fully understand this. But protocol also has its value in our current society. So, I think it very valuable in the world we live in right now.

But maybe, could you give an example of what it was and what it is now?

Well, I think protocol used to be much more strict.

So, we used to follow the protocol more or less the same way, all the time, at events. And we're now living in a society where things change very rapidly. And protocol wasn't made to be very flexible. Protocol is all about applying the same rules all over again.

That has to do with building trust and managing expectations. People know what to expect and thus the protocol has to be, more or less, the same every time.

And what we tried to achieve by writing the book is to give the reader a method, a way, to apply protocol in more flexible ways. To be less rigid. To be less dependent on a fixed set of rules.

If I think about protocol, I'm still thinking about the Royal Family and especially in the UK.

Do they think the same, do you think? That protocol is changing.

Well, that's a very good remark.

I think in this part of the world, we are much more towards changing the protocol. But I think the rest of the world is following rapidly.

I've actually written the book with a lot of people who used to work for the British Royal Family. In Britain, for example...

In the book we write about the Royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. And they changed a lot of the protocol rules.

For example: Meghan Markle entered the church alone. And she was met halfway by, not her own father, but the father of the groom: Prince Charles. And he brought her all the way to the centre of the church. Now, this might not seem like a big change. But from the perspective of royal families and the perspective of protocol, that's a major change. And there were many other examples like that during that wedding. On the other hand, they did use...

They didn't abolish the protocol altogether. They still used a lot of protocol rules. So, the Royal Wedding still had a fairy-tale kind of feeling. A lot of people watched the wedding. People loved the wedding as well. But they changed the protocol slightly so it appealed to a much larger audience. It was watched by people from all over the world. And it brought them to the peak in their popularity, at that moment.

You think that's the main reason that they changed? Because it appeals to more people?

Yes. For example: the guest lists. Normally, in protocol, you would invite authorities. So, the chairman of the National Parliament, the mayor of where the wedding is taking place et cetera. Those are not people that are immediately recognized by a large audience.

For their wedding, they invited celebrities. People who are very active in charities. So, for people at home there were many more guests to be recognized when you were watching the wedding on television.

Could that also have something to do with the fact that that is what they are as a couple? And they want to represent who they are?

Yes, I think they very well understood what they wanted to achieve. Who they are. And they translated that very well into their Royal Wedding. And, of course, Harry wasn't the first in...

Was never to become king of the United Kingdom. So, he has more freedom to change the protocol. But I think it was a very good example of how they changed a few rules, kept a lot of the other rules and were able to achieve a much larger audience. And achieve an enormous popularity after their wedding.

Yes, now we're talking about protocol in the Royal Family. And that's what everybody thinks about first, I think, when you talk about protocol.

But actually protocol is something we all use every day.

Yes, I think protocol is often associated with, mainly, Royalty. Royal families. But it's also applicable to other organisations, as well.

So, in the book we describe, for example, fashion designers using protocol to ensure that the right meetings take place. And the fashion is sold to either the press or people who are actually buying the fashion. Even though the work protocol is not very common in the world of fashion, it is exactly the same.

I also describe a dance event in the Netherlands, where we used to work. And we actually used the exact same method as we use at the Royal Wedding. We used it at the dance event to make sure that certain people are welcomed in a certain way.

Protocol is based on looking at the stakeholders and determining who is most important. Who are the most valued stakeholders to us? And certain people, we have to make sure that they go home as positively as possible. So there will be a next dance event next year. For example sponsors. Or a community celebrity. And you can treat people in a certain way to make sure that they have a very positive impression of your event.


What about protocol in Corona-times? Do we now also have a protocol for virtual meetings? Or how do I need to see that?

Well, I think that's a really interesting question.

I think the very positive side of Corona is that it proves the value of offline meetings. And, of course, online has replaced a lot and will replace a lot and will never go away, entirely. But we now realize how important it is to actually arrange offline meetings.

For example: building trust. You can do it online. But it will take, like, many, many times more...

It will take much more time to build a relationship of trust.

I also think that we were in a stage that many events were being organized. But most of the attention was given to what happens on stage. What's the theme? Or what are we eating or drinking? And from a protocol perspective, those elements are second.

The main focus of an event where protocol is used is: who's coming? And when they are coming, how do we make sure that they actually meet each other? So they can actually start building a relationship, preferably of trust.

Yes, a couple of months ago we had Rutger Bremer, here in the studio. And he was talking about the Connecting the Dots events you did together. One of the events you did together with them.

And you did kind of an experiment on putting the focus on there. And I remember him telling that everybody at the event was very enthusiastic about the approach. Could you tell something about how you...

What exactly did you do there?

Yes, well, it was an experiment for him. It wasn't an experiment for us. This is how we always operate.

But what we did is that we spent a lot of time thinking: who's attending the event? And who should be of interest to who? So, who should be in the seat next to who?

... to the people and to the premise  and who should they meet.

And for example: people were welcomed upon arrival by Rutger and by myself. Both of us being the main host. And then we brought all the guests to another co-host. And the co-host had the assignment to introduce all the people around him or her to each other. And then we sat down for a lunch. It was actually a placed lunch. People were seated next to other people, so even more encounters could take place. So, we really focussed on making sure the people were meeting as many people as possible. And in between we were actually explaining why we were doing this and how we were doing this. So, this was actually a training and an experience at the same time.

By having the second host, I assume you also make it not as forced.

Because if you just say: okay, here's a person, here's a person, now let's talk together. That doesn't work, obviously. But in this way I assume it becomes more natural.

In my culture formalities are a very negative thing. I think nobody likes formalities. But the Dutch, they even have an enormous fear of formalities. In Belgium, that's less the case, from my experience. But you're absolutely right. If this is not arranged in the right way, then it all feels very artificial. And it all feels very formal. So, the way you perform this, that really determines the success of these things. So, from a guest perspective...

And a guest shouldn't really notice that he or she is welcomed and brought to another person. From a guest perspective you enter the building. Someone says hello. And suddenly you're standing next to someone else. Another person. That's what it should feel like. And I've been doing this for twenty-five years.

In the beginning we weren't as good at it as we are right now. But now we can actually guarantee that the guest doesn't know anything about, you know, all these things that are arranged. And this is how we learned it from the European monarchies. This is how protocol is used at those monarchies. People shouldn't notice, shouldn't become aware of the process behind the way we welcome people. Actually, all that should feel 100% naturally and spontaneous.

Now, this brings me to a really interesting topic. And this is where the big paradox is in our profession. Because on the one hand it only works if it's 100% authentic and spontaneous. But on the other hand, there's no such thing. Because everything is arranged. And this is a balance where we...

We have to, constantly, keep that in our minds. Because this is a balance that can constantly go into one direction or the other direction. And it should be in the middle.

You intrigued me before by saying: okay, it's all about knowing who your guests are. And matching them with people who might interest them. But that would also mean that you really need to know who your guests are. And I can assume, for some events, you don't always know people personally. Is that then a matter of asking questions upfront? Or how do you handle that?

Well, I think that brings us back to your question about Corona.

I think what really, really needs to change after Corona is that we don't focus on quantity but we focus on quality. So, if we don't have the capacity to really know our guests upfront and if we're not able to make the right connections, don't organize a networking event. So, it's better to organize a networking event with less people you're able to go this far. Then to make an event with a lot of people you've never met before. And you're not able to arrange the meetings we just discussed.

In your opinion, what is a good number of people to bring together for an ideal network-event?

Well, that depends on how you organize the event.

You can do an event with five hundred people but you need more hosts and more co-hosts. You need more organization. So, we used to do - before Corona of course - a lot of events with five hundred guests. But then we have around forty, fifty co-hosts taking care of the guests.

So, for example, if you have a gala-diner with tables of ten, every table should have a co-host. Or if we arrange meetings upon arrival, you can bring around ten to fifteen guests to one co-host. But not more than that.

Because he needs to have the attention of all those people. So, it obviously makes sense that ten is already a large group to manage.

So, from the ten to fifteen people, there's always someone who doesn't want to talk to the co-host. Or someone who walks away before you arrive at the co-host. So, you need to...

We don't want to force people to follow. We need to keep it as spontaneous as possible. So, if people say: no I don't want to, we don't go into an argument with them.

No, you need to stay here.

Yes, we can do that. For example, at the Royal Weddings, there's a very strict time schedule and the whole world is watching. So, then you really have to enforce people sitting down on time, because otherwise television starts too late.

So, there are ways. Protocol also still has that side. So, we can be very strict if we need to, yes.


It's very interesting to hear you talk about events and a totally different approach than what many of us are used to.

I would recommend, to all of you, to read the book of Jean Paul.

Jean Paul, I think it's available online, in the bookstores.

Yes,, amazon in the Netherlands. On the Dutch websites and

It's online, yes.

Okay, we'll put the link below the video.

Jean Paul, thank you very much for your time.

Yes Kevin, thank you.

And you at home, thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next week.