When a new colleague recently asked about my early years as an image consultant, it got me thinking …
I started my business in Ottawa. Small but sophisticated, it was the perfect location for my modest startup. Image coaching and etiquette training were its foundation and although there was a ready market— perhaps because of the city’s reputation as an international crossroads — shoestring best describes my operating budget.
Over the first year, I developed a large following for my newsletters. Sent snail mail, of course. They were key to creating buzz but the high cost of printing and postage forced me to operate, let’s just say, strategically. When a typo resulted in an overrun of 300 newsletters, it was as though “une petite catastrophe” had hit my fledgling enterprise. Every time I cast my eyes over the stack of extras, it seemed to expand. I like to think I’m a practical person but as we all know, anxiety is not the mother of invention. Then it hit me — just over 300 Members of Parliament and postage-free to the House of Commons. Bingo! Within hours of my eureka moment, the newsletters were mailed and before I could say, “Fingers crossed this works,” the phones started ringing. A careless typo had turned into a door opener par excellence.
My background as a “Fashionologist” — I both trained and taught at design school — was my original entrée into the profession as a style consultant. Now, I was teaching corporate executives and my newfound audience of politicians to define their best looks, master intelligent wardrobe planning and understand how apparel choices can be empowering.
Business etiquette training added another important dimension to my repertoire. I helped the constantly changing stream of men and women navigate the corridors of power. Before long, I was working with the capital’s movers and shakers, and travel with a capital T became part of my job description. By 2004, I was spending so much time in Toronto; I decided to open an image consultancy office in the city’s financial district. It was a natural next-step and as a Montrealer born and bred, I had an affinity for the big-city excitement and action.
Right from the start, Toronto clients expressed keen interest. The three pillars of my business courses are style and image consulting, business etiquette training and office body language. They all work together as a unit. Why? Consider the Eliza Doolittle experiment. This may seem over-the-top and too far from the boardroom’s perspective, but it makes the point. Professor Higgins could dress Eliza up to look the part but if she didn’t know how to behave, didn’t matter how gorgeous the gown! Just because the person is impeccably turned out, doesn’t mean executive presence is automatic. Image consultancy and business etiquette training go hand-in-hand.
As for office body language, learning to detect — and project — non-verbal cues, is a skill rarely taught at business schools. Sometimes, an innocent movement may send the wrong signal. My strategy is to teach both how to interpret business body language and how to use specific gestures to present a high level of credibility. In other words, effective body language is a prerequisite for executive presence.
Sometimes, people balk at the use of the word etiquette. Sounds “old fashioned” or “fussy,” they’ll say. But there really isn’t any other term to express its true meaning: a customary code of behaviour. Protocol or protocols are different and refer to actual rules of behaviour. Hosting a dinner for Queen Elizabeth involves specific protocols — introductions, seating plans — but interrupting the Queen during a conversation is a breach of etiquette, definitely a faux pas.
Learn more. Louis Dussault, author of Le Protocole, has a decidedly modern point of view on etiquette and protocol.