Entrepreneurs, Consultants and Those Who Pursued a Professional Dream: Why Do You Love What You Do?

For entrepreneurs choosing to follow their professional passion, starting a business from the ground up can be risky and daunting. Yet pure excitement and enthusiasm combined with experience from previous jobs can help to jump-start a business. The key to maintaining a successful business is to continue to grow and develop skills and offerings in new and unique ways.

How did you get into your business? Why do you love what you do? There are many reasons – and benefits – to transitioning careers in mid-life and going out on a limb for your own entrepreneurial pursuits.

You know your passion – and your objectives.
It can take years to define your career passions and what is important to you. Once you have an idea of your long-term goals, it is easier to turn these into concrete objectives. Your years of experience in another profession can help to shape and guide these plans.

You have experience and skills to support you.
Not only can your initial career path help you to determine your overarching career goals, it can also give you a strong foundation of professional skills and experience. Skills you have used previously in other career contexts can be surprisingly interchangeable and universal.

You define your professional future.
In your own business venture, you can steer the company in the direction you want it to go. You have the flexibility to grow – and to determine how much and where it will grow; you also have control over the product, concept and look of your business.

Once your business is up and running, passion for the job and a serious work ethic will keep you at a steady pace. But a successful entrepreneur also must expand and develop; proactively learning and seeking new ways to grow is also then key.


A corporate training program can revitalize your brand and vastly enrich your material. Corporate Class Inc.’s Executive Presence License Program, developed and taught by image and professional development expert Diane Craig, is a gold standard for executive training.

For personal and professional development consultants and coaches, or for those ready to launch their own consulting businesses, the Executive Presence License Program includes a robust package of materials and techniques that will either further expand your existing program or help to build the foundations of a new venture:

–       Learn how to have a recognizable brand to fuel marketing

–       Connect with people in the organizations you want to work with, break into the corporate world, and do business with Fortune 500 companies

–       Build Executive Presence program material, including:

  • Executive Presence System Participant Manual
  • Executive Presence System Trainer’s Guide
  • Slides, downloadable Executive Dining Etiquette program, access to self-assessment tool and STEP profile, and more (includes all exercises developed by Corporate Class Inc.)
  • And more

–       Train for over 50 hours with Diane Craig, with the opportunity to be privately coached by Diane on a monthly basis

Passion for your profession is what helps to get your venture off the ground. Now, allow your business to thrive by becoming a licensed expert!


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Five Steps to Your Next Job: Interviews and Executive Dining Etiquette

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Last week I reviewed Narinder K. Mehta’s recent publication, Five Steps to Your Next Job, a valuable resource for anyone on the job hunt. In my previous post, I featured the book’s insight on the latest trends in the contemporary job market, notably building your resume and making professional connections via social networking and establishing your “online presence.” This week, I would like to continue the discussion by focusing on one aspect of the job search that always has been and will continue to be decisive in the hiring process: the job interview. Mehta offers many tips on interview preparation from the moment you receive the call to the post-interview follow-up. He also provides breakdowns of types of interviews – and the accompanying business etiquette that you need for these various contexts, which I will discuss further in this review. Whether the interview is traditional, over the phone, or during a meal – preparation for the appropriate context is essential.

No matter what the type, Mehta stresses two aspects of a successful interview: adequate preparation and a good first impression. On the first point, Mehta highlights central factors to consider in order to prepare sufficiently for an interview; namely, thoroughly researching the position and the employer, devising potential interview questions and rehearsing answers, compiling your own list of questions to ask, and organizing the appropriate documents (your resume, cover letter, list of references) to bring to the interview.

The second point is important in many professional contexts but is indispensable during a job interview: a positive and lasting first impression. Mehta narrows down the key facets of professional image, which include appropriate dress, body language and eye contact, a good handshake, and general good manners. I suggest that, in choosing interview attire, dress more formally even than the position requires. For example, if the dress code is business casual or the office culture relaxed, you should still don a tailored suit and formal shoes on the interview day. Also, avoid flashy accessories and strong perfumes: the idea is not for the interviewer to be distracted by your attire, but to recognize immediately that you are a serious and professional individual. A basic but elegant outfit will achieve that impression.

This section of the book then proceeds to discuss different types and formats of interviews. One context frequently used by employers and during which your business etiquette must be at its finest is an interview over a meal. According to Mehta, employers will use this format in order to “observe your table manners and social conduct while you answer and ask questions,” often for a position that requires frequent interaction with clients or which will include business social events. In addition to preparing generally for an interview, then, you must also brush up on your dining etiquette skills.

As Mehta suggests, a good rule of thumb is to follow the lead of the interviewer. Take your seat once the interviewer sits; choose a meal that is close to the price range (or less than) the interviewer’s order. One exception to this rule, however, is ordering alcohol – do not drink an alcoholic beverage at the interview, even if the interviewer orders one. Throughout the meal, continue to employ executive dining manners. Place your napkin on your lap immediately after sitting down, and leave it to the left of your plate at the end of the meal or if you must excuse yourself from the table. When ordering, avoid foods that are hard to handle: the last thing you want to worry about is twirling messy spaghetti while you are trying to answer an interview question. When the interview is over, send a thank you note as you normally would, but be sure to thank for the meal as well. For further tips, click here to view my informational video on the highlights of business dining etiquette.

The opportunity to interview with a company is exciting, as you have already proven yourself qualified for a position and your application has made it through one part of the selection process. Yet it can be daunting as well, as the pressure builds to perform well and to impress the interviewer. However, preparation for interview and its context, as we have discussed here, can alleviate some of that stress. After brushing up on your professional skills and thoroughly researching the position and the company, you will interview with confidence.


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Dining Etiquette Matters – Eating Your Way to Success

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Don’t eat another important business meal without reading this first!

Let’s take three scenarios. An international client is visiting and you have a lunch meeting. A potential commercial partner suggests you go out for dinner. You are attending your first corporate annual holiday banquet.

You are confidant, charming, sharp and dressed for success. But what about your table manners? Place your fork the wrong way and your international client is not impressed. Eat the bread of your potential partner’s plate and she starts to question your judgement. Argue with the waiter and your colleagues think you can be a real jerk. In today’s climate of rising globalism, dining etiquette can make or break your success. 

From being a new employee at your first formal social event or an experienced executive out for your typical client lunch meeting, corporate meals can mean big business. Improper dining etiquette is simply bad for business.

People today understand the importance of protocol and etiquette. As Sandra McCance, the Career Manager at Queen’s University School of Business, succinctly stated, “Protocol is everything.”

During my time at the Washington School of Protocol, it became clear that dining etiquette skills are a priority among business people. At a formal dinner with the Speaker of the House on Parliament Hill, everyone was watching the Speaker before they picked up a fork, anxious to not make a faux pas.  With great delight I watched another guest who had taken our dining etiquette training, perfectly at ease, making conversation, and never once worrying about how to act. Dining confidence is critical.

Of course it is important to recognize a fish fork from a dinner fork, but what is most important is to feel confidant and not let the “little things” ruin your presence or conversation.  You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you are so preoccupied about your table manners that you are neglecting social etiquette, your company or even your reputation.

Here’s where we can help.




Learn at your own pace with Corporate Class Inc.’s Executive Dining Etiquette CD. With 50-mintues of enjoyable practical hands-on instructions, this unique CD uses a common sense approach. You get a true dining/video experience: you are seated at the dining table with simultaneous images, voice and text summaries.

You are taken through real life dining dilemmas and are shown how to reach a new level of confidence and competency. There is also an entertaining quiz at the conclusion of the program to test your dining etiquette understanding.

 In 10 Easy to Follow Steps You Will Learn:

1.     How to take the lead when hosting guests

2.     How to be a gracious guest

3.     Top five dining etiquette mistakes you should never make

4.     Top 3 Essential Place settings – casual, informal and formal

5.     Styles of eating: To switch or not to switch

6.     Toasting at the beginning and the end of a meal

7.     Handling your knife and fork

8.     Napkin Etiquette

9.     How to eat difficult foods

10.  Paying the bill

Fast and easy learning. Corporate Class has made its dining etiquette lessons available in both audio and video format so you get a total learning experience.

For the seasoned professional. Often highly visible people tell me about the importance of what I do, however, as we start eating, I quickly realize that they overlooked a few simple important etiquette rules themselves. This dining etiquette CD teaches you everything you need to know to impeccably handle any business or social meal.

For any professional on the fast track to success. Employers often conduct interviews over lunch. Here’s where you can stand out from the crowd of other applicants. From these comprehensive dining etiquette lessons you will learn how to behave graciously, identify and handle tableware, eat difficult foods, and much more!

Makes a great gift for students or any professional.

Don’t take our word for it. See for yourself the difference correct dining etiquette can add to your success. Get your Executive Dining Etiquette CD today!

More on dining etiquette

Return to Sender: When a Meal isn’t Served to your Satisfaction
What not to eat at a work lunch
Business Dining Etiquette can make or break a deal


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A Fairytale Wedding

Last month my husband and I traveled to Vancouver for a whirlwind weekend of celebrations leading up to a family wedding. Every occasion, from the groom’s dinner to festivities for out-of-town guests and ultimately, the ceremony and reception, radiated a magical sense of happiness.

Just planning and staging so many events is a challenge in itself. Add to this mix the delicate balancing act of blended families —the groom’s parents divorced and remarried— and you have boosted the factor wedding planners call the sticky-situation-quotient. With both biological parents and their spouses in attendance, who gets invited to what? Who sits where? And what about the photo sessions?

But for the bride and groom there was an effortless ambiance at every turn. Clearly, top of mind for family and friends was to ensure this long-anticipated wedding-weekend flowed seamlessly. This is a first marriage for what I call “Today’s Couple,” both well educated, professionally established and each possessing an inherent sense of style. Naturally, there was an aura of sophistication. Even the guests — many actors and members of Vancouver’s art scene — contributed to this sense of chic. But what struck me at every event was the graceful blend of elegance with warmth, not so simple to master.

The actual wedding dinner illustrates this perfectly. Imagine a Merchant-Ivory film set (A Room with a View, Howards End) and you have a sense of what I mean. The bride’s silk bustier gown was a pinky-cream colour and the flowers — roses and hydrangeas in the same colour palette, arranged in a collection of delicate vintage pitchers and teapots — had a just-picked-from-the garden quality. The room itself was beautiful, with hints of days gone by but with nothing pretentious about it. Sparkling candlelight created an atmosphere of romance and even intimacy, rare indeed for a reception of this size. Everything was soft, almost delicate and captured, indeed, the bride’s vision of a sophisticated “fairytale wedding in the woods.”

This took months to plan, as everyone who has ever attempted to arrange a wedding understands. But what I hadn’t known till weeks after this special evening, was that there really had been magic in the air. Or perhaps a magician or two. Because of the inevitable glitches that seem to precede events of this significance, unexpectedly, the wedding planners had only thirty-minutes to set-up, install and transform the venue from an empty shell into an enchanting magical kingdom. Not so much as a whisper about what was going on before la grande fête. That’s what I call grace under pressure.

Merci beaucoup, bravo et felicitations!


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Is the Customer Always Right?

When department store tycoon Gordon Selfridge opened his namesake store in London, over 100 years ago, his flair for marketing was apparent from the moment the front doors opened. As one of many innovations, he located the perfumery, or scent department as it was called then, adjacent to the main entrance to mask the smell of horse-drawn traffic. Today shoppers are typically greeted with a fine mist of fragrance as they step into department stores around the world and yet, Mr. Selfridge’s best-known legacy may be the expression; “The customer is always right.”

Although some experts credit Marshall Field as the brains behind the saying, the likelihood is that it was Mr. Selfridge who put a spin on the maxim originally coined by hotelier César Ritz; “The customer is never wrong.” Bottom line, it probably doesn’t matter because the expression took root a very long time ago and I’m not so sure it has —or should have — the same power, today. Strong words.

The problem is unrealistic expectations when it comes to customer service. And it’s pervasive. One industry particularly prone to excess, or some would say abuse, is the hospitality industry where a typical cliché involves a disgruntled wine snob demanding replacement of a half-empty bottle. This is not to suggest that the motivation of every complaining “connoisseur” is deception but to point out that the responsibility for absolute and total perfection falls on restaurant owners.

A constant refrain, some would say mantra, during my courses on dining is: show respect to people in hospitality. The importance of this respect was reinforced just last month, during a stay at my son’s Ottawa home. The kitchen was under renovation and every morning the contractors arrived with hot coffee for all. We would stand around and chat until the work got underway. Towards the end of my visit and after several days of watching the kitchen take shape, I was intrigued to learn that before his renovation business, one of the senior partners had owned a banquet hall in Quebec. He was a professional chef and graduate of Le Cordon Bleu, Paris. Wow!

Here was a man with extraordinary attention to detail, a fine sense of craftsmanship, conscientious to a fault, and obviously the skills to manage and organize his construction team — I had to ask — why did he throw in the towel?
“No actually,” he said, “it was my apron. I threw it out the window!” He simply got tired of all the rude customers, their imperiousness and the endless demands on his staff. (Privately, I couldn’t help but think that impassioned homeowners are probably more inclined to make unreasonable demands than people dining out!)

Unquestionably, the customer has a right to certain expectations. Take for example, the experiences of a forty-something woman we’ll call Cindy. New to the slightest touch of grey, she was encouraged to stretch her hair-care budget and book an appointment for colour and a cut at the salon favoured by younger colleagues. Things did not go well. Cindy paid her bill and silently cursed herself for overspending — poor coverage of her grey. And then things got worse. As she tried to blow her hair dry the next morning, it was pretty obvious she’d had a bad cut. Cindy was furious.

Apparently, the referring colleagues convinced her to call the salon. The owner immediately offered to provide a refund — or correct both the colour and cut.
So back Cindy went, to give them another chance. No charge, of course. As luck would have it, disaster struck again. This time, the colour coverage was fine but the result was abysmally dark. Oh no! Cindy left in tears and by the time she got home, could barely contain herself.  I guess she had worked herself up into such a rage that she called the salon back demanding they see her immediately. And again she went back.

This time, miraculously, all went well. Perfect. Gorgeous, in fact. But the tale doesn’t end here because about six weeks later, it was time for a touch-up. Cindy called the salon and was declined an appointment. “Too much stress,” said the owner. “Thank you and good-bye.” Not my business but personally, if I had an unhappy client, right or wrong, I’d do everything in my power to regain the highest level of customer confidence. Imagine the benefits of a satisfied Cindy happily broadcasting her enthusiasm. Chacun à son gout.


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Exemplary Executive Conduct — the Emblem of Every Successful Organization

I am a real advocate of looking up the ladder to role models, for cues and guidelines, so I was truly exasperated to hear the following story:

A young colleague of mine, let’s call her Mandy, returned from a recent meeting so agitated, not even an iced cappuccino (with whipped cream!) would calm her down. Mandy explained to me that at the last minute she’d been invited to submit a bid to a potential client. She had worked around the clock on her proposal, including numerous calls to the company’s HR department, making sure she had all her ducks in a row.

On the big day, Mandy arrived at the company’s HQ, where she was warmly greeted by her HR contact and told she would be meeting both the VP and a senior director. Now Mandy may be young, but she is definitely not a rookie so this didn’t faze her in the slightest. What did throw her for a loop was that as she was shown into the boardroom and introduced to these senior managers, neither one stood to shake hands. It got worse. Mandy’s attempts to make small talk were overwhelmed with a stream of questions, all barked at her, without any attempt to make eye contact because both executives were fixated on their BB’s —throughout the entire meeting! It should come as no surprise that Mandy was knocked off balance. But, she never lost her cool and persevered with the presentation right till the end.

We associate workplace “culture” with the permeating values, attitudes, beliefs and even psychology that form the infrastructure of a company and its code of behaviour. Genuine experts and dedicated scholars, along with your garden-variety, self-proclaimed authorities, continue to debate the differences between organizational culture and corporate culture. In the ivory towers of academia this dialogue is a contentious issue, but to those of us in the trenches, whether it’s called organizational or corporate, is pretty much a non-issue.

What is an issue is workplace culture, itself. It is a very big deal. There are often “boot-camps” for new recruits, to help them get onboard and avoid awkwardness. There are special mentoring programs for experienced hires, to guide them through the cultural transition period. There are constant courses and training, to keep the entire staff current. But every day, in every workplace the preeminent emblem of every organization is the conduct of management — at every single level. In other words, whether you’re a junior supervisor, a director, a president or the CEO, you function as a role model and ultimately, your performance will be a source of inspiration.

I would like to believe that Mandy’s experience was caused by some startling piece of news that unhinged the two executives. I’m not making excuses; they exemplified bad manners, bad form — and bad branding.
A few days ago, I caught up with Mandy. She was her usual levelheaded self. Mandy had withdrawn her bid for the contract. “Who,” said Mandy, “wants to work with empty suits?”

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Fit for a Queen

My profession brings a constant parade of diverse clients. From one week to the next, I’m constantly surprised and delighted by the stream of people arriving at my virtual doorstep. Variety is, indeed, the spice of my life. It keeps me primed for a fast-paced — make that high-octane — life.

A case in point is the call I received only weeks ago from journalist, TV broadcaster and host of Listen UP TV, Lorna Dueck. She had big news about the upcoming royal tour of Canada — and big questions about the protocols of meeting Queen Elizabeth. Lorna was calling on behalf of Reverend Dr. Franklin Pyles, her Chairman of the Board. He was honoured with an invitation to say Grace at the State Dinner for the Queen, to be hosted by Prime Minister Harper on July 5 at the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto. A big night and a big occasion requiring more than a little attention to detail.

As President of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church in Canada, Rev Dr. Pyles leads 400 churches, including Prime Minister Harper’s place of worship, and is obviously, a seasoned communicator. Both he and his wife Gay felt truly blessed by this great honour — but dinner with the Queen is far from an everyday experience and requires some coaching, along with glamorous, special-occasion clothing.

We made quick progress with the royal protocols, next step, a real evening gown for Gay. Together, Gay and I visited award winning Canadian designer Ross Mayer. For over 20 years, Ross has dressed a fiercely loyal clientele. From chic daywear to sleek eveningwear, his reputation for hitting just the right note for every occasion is justly deserved. It’s no surprise that Ross scored an A+ with Gay’s elegant gown in deep purple and silver brocade —truly fit for the Queen.

Next step? Sparkling crystal jewels to dramatize the effect. At the Swarovski flagship store on Bloor Street, we met with Maria and Store Manager Ryan for a tour of what must be the world’s biggest jewel case! So many choices and only one occasion — we finally decided on a necklace, earrings and bracelet. The final finishing touch was a perfect “bijoux” evening bag.  Little wonder Gay said she felt like Cinderella!

And Rev Dr. Pyles, perfectly turned out in his tux, had a brocade vest to match Gay’s gown. But the crowning touch, if you’ll pardon the pun, was the Monarch’s Protocol Officer complimenting Rev Dr. Pyles’ for both his saying of Grace and its appropriateness.

It was a magical evening. Congratulations Rev Dr. and Mrs. Pyles. Thank you for including us in this very special event.

State Dinner at the White House

What a night for the Obamas!

Obama_State_DinnerThere’s no denying that I’ve been openly critical of some of Michelle Obama’s wardrobe choices — both before and after she became First Lady.  But Tuesday evening, I was in awe.  It was the first White House State Dinner since President Obama took office and Michelle definitely rose to the occasion.  What a gown — shimmering silk chiffon embroidered with sterling silver paillettes.  She resembled a magnificent swan — so full of grace.

According to designer Naeem Khan, his entirely hand-sewn creation took 40 people over three weeks to complete.  I believe it.  As a graduate of Haute Couture, I’ve rarely seen such an amazing gown.  Khan’s reputation secured him the opportunity to design the gown but now he’s a STAR — undoubtedly inundated with orders.

Following the grand entrance of the President and First Lady, President Obama welcomed India’s Prime Minister ,Manmohan Singh, and proposed a toast to his guest.  Prime Minister Singh responded to the toast with more than a simple, raised glass; he drank to himself.

In an identical gesture, President Obama also drank to himself when the Prime Minister offered a reciprocal toast.  Perhaps, the President’s reaction was made in the same spirit as the famous Churchill finger bowl incident — when his guest drank from the finger bowl, Churchill followed suit in a gesture to save the guest from embarrassment.

Although I found the speeches eloquent and timely, the actual toasting and clinking of glasses was awkward.  Both the President and the Prime Mister held the bowl of the glass, instead of the stem.  White wine glasses should always be held by the stem — no matter that President Obama’s glass contained water.  At one point, he had a napkin wrapped around the glass.

Although there was a server with a tray, he was out of range.  A small table, as a place to deposit the toasting glasses, would have been helpful.  As I said, there was an unfortunate awkwardness; the missing element was elegance.

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Return to Sender?

When a Meal isn’t Served to your Satisfaction

Everyone’s going back to school.  Here at Corporate Class we’re in the midst of preparing for a new “semester,” and while reviewing the course outline for our Executive Dining Program, something stood out.  Something touchy — and I’m not referring to tipping.

Returning-Food3The touchy topic is sending back food at a restaurant.  Where and why returning a meal — call it an unsatisfactory product — became such a burning issue is unclear.  What is clear is that everyone has a very high discomfort level with when and how to do it.

If unsatisfactory food is served —
You have a choice of ignoring the problem or requesting a replacement.  Call it an etiquette-intersection — consider the situation before making your decision:

  • When you’re alone at a restaurant, go right ahead. You have a green light to let the server know what needs to be remedied.
  • When you’re with your spouse, life partner or close friend — yellow light — proceed with caution.  Sending something back usually means you won’t eat together.  While the steak is re-fired or a fresh piece of fish is put on the grill, your companion will be tucking in.  (Sometimes I prefer not to disrupt the flow and simply enjoy the meal together.)
  • When you’re with close colleagues from work, this also calls for caution.  Will the entire table get back to work on time if your re-order causes a delay?
  • When it’s a business meal with your boss or clients — full stop — red light.  Unless the food is truly inedible, like seafood that’s gone off, say nothing.  You’re conducting business, not a gourmet food-tasting.

Yes, returning food is a tricky situation that calls for discretion, not loud complaints.  Let’s examine the guidelines for addressing the problem during business meals:

When you’re the host

  • The probability is that no one will say a word, but it’s up to you to ensure your guests are comfortable.  A potential cause of complaint is undercooked fish or meat — a situation that definitely calls for correction.
  • Most guests are reluctant to raise a flag but when someone does, ask the server to remove your plate, as well, and return both meals at the same time.  This is relatively straightforward if only two of you are dining.  For larger gatherings, say that the two of you will catch up and encourage everyone else to continue.
  • Drop the subject, if your guest decides against returning the food.  Do your complaining later — away from the table and out of earshot.

When you’re a guest

  • Let your host know immediately if there’s a potential health risk.  Otherwise, remember the old adage — “Silence is golden.”  Returning food causes commotion and creates delays.  Pace yourself.  Nibble around the problem.
  • When the situation warrants letting the restaurant know about the issue, look for an appropriate moment, away from the table, to quietly tell your host.
  • The whole point of the meal is to maintain or develop a business relationship — not to ensure you don’t go hungry!

More food for thought on returning a meal

We’d love to hear from you – let us know your thoughts or share a story.


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