Thursday, February 26, 2009

When in Rome...

When I do business etiquette training sessions, I share the tools of appropriate professional conduct but caution that some flexibility is required, depending on the situation in which you find yourself. It's good to know what's required in a highly formal setting but obviously acceptable conduct for dinner with the Queen is different from what you might see at a Tweet-up.

The purpose of etiquette is to increase the comfort level of those around you. Having guidelines (e.g. business card protocol, when to start eating) eliminates confusion and helps everyone relax a bit more but they are just guidelines. Even the grande dame of etiquette, Emily Post, encouraged people to be flexible and adapt with changing times and new environments and cultures.

Last weekend I attended my first Podcamp in Toronto. If you haven't been to a Podcamp, you should plan to attend the next one. Podcamp is a free 'unconference' for anyone who is interested in all things podcasting, blogging and new media. Amateurs, pros, newbies and veterans are all welcome. Last week's event was a huge success, attracting over 700 people.

The term 'unconference' is an apt description for this event which was unlike any 'real' conference I've ever attended. One of the founders, Chris Brogan told us that Podcamp is based on the rule of two feet - if you're in a session and realize you're not getting anything out of it, then leave and go to another one. No hard feelings. I saw other traditional etiquette violations such as people arriving late at sessions, checking e-mails and text messages in the middle of presentations and openly challenging the opinions of speakers. But, I quickly realized that this was a perfect time for me to put my adaptability to the test and roll with the punches.

For such a large crowd and a volunteer-run event, everyone was really well behaved. There was an amazing energy in the air coupled with a feeling that we're on the cusp of something really big. The idea that everyone, regardless of income or position, should have access to great speakers and information is one I can get behind.


  1. "The purpose of etiquette is to increase the comfort level of those around you."

    I never really thought of etiquette like this, but it definitely makes sense. Knowing the set of rules for a particular situation takes out the confusion and potential perceived social slights that can come with it.

    Have you ever read much about the etiquette in Japan? There, the different levels are much more formalized than here, particularly when it comes to the type of language that must be used in different settings.

  2. I am slowly learning the correct ways of doing business around the world and the etiquette traditions of various countries and there are many variations. I'm fascinated by etiquette in the eastern cultures and would like to learn more about Japanese etiquette. I wonder if that level of formality will stay or if it's already slipping away