Etiquette is More Than Just Table Manners ~ Sherry Thomas


Spark Plug Radio Show

Spark Plug: Welcome to People You Need to Know on Spark Plug Radio. I’m your host, Spark Plug, publisher of metro Atlanta’s premier business spotlight magazine. At People You Need to Know Magazine, we’re dedicated to helping you promote your business by giving you world-class recognition.

In this segment, our guest will be sharing with us why etiquette is more than just table manners. My guest today is one of America’s leading etiquette experts. She has worked with many people whom you see on television in the areas of etiquette, public speaking, image consulting as well as media and press coaching. Her clients include corporations, new socialites, athletes, children, adults, new graduates and people from all walks of life. We consider it an honor and a pleasure to have on the phone today, a young lady who is from my home state of South Carolina and a Clemson University graduate, Ms. Sherry Thomas … welcome to the show.

Sherry Thomas: Good morning, Spark Plug. How are you?  It’s a real pleasure to be here with you.

Spark Plug: I’m fantastic and I’m trying to get better.

Sherry Thomas: Well, that’s great. We all are trying to get better, aren’t we?

Spark Plug: Yes. Are you ready to talk about why etiquette is more than just table manners?

Sherry Thomas: Oh, I’m ready to go. It permeates every aspect of our lives and it’s a subject worth discussing in detail as much as we can.

Spark Plug: Alright, so let’s get right into it, okay?

Sherry Thomas: Alright.

Spark Plug: How does etiquette factor into our business life?

Sherry Thomas: Well, it gets noticed. I call it the “it” factor. Those who have the “it” factor, are remembered when promotions come along. A company feels more comfortable when there is an employee who’s polite and professional. For example, a manager is more apt to put that person before a major client, and we all know that skills and knowledge of your field are important. Just couple those with strong business etiquette and attention to detail, all revolving around good manners, and you will see how those people are perceived and accepted by clients. It makes a difference in your professional career.

Spark Plug: What about future mates, how does etiquette factor into marriage potential?

Sherry Thomas: Oh boy, that’s a good one. We all look for things that will set our love interest apart, and so do our parents. Our parent’s biggest desire is for their child to meet someone who is kind, polished, determined, motivated and headed for something wonderful. Manners get noticed right away. We feel proud when we are with someone who is adept in social situations. We’re not talking about cockiness or arrogance, and I always have to draw that delineation. It’s attractive as long as it’s confidence without arrogance, and I always refer to that in my seminars … confidence without arrogance is key.

We are drawn to people who are proper. They stand out. They stand out in social situations — at a business dinner, in a business meeting, in a classroom situation, in every aspect of their lives. They get more attention from teachers. They win more awards or get promoted. They get the date.

A person doesn’t have to be in the finest boarding school if they have skills in the social graces or the art of speaking. It can be learned if we start the work when our children are young by simply doing the right thing. There is no downside to having good manners.

Spark Plug: Sherry, tell us briefly …  what’s the best way to stand out?

Sherry Thomas: Well, the best way to stand out is to learn your Ps and Qs. Learn how to do things properly. Learn that when you meet someone for the first time — use the proper protocol to address them and meet them. I always call it an open, middle and close. Just as I do with my public speaking classes and just as you do when you write a letter or thank you note … you open it with a greeting. You have something in the middle, some sort of discussion or addressing a certain point, a business point — or whatever the topic at hand might be. Even if you are in someone’s home, there is something in the middle, some chitchat and then upon your departure, there is always a close. It’s a thank you. It’s a, “I appreciate your time or I hope that this serves to clarify the discussion that we had earlier.” Open, middle and close are very important. So if we can start with that, and work on our body posture and our eye contact all throughout, then we know, with small tweaks, that we can make a huge difference in how we are perceived by others, and perception is key.

We’re a media-driven society, so perception is key. We know those who are the top orators, people who hold themselves in a certain way and command the attention of an audience, those are the ones who capture our attention. Those are the ones we like to put on television. Those are the ones we like to put in print. Those are the people who excel.

Spark Plug: Well, let’s change gears a little bit here. How do you see the children of today? Do they have good etiquette?

Sherry Thomas:  Well, yes and no. I see wonderful children, but I get a little troubled by the disintegration of the social graces. I think it’s especially what we are not teaching our children. For example, we are one of the few countries who allow our youngsters to address their elders by their first name and there is this strong argument for that and I hear it a lot. This places us all on the same level and we really aren’t on the same level. I know several other countries use a title of some sort as respect for parents or aunts or uncles or those older than us. It’s a clear distinction, and yes by osmosis, wins some level of respect.

I’ve noticed that some kids really don’t know how to approach a playmate, friend’s family properly or address them properly, thank them properly, clean up after themselves while they are a guest, or send a thank you note for that wonderful time spent with others.

Spark Plug: Well, I tell what, let’s try to get even more down to the nitty-gritty. What are three things that you should do when first meeting someone?

Sherry Thomas: Well, besides having your chin at a certain level, we should exude confidence without cockiness. The first thing you should do is establish direct eye contact. You are now setting the tone. Looking away with nervous gestures, that doesn’t really get you anywhere. But confident direct eye contact, that’s your starting point. A nice handshake, a firm handshake done properly with your thumb up towards the ceiling, no more than three shakes. You are not out to break bones and we don’t need a real brisk handshake, so that’s something that we train people to do. We train people in corporations on the proper handshake. In other countries as well as this one, that handshake is the first meeting in any venue and it already has set an impression unbeknownst to us that the other person already has a glimpse into us by that handshake, and then after the shaking of hands, it’s very important, while we have that eye contact, to repeat their name. You are now personalizing the conversation. You’re taking your time, “Spark Plug, nice to meet you,” and you smile.

So it’s three things:
•    Eye contact
•    A nice firm handshake
•    Repeat that person’s name

Very simple it seems, but oh so key in this first impression.

Spark Plug: Well, do you have one story that you can share with us where bad etiquette had an unsavory outcome?

Sherry Thomas: Oh, yes. I know many stories in my line of work. This is a business situation; a merger acquisition was taking place. The group doing the selling left the conference room to have a private discussion in another room, and one of the gentleman began talking in a disparaging manner about the men doing the buying using expletives, referring to them by rude names, but the intercom system was on and broadcasting into the room of the buyers. So upon their return into the room to resume negotiations, the entire room of people looked sheepishly at the men, and needless to say, the business transaction just never transpired.

We have to be mindful of our surroundings at all times and the “Do unto others” rule can really never be overstated.

Spark Plug: Before we bring this interview to a close, is there one final thing you would like us to remember about etiquette?

Sherry Thomas: Etiquette is so much more than table manners. You opened your show with that and it’s something that I really drive home to people. When we think of etiquette, most people think that it is just sitting down and learning how to use your flatware and your tableware. Yes, that’s an integral part of etiquette, but etiquette is life skills. It’s social graces. It’s applying common courtesies to life and every aspect of your life.

One little common courtesy might make the difference in that promotion in your life. It might make the difference for that second date. It might make the difference for that college acceptance with the school you’ve been trying to get into. This is all noticed. Human resources people are trained in it. College admissions boards are trained in it. We all look for it. But just be on alert that there are things you can do every day with self-improvement skills by looking at yourself in the mirror, having your friend or family work with you, or you just videotaping yourself and noticing how small differences have a huge impact.

Spark Plug: And finally, tell our listeners how you can be reached.

Sherry Thomas: My website is I travel anywhere in the world to help improve your social skills in the corporate world, women’s clubs, organizations, you name it.

Spark Plug: And how can people get any of those articles that you’ve written about etiquette?

Sherry Thomas: Well, I do have certain articles available, and I’m working on my book as we speak. By contacting me, I can send them specific etiquette articles related to the topic in which they are interested in. So if they’d like to go to my website and contact me, I’ll be happy to send them some information. I do accept etiquette questions too, on a daily basis.

Spark Plug: Okay, well, Ms. Sherry Thomas, president of Palm Beach Etiquette … thanks for being with us today.

Sherry Thomas: Thank you, Spark Plug. Keep up the great work.

Spark Plug: Alright, thank you. You’ve been listening to People You Need to Know on Spark Plug Radio, the radio station connecting you to America’s top business professionals like Ms. Sherry Thomas. To listen to even More People You Need to Know, just Google Spark Plug Radio or visit our website at and be sure to follow us on Twitter at PYNTK. I want to take a moment to thank my executive producer, Ms. Jacqueline Benjamin-Thomas, for doing another superb job. If you would like more information about our guest, visit her website at and be sure to follow her on Twitter at Etiquette Queen. This is Spark Plug encouraging you to keep looking at the sunny side, so until next time, always remember that  you can add a spark to whatever you do and thanks for tuning in.

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Tags: Etiquette Manners People You Need to Know People You Need to Know Magazine Sherry Thomas




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