By Sandra M. Monahan, MBC™, Weddings without worries, Wexford, Penn.

Simply stated, etiquette is about respect, kindness, and consideration for everyone around us on a daily basis. But when it comes to the challenge of taking our business to a pinnacle of success and credibility, etiquette becomes an absolute necessity. Understanding and using appropriate manners when networking and closing the all-important sale might just be the key to the future.

Etiquette is alive and well. Using it reinforces our confidence and provides us the tools needed to face every situation in the best way possible. Once we become comfortable and confident, with finely polished skills, proper etiquette will become natural and seamless. How do we get there? Basic information alone is good, but knowledge must become habit before it’s useful. As wedding and event industry professionals, consider spending the time necessary to master social, business, and personal skills, all of which will increase your chances of success. Here’s how:

Dress for success
Our careers require us to have a modern, professional appearance—especially when meeting with clients or other professionals. Although the rules of dress have become more relaxed, it remains important to know about dress codes and what is acceptable and comfortable. Being under-dressed can reflect a lack of respect or, worse, portray an “I don’t really want to be here” image. Before attending an event or meeting, ask yourself: With whom am I meeting? What is the purpose? What image do I want to convey? If you are working an event and performing “messy” tasks, there is always a way to appear professional in any attire.

Build your network
Seventy-five to 80 percent of business is obtained as a direct result of networking. There is truth in the old cliché, “It is not what you know, but who you know.” The more contacts you have in your specialization, the quicker word spreads and business grows. Networking is one of the keys to business success. One way to get started networking is to join at least two networking groups—one of your peers and one of your target-market areas.

Take advantage of what the groups have to offer. Don’t just pay dues and wait for good things to happen. Always have spotless business cards in your pocket or in a small shoulder bag. Present your card with the front of it facing the person to whom you are giving it. Accept cards graciously from other professionals, and be sure to glance at the front after you accept it. Use a proper handshake, make eye contact, and thank the person who invited you. Follow up with a brief email, and then always take a few minutes to send a handwritten thank you—that never goes out of style, and it will make a significant difference. If you haven’t exchanged business or gained knowledge from a membership within a year, it may be time to re-evaluate.

Exhibit proper dining skills
As elementary as this may sound, placing your napkin on your lap before you begin drinking or eating, keeping elbows off the table, not talking while chewing, and all the childhood dinner table rules you were taught still apply. Recognizing and knowing the proper utensil to use at the right time is important. Whether you choose to eat using the American or Continental style, be consistent throughout the meal. When the meal is finished, and you are leaving the table, lay the napkin to the left of the plate, not rolled into a ball.

Use your manners on social media
Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or any of the other social media sites, thorough education about the rules and correct ways to post and reply is essential. If you don’t understand procedures, ask a colleague who may have more experience in technology. Be extremely careful about what you post and never be rude, deceitful, or inappropriate in content or use language that might offend. Also, keep in mind that not everyone is interested in your daily activities, like your family problems, what you ate for lunch, or your ailments or last operation. Send these posts only to your closest and best friends. While every social media outlet serves a different purpose, the basic etiquette of conversing in a polite, respectful way is required. Your written words are your message.

Even though this is the tip of the iceberg, it offers a solid foundation for your professional etiquette future. Why not consider a little more extensive training in etiquette? It will be worth every dollar you invest. Group instruction and private classes can be fun and rewarding. Consider enrolling in the Association of Bridal Consultants Seminar Series Four: Networking and Etiquette Revival (www.BridalAssn.com). And remember, “Please,” “Thank you,” and “How do you do?” will be your best friends forever.