UM students get a lesson in etiquette Please remember: no white shoes

October 09, 1993|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Staff Writer

COLLEGE PARK -- You can know everything there is to know about leveraged buyouts and the bond market, but you won't get anywhere in the corporate world if you don't know the important stuff.

Such as how to hold your wine glass. (By the stem, not the bowl: "You don't want wet, clammy hands, do you?")

Or when it's appropriate to wear your college ring. (OK in a small town, but Never! in the city.)

That is, at least, according to business etiquette consultant Peggy Newfield, who seems to know it all. Which fork to use, how to tie a tie, whom to introduce first, and how to make sure a check never arrives during a business lunch.

Yesterday, she shared her knowledge with 39 unpolished, albeit well-dressed, master's of business administration students at the University of Maryland. "I'm not here to judge you. I'm here to help you," she reassured the group.

Wearing an all-black power suit, sensible black pumps and a perpetual smile, Ms. Newfield laid out the ground rules for the pleasant world of business, where no one ever wears white shoes. ("It's distracting.")

Over seven hours, including an extended, formal lunch, she gently showed the students just how much they didn't know. For example:

You should have 10 conversation questions ready when entering an informal party.

Don't peer out over reading glasses. It's condescending.

Don't give out your business card to someone who didn't ask for it unless, of course, you are in real estate.

And never get caught in the middle of a three-person conversation. You split your power.

Ms. Newfield brought examples of appropriate business clothing, including two pairs of socks, six very conservative ties, two handkerchiefs, three men's shirts (two white, one blue) and a plain black dress adorned with an eye-catching necklace.

There was also a simulated "networking" cocktail party, complete with plates, glasses and napkins -- all of which, she demonstrated, can be held successfully in one hand, leaving the other free to hand out business cards.

But, she advised, make a bit of small talk before introducing yourself. "You need two or three sentences before you go in for the kill."

Ms. Newfield, 38, is a former model who studied vocal direction at the University of Georgia. She became an etiquette expert, she said, simply by learning as she went along. She began coaching children in 1980 and her Atlanta-based company, Personal Best Inc., branched out to corporate executives in 1985.

Four years ago, she began instructing business students.

This is the second year that the university's business school has hired Ms. Newfield.

The need for such a course became clear three years ago at a job fair at a Washington hotel, said Leslie Coleman, director of graduate student affairs in the business school. Eager MBA students from Maryland and other colleges were trying to impress corporate recruiters but botching it at lunch.

"I can't tell you how appalling the table manners were," Ms. Coleman said. "It wasn't that they were so uncomfortable. They were just unaware they didn't know how to hold a fork and knife properly.

"I thought, 'My gosh, these people will embarrass themselves when they go out in the business world.' "

Yesterday, Ms. Newfield counted 15 students holding their utensils improperly at lunch.

"We're in the midst of a fast-food generation," Ms. Newfield said in an interview afterward. "A corporate environment is not fast food. You're expected to know these skills. But, quite frankly, that module is missing in their education."

The students seemed mostly pleased with the seminar. "It's getting harder and harder to get a job," said Michael Woods, a 25-year-old student from Arlington, Va. "This class will definitely help weed out people and give us an advantage."

That advantage could even come from knowing how to pay the bill at a fancy restaurant.

Says Peggy Newfield: Go to the restaurant early. Instruct the maitre d' on how the meal should be served. And sign a blank credit card slip in advance to cover the bill and tip.

"The ultimate power, ladies and gentleman," said Ms. Newfield, "is never having a check come to the table!"

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