Business Etiquette: Boardroom to Ballroom, Know Your P’s & Q’s

Beyond your book of business, believe it or not landing the next big gig or finally being made partner has much to do with your manners. Attorneys meeting with clients must know proper form for not only the courtroom but also in a formal social setting.

Business Etiquette: Boardroom to Ballroom, Know Your P’s & Q’s

Just because you are outside the office doesn’t mean you should let your guard down. Never reveal things about yourself that might leave a negative impression. Much of proper etiquette is common sense, but it never hurts to brush up on your P’s and Q’s.

Proper etiquette helps to present yourself in positive light.

  • Be on time.
  • Turn off your mobile phone and do not use it at all during the event.
  • If you have a Bluetooth, take it out of your ear.
  • If you do get an urgent call, politely excuse yourself and leave the table and find a private place to talk.

When people meet you at an event. An interview, networking, or dinner they will think you are wearing your Sundays best. Always, make sure you feel great in your clothes. This will help you have the confidence to hold your own in the crowd. In the movie, Pretty Woman, Edward (played by Richard Gere) told Vivian (played by Julia Roberts) to stop fidgeting. From that point on Vivian held her own throughout the movie.

  • Clothes should be clean, neatly pressed, and fit properly.
  • Avoid extremes of style and color. Navy, dark gray, black — are safe.
  • Wool, wool blends, or other good quality natural and synthetic fibers, are generally the best fabrics in all seasons.
  • No missing buttons, no lint. Don’t forget to remove external tags and tacking stitches from new clothes. “I actually saw this at a networking event. A man wore the tags on his new suit. No one told him to cut it off before he wears it. It was like he was showing a sticker on his new car,” — Shari Davidson, President of On Balance Search Consultants.
  • Wear a conservative watch. Keep your jewelry choices simple and leaning toward conservative.
  • Men – Shoes should be polished. Make sure heels are not worn.
  • Women – Choose closed-toe pumps. Regardless of what is in style, avoid extremes. No stilettos or chunky platforms.
  • Women – Keep the purse small and simple, especially if you also carry a briefcase. Purse color should coordinate with your shoes. Leather is the best choice for briefcases.
  • Women – Keep makeup conservative and avoid extremes of nail length and polish color. Don’t show cleavage.
  • Men – Practice good grooming, shave. Nails should be clean and well groomed.
  • Perfume or cologne should be used sparingly or not at all. No odors in clothes. Don’t smell like a smoke-house.
  • Hair should be clean and neat.

Introducing people is one of the most important acts in business life, yet few people know how to do it.

  • Say your name when you introduce yourself to someone, and shake hands.
  • You may even have met someone once before, doesn’t matter: state your entire name. Never assume they remember your name, remind them so no one is embarrassed.
  • A good handshake is important—it should be firm and held for three to four seconds with strong eye contact.
  • When meeting someone, rise if you are seated, smile, extend your hand and repeat the other person’s name in when greeting. Maintain eye contact.
  • When introducing people, be sure to state what people do and use their full names.
  • Be sure to greet or introduce yourself to the host / hostess.
  • As a general rule of thumb: Do not assume that everyone wants to be called by his or her first name—unless you are told to use their first name.
  • Name tags should be on your left shoulder. That way when to shake hands with your right, people can read your name tag.

Networking, Reception, Social Hour and / or Mingling
Take in the layout of the room: is everyone standing or cocktail rounds or tables for seating?

  • If no tables are available, you should only have a drink or your food in your hand—never both. Be pre-pared to greet and shake hands with individuals.
  • If having a drink hold it in your left hand, keep your right hand dry and ready to shake hands.
  • If eating hold your plate on the right hand and eat with the left hand. When someone approaches, switch the plate to your left hand and shake with your right hand.


  • Never talk about: religion, politics, relationships, recent parties or sex. If the topic comes up, discreetly change the subject.
  • Maintain a conservative approach while chatting and avoid controversial remarks. Never let your guard down and keep a professional attitude and demeanor.
  • Be an active listener and let the conversation flow.
  • Don’t dominate the conversation. Avoid bragging and being judgmental.
  • Watch your body language.
  • When initiating a conversation, ask the person something about themselves or their job. Dale Carnegie recommends that you ask people to talk about themselves. As most people enjoy talking about themselves and this is a good way to begin conversation.
  • Spend a few minutes conversing with them on topics that relate to the event or to their business.
  • Do not interrupt people—wait until they include you or there is a break in the conversation so you can introduce yourself.
  • Never look around the room for your next contact, stay focused on who you are talking to.
  • To move on— politely excuse yourself to talk with other guests.

Final Thoughts
Never, ever blow your nose in public. It’s rude. Don’t badmouth anyone, including competitors—the walls have ears. Always smile, act pleasantly—be willing to learn.

Common sense is your best guide—in our next article we will talk about how break bread in a formal setting such as a meeting, an interview or landing the big client.

About On Balance Search Consultants
On Balance offers great insight and industry intelligence. Shari Davidson, president of On Balance Search Consultants, advises law firms on how to take a firm to the next level and helps rising talent make the transition to the right law firm. Contact us today. Call 516.731.3400 or visit our website at

Please note that the content of this blog does not constitute legal advice and is only intended for the educational purpose of the reader. Please consult your legal counsel for specifics regarding your specific circumstances and the laws in your states.

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