U.S. Chief of Protocol Capricia Marshall Shares Her 4 Rules for Planning Events

September 12, 2012, 8:30 AM EDT

Photo: Courtesy of the U.S. Department of State

As United States chief of protocol, Capricia Penavic Marshall welcomes world leaders and oversees state visits and meetings with President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She also worked in the Clinton White House, with a stint as social secretary. Marshall will speak at the Event Innovation Forum during the BizBash IdeaFest in New York October 24. Here are her four rules for events.

1. Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail
Protocol constructs the physical framework and foundation for diplomacy by organizing and executing bilateral meetings, state visits, summits, credentialing of ambassadors, and other diplomatic events. For us, it is imperative to plan and rehearse every moment of the event with our team. No detail is too small, and you should walk through every step of the event—from your arrival on site to your “in-place time” for guest arrivals—until their scheduled departure, so that no stone is left unturned and there are no surprises.

2. Flexibility Is Key
Whether it is visiting presidents, prime ministers, ruling monarchs, or other high-level foreign dignitaries, the Office of Protocol is often the first hand extended to welcome these leaders to the United States and the last to bid them farewell. The unexpected can and often does happen. Build flexibility and contingencies into your team’s plan so  you are prepared for every type of curve ball an event can throw you.
3. Do Your Homework
Since the 13th century, protocol has been guiding the means of personal engagement between dignitaries at the highest levels. In order to ensure that each leader feels welcomed, respected, and comfortable to conduct the relevant business at hand, we consult experts and study diligently so that an acute sense of cultural understanding shapes our work. It is imperative for us to have a full understanding of ways in which we can honor celebrated dignitaries and guests—from colors to flowers to greetings and all other elements. It’s also important that every team member has this background information as well.
4. Engage With Your Guests
In keeping with Secretary Clinton’s vision of “Smart Power” in the 21st century, Protocol seeks to use every tool in the diplomatic toolbox to strengthen our ties with countries around the world. Most of the visiting foreign dignitaries we host attend hundreds of meetings a year. We strive to make our events stand out and truly have an impact. A major part of that effort is to use the knowledge we acquired in our preparations to engage in conversation with everyone in attendance. Make sure hosts and other select guests are prepared to engage as well. This can go a long way in establishing a positive atmosphere among guests.

More information about the Event Innovation Forum speakers and topics is here.

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