Hannah Terpack facilitates a social etiquette exercise for business students.

Hannah Terpack facilitates a social etiquette exercise for business students.
Image Credit: Craig Mahaffey

Whether you call it experiential learning or an exercise in social engagement, the etiquette primer hosted by the College of Business this week sought to help students fine tune their soft skills.

Forty business majors dined on chicken picatta at the Madren Center, but the four-course meal was secondary to students learning proper etiquette in a social business setting.

“Not knowing appropriate etiquette in a social environment can often lead to awkward situations, which can have serious implications,” said Leah Hughes, career coordinator for the business school’s Office of Student Engagement. “Unfortunately, potential employers and customers sometimes won’t look past those social blunders.”

Students receive tips on business dinner etiquette.

Students receive tips on business dinner etiquette.
Image Credit: Craig Mahaffey

Beyond making proper fork and spoon choices and not talking with a mouthful of food, students were schooled on engaging in meaningful small talk, making toasts and responding properly to them, among other scenarios. Their social graces were put to the test under the keen eye of Hannah Terpack, a graduate of the Protocol School of Washington (D.C.).

“This type of instruction is borne out of need,” said Terpack, an academic and career adviser at the USC Upstate business school. “A common theme we hear from employers is they are not seeing soft skills in new hires, which are so important in social settings. There’s a protocol for everything, and knowing them affects how others view you.”

The college’s sponsorship of this event is the brainchild of Dean Bobby McCormick.

“The dean hosts periodic ‘Dinners with the Dean’ and he witnessed areas where students needed to sharpen their social skills in dinner settings,” Hughes said. “We are very good about teaching technical skills in the classroom. This exercise, though, was directed at soft skills and eliminating the faux pas that could be detrimental to a career.”

Terpack, who earned her master’s degree at Clemson, said one of the social shortcomings she most often witnesses in students is not presenting a strong first impression.

“You have roughly seven seconds to make an impression when you walk into a room. Introducing yourself and offering a strong handshake while maintaining eye contact with someone is important. And, the art of meaningful small talk can go a long way toward creating networking opportunities. The initial impression you make should be one of credibility and authority.”

Justine Lacy, a junior management major from Aurora, Colo., said the event exceeded her expectations due to the scope of what was presented.


Juggling beverages and appetizers presents challenges.
Image Credit: Craig Mahaffey

“Beyond the table etiquette, we were provided protocols on things like introducing yourself, the importance of small talk, networking and starting conversations,” she said. “It was much more than I expected and gave us insights into skills that often aren’t taught in the classroom.”

One of Terpack’s goals in the exercise was to open students’ eyes to how the career they’re seeking could very well be determined by something other than grades and extracurricular activities.

“I want them to walk away with an awareness of what’s at stake in these social situations. I’d also like them to feel confident in how to handle some of the nuances that determine the impression they leave on people who may be decision makers in their careers.”

Hughes said employers observe closely how job candidates conduct themselves in social settings, so it’s in students’ best interests to understand the do’s and don’ts.

“Businesses want to know how you’re going to interact with your peers and their customers, so it behooves us to address this important aspect of business that isn’t often taught in the classroom,” she said. “The more comfortable students are in these situations, the more apt they are to present themselves in a professional manner.”

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