When the etiquette consultant messes up

I love my job. In fact, despite (currently) making less money than I did when I had a corporate job, I have never been happier. But there are hazards to being an etiquette consultant.

Something I didn’t anticipate when I was considering becoming one is that I have to walk my talk all the time. In fact, it feels like I can’t mess up. I’m the etiquette consultant, I should know what to do and do it right every time. Yikes, the pressure!

In addition, people are often nervous when they find out what I do. I see it so often. As soon as I say I’m a business etiquette consultant, people stiffen up. They may not say it, but I can tell they are thinking “oh great, she’s going to judge my manners.”

Well, recently I messed up big time. Big time for me.  I was invited to present with my friend Lynn Baldwin-Rhoades, founder of Power Chicks International, on networking. I spent the afternoon before and the morning of the presentation preparing. I finessed my slides, printed out my handouts, gathered my props, my projector and laptop. I was ready to go by 11am the morning of the presentation, which was taking place at 6:30 that night.

5pm came and I stopped working, got dressed and ate some dinner. Suddenly, the clock said 6:10 and I hadn’t left yet. I had planned on getting there at 6:15! I can be Mario Andretti in the car if I have to be. I pride myself on my New York driving skills, but alas, the traffic across town would not accommodate even Arden Clisedretti. Then, I couldn’t find parking. Argh! I finally walked into the lovely Alinga Bodywork studio, where the event was being held, at 6:32.

The room was full with the attendees, waiting for my arrival. I still had to set-up the laptop and the projector. Breathe Arden, breathe. As I was setting up, Lynn had the attendees go around and introduce themselves and say a word that described themselves. When everyone was finished introducing themselves, my slides were showing on the screen, and I said my word was “outwardly calm, inwardly not so.”  I got a few laughs from that.

I started my presentation and, as I usually do, went over housekeeping – timing, participate, turn your cell phones off, etc. Thinking the worst was behind me and all I had to do was entertain and inform everyone with my presentation, I relaxed. I was about 15 minutes into my presentation; people were enjoying it and having fun, when all of a sudden my cell phone rang. What?!! Everyone looked at me. I had just made a point of telling them to turn their cell phones off, and did I mention I’M AN ETIQUETTE CONSULTANT?! OH MY GOD!!!!!

The chances of me having my cell phone ring during a presentation are about a million to one. That’s because I usually have my ringer off throughout the day because I almost always forget to turn it on. My friends often complain that they can’t reach me because I can’t hear my phone ring. I’m also very careful to check my phone before I get out of my car for a meeting, presentation or anything where I shouldn’t have my phone ring. Why did the one chance in a million have to happen this night? Why?!!

Thankfully the group laughed, probably because it was so ironic for it to happen. And thankfully, I redeemed myself through delivering a great presentation.

So, what’s the moral of the story? Admittedly, I’m not perfect. And even though I’m an etiquette consultant, I never will be perfect. Perfect doesn’t exist. A lesson I’m always learning because I tend to be a harsh judge of myself. And most importantly, it’s how we make others feel when they mess up that matters. I didn’t feel judged by those wonderful women for being late and having my phone ring.  They were gracious and forgiving.

So remember this. If an etiquette consultant can mess up, it’s OK that you and others do too!

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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>


  1. Claudine Motto on March 27, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    Thank you for sharing this Arden.

    We can put so much pressure on ourselves to live up to the perfect ideal of whatever we do for a living.

    I was once late for a presentation I did for AFLAC – I had left with extra time but the building was hard to find and I ended up being a few minutes late. I began the presentation by telling them now they had a great story to tell – that the time management consultant was late to her own presentation. They laughed with me, and were also gracious and forgiving.

    I think when we care about what we do, when we’re true professionals, we naturally strive to be our best – to act as role models for what we teach. But that doesn’t mean we’re never going to make mistakes.

    Your post is such a great reminder of that, and that people are usually so kind and supportive. In the words of Larry Keltto “we’re all in this together.”

  2. Arden Clise on March 27, 2011 at 5:33 pm


    Thank you for sharing your story. While I’m sorry it happened to you, it makes me feel better knowing I’m not alone. That other professionals that I admire make mistakes too.

    Yes, we are “all in this together.”

  3. Lynn / Power Chicks on March 27, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    Arden, I love that you wrote about this! And, what I liked about the experience itself was seeing how graciously you handled even these wee “oops” during the presentation. You’re a hit – cell phones & traffic mishaps or not! : )

    Thanks! Lynn

    P.S. You’re now officially “Arden Clisedretti” in my book.

  4. Arden Clise on March 27, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    Thanks Lynn. You were the epitomy of gracious. I’m sure you were freaking out that I was late, but you sure didn’t show it. Bless you!

  5. Darlene Granberg on March 27, 2011 at 9:12 pm

    Arden, we all should come off as poised and gracious as you did when you ‘messed up’! Just added additional lessons to those of us listening on how to handle the unexpected with grace and style.

  6. Arden Clise on March 27, 2011 at 9:22 pm

    Darlene, you made my day! Thank you for your kind comment!!

  7. Andrea Ballard on March 31, 2011 at 11:40 am


    Oh my, you’re human! Good to know.

    You are an excellent model of how not to get stuck in the circumstances and instead focus on what you are there to accomplish. There’s more than one way to teach etiquette!

  8. Arden Clise on March 31, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    So true Andrea. I have to remember that I can role model how to handle ourself when we goof. It’s all about not making a big deal but certainly apologizing.

    Thank you for your comment.

  9. jonniefox on December 15, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    You are sooooo right about this Arden. I find that the minute someone asks what I do (even if it’s at a Tea or event conducive to marketing my business a bit), people immediately make comments like “uh oh, better watch my p’s and q’s”, or, “oh, glad I’m not sitting too close to you”. Sad. I usually just respond as graciously as possible to allay their fears.

    The great thing that came out of reading this post is that I “Like” Power Chicks! Thanks!

  10. jonniefox on December 15, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    AKA Jonnie Fox Flanagan, http://www.magnolliaetiquette.com

  11. ArdenClise on December 15, 2011 at 7:38 pm


    Hello Jonnie, so glad to know I have a sister in etiquette who has been there too. I’m happy to hear you “Liked” Power Chicks. It’s a wonderful group.

    Thanks so much for commenting.

  12. Pam Miller on August 2, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    It happens to the best of us.  Judgment free zone here, Arden!

  13. ArdenClise on August 2, 2012 at 6:01 pm

     @Pam Miller
     Thank you Pam. You are very kind. I’m so glad people can relate and don’t think less of me for messing up.
    Thanks for commenting.

  14. Tracybelle2 on October 8, 2013 at 4:44 pm

    Sorry I’m only seeing this how – how funny but horrifying for you! So sorry…but you handled it well. We don’t expect perfection of anyone but ourselves, and that’s just not fair to us!

  15. ArdenClise on October 8, 2013 at 5:27 pm

    Tracybelle2 Hi Tracy, yes, it was horrifying at the time, but now I look back on it and laugh. I also learned to use these goof ups to model what you do when you make a mistake, because we all make them. You are right, we are our harshest critics.
    Thank you for commenting.

  16. Cindy on December 30, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    Thank you for this information. I want to get in the etiquette industry, and was concerned about being perfect.

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