Have you ever had to address a gathering with a president, vice-president, speaker of parliament, chief justice, service commanders, traditional rulers, an array of former presidents and a cardinal in attendance as well as members of the diplomatic corps, the chairperson or convener and other dignitaries? What is the correct sequence of salutation?
Addressing an audience with dignitaries in attendance presents a whole new challenge, especially in parts of the world where rank and protocols really matter. Starting your speech can be a mouthful, as a speaker often has to grapple with whom to acknowledge, who to leave out, the appropriate titles and the order of acknowledgement, among others.
Some try to choose the path of acknowledging the two most important people and summarizing with the phrase “all protocols observed.” While that may seem to be an easy way out, it sometimes falls short, as key stakeholders at the highest level do not take kindly to being overlooked.
As a speaker, you may want to ask about the list of dignitaries and the acceptable protocol in advance. Add it to your preparation and you will save yourself the embarrassment of a mix up or the guilt of omitting a really prominent functionary. As you check, don’t forget that the preferable protocols could differ from a traditional durbar to an academic graduation and to a state function. Ask and ye shall be told.