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Mrs. Manners

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The American Academy of Etiquette’s Lisa Taylor Richey with student Olivia Janson of Berwyn.Two years ago, she was hesitant to raise her hand in school, even when she knew the answers. The 10-year-old Main Liner was shy around strangers and made little eye contact with adults, as if living in a cocoon of fear and reticence.

After hearing these reports from the girl’s teacher, her mother sought out solutions for her daughter and enrolled her in the Manners To Go summer camp at Waynesborough Country Club. The program is taught by Lisa Taylor Richey, president of the American Academy of Etiquette and the creator of the Manners To Go program, a fun and innovative way to help children ages 4-12 develop confidence and good manners.

Now 12, the girl walks up to her parents’ friends and shakes their hands. She introduces herself. She looks them in the eye. She says “thank you” more often. And after years of hiding behind a horse’s mane, she is now able to effectively articulate what she wants out of riding.

Over the past decade, Richey, a Wayne resident, has been making the world a more civilized place, one child at a time. Through role playing and interactive games, she has taught hundreds of Main Line youngsters the proper form of making a good first impression; offering a firm handshake; improving posture; establishing strong eye contact; improving telephone etiquette; developing conversation skills; setting a table the right way; and learning how to write “thank you” notes.

“In a Manners To Go class, a child learns the action, why it’s done and how it feels,” says Richey, who has also taught similar programs at Chestnut Hill Academy, the Shipley School, charter schools in Philadelphia, and the Eloise Charm School in the Plaza hotel in New York City. “In class, I ask that the students speak the words, ‘Good manners make me feel confident, and when I’m confident, I’m a good leader.’”

Richey’s timing is perfect. Many kids’ schedules are so crammed with activity that they’re failing at the skills that ultimately may serve them most as adults. In homes from Malvern to Media, phone messages are incorrectly taken, conversations with adults too often begin and end with one-syllable words, and dining utensils are used like shovels or, worse, weaponry.

“Unfortunately, good table manners—and manners in general—have been lost through the generations,” Richey says. “One reason may be the loss of the family meal. Our lives have become so busy that children and parents are eating out of a paper bag or in front of a computer, an iPod or the television.”

And yet, parents are more involved with their children’s upbringing than ever before. Where international travel and high couture were once restricted largely to grown-ups, kids are now front-and-center in fine restaurants, orchestra halls and first-class airline sections. So proper etiquette should be all the more important—and it can begin with something as simple as learning the proper way to hold a fork.

While waiting for a table in a Madrid restaurant last year, Richey spotted a young girl sitting with her parents nearby. With tiny hands, she maneuvered her silverware with expertise well beyond her years. “She ate beautifully and elegantly in fine Continental style,” Richey recalls. “Obviously, her parents took her out to eat quite often and traveled with her. She handled her knife and fork with ease and grace.”

Richey recommends that, by the time children reach 10 years of age, they should be taught both the Continental and American styles. Common in European countries, the former encourages the diner to always keep the knife in one hand and the fork in the other, and lifting the fork to the mouth with tines down. With the latter, one places the knife at the edge of the plate after cutting, blade facing toward the diner. The fork is then switched to the cutting hand, its tines facing up.

“Children may be more comfortable with the American style simply because this is what they are used to seeing,” says Richey. “But parents should explain that, when their children become adults, they may have to travel internationally and join their business associates in the Continental tradition.”

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It’s not just the kids whose etiquette needs polishing. Through on-site training sessions, presentations and workshops at corporations and businesses on the Main Line and beyond, Richey offers instruction on building a professional foundation, developing a company’s brand, improving workplace behavior and cultivating a professional image. Other teaching points include relationship building, merging differing management styles, working with technology, and mastering voice and e-mail etiquette.

“Lisa came into our organization and provided our professionals with an excellent, relevant and interactive presentation as it relates to professionalism, dressing for success, and bringing etiquette back into our everyday lives, both personal and professional,” says Maureen O. Reynolds, senior manager of the Stanford, Conn., office of Deloitte & Touche, one of the world’s leading audit, tax, consulting and financial advisory companies. “Lisa has great energy and really captivates her audience during her presentation.”

Still, it’s no surprising to Richey that the emphasis remains on technical skills in many corporate cultures. In preparation for a recent address to a large group of professionals at a major corporation in Malvern, Richey spoke to the company’s head of sales. “He told me that his sales executives need to be more polished—from their style of dress to their personal presentation to their follow-up,” she says. “I asked them, ‘Do you want to jeopardize [a sale] by being comfortable in a T-shirt and tight skirts? You’re not getting paid to feel comfortable.’ Once you begin to lower the bar, the bar gets lower and lower. Many of the people I worked with that day told me they were never taught these skills when they were younger.”

Richey’s sessions with businesses are less about the company than they are about the individual. “I teach that anyone with desire and interest to recreate themselves can, as long as they have the desire to improve their life skills,” she says.

Her message also extends to college campuses, where she’s a frequent speaker at the University of Pennsylvania Temple and Drexel universities, and Babson College. There, she works with students who are preparing to enter the workforce. One of the key topics: learning to work well within generational differences.

“These are the millennials, people in their early 20s, who are about to work side-by-side with Gen Xers in their 30s and baby boomers in their 40s and 50s,” she says. “They’re multitaskers. They listen to their iPods while working. Very often, when they leave the campus behind, they enter an entirely new world. I help soften that adjustment for them.”

While proper manners and protocol may see their largest payoffs in boardrooms and corporate offices, the seeds of etiquette are still best planted at an early age. Between instruction in math and science, and languages and literature, her ultimate goal is to expand her Manners To Go program nationwide.

“I visualize 10 minutes every week—maybe on a Friday afternoon—when a teacher asks students to set a table properly or teaches them how to properly shake someone’s hand,” she says. “These are lessons that go far beyond the classroom. They’re life lessons.”

To learn more, visit mannerstogo.com or americanetiquette.com.

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