For Myka Meier, there’s nothing worse than a dead-fish handshake.
As the founder of Beaumont Etiquette, the New Yorker has made it her life’s mission teaching people etiquette — from a strong handshake to perfect posture to formal table manners. But her courses also cover modern business, dating and marriage etiquette, from email and social media graces to if it’s OK to register for a honeymoon fund.
“[We’re] making it more modern,” said Meier, who has attended finishing schools in Switzerland and England. “Everyone thinks of etiquette as being stuffy or that if you’re in the top 1% that’s how you’re able to learn these rules. But it’s quite the contrary.”
In a move to make its etiquette lessons more accessible, Beaumont Etiquette instructors will be leading group classes for men and women at the Plaza Hotel on select Wednesdays starting in January through April. There will also be a finishing program on weekends.
Several of the Wednesday classes have already sold out since opening up this month, and there are plans to add more to accommodate interest.
We spoke with Meier about the classes.
How are etiquette courses different today than 20 years ago, when the Plaza actually once held them?
Of course they are much more modern. With dating, for instance, there’s so much more with gender — with same-sex couples, who holds the door for who, who pays. It could be anything from that, which was not taught 20 years ago, all the way to interaction on social media, business email etiquette. I think a lot of face-to-face interaction sadly has been lost, so we’re bringing that back. We’re going back to the roots of social interaction. I think especially women in business is a big one, which back in the ’90s wasn’t as much of a focus. Now, I always say, there should be no different between a man and a woman in business. A couple generations ago, a man was taught to shake a woman’s hand more softly — now she should have a nice, firm handshake herself. Technology etiquette is huge. We’re not just sitting here learning how to drink tea, while that is a fun little perk to the course. The majority of the lessons are very practical, day-to-day, meant for the modern professional.
The business and social graces courses already sold out. Why do you think they are so popular?
They sold out within probably the first 48 hours, which is fantastic. We’re in the hub of, arguably, the best place in the world to do business. Everybody is here for the same reason. I think networking is really important to people. Now we network online, and when you go to networking events, maybe you leave with one or two business cards and an email, you don’t really get that much out of it. Learning how to work a room, how to make the most out of an experience like that, how to approach people — we’re coming again back to the roots of how to approach somebody, what to say, what conversation topics. There’s an actual way to introduce people — there are rules in terms of who is the most senior person being introduced first — technicalities that people just don’t know. Business etiquette includes everything from how to have a more polished presentation to corporate networking to body language and eye contact. We also live in the one of the most social cities in the world. The social graces classes are going to cover moving into a group and how to approach somebody — the dos and don’ts that everybody should know but don’t — everything from posture and how to hold yourself to, it sounds funny, but I would say even how a lady crosses her legs versus how a man should cross his.
Why does something elemental like a handshake or sitting properly need to be learned?
It’s all about personal presentation. With our social graces class, you’re taught that you have seven seconds to make a first impression. If you’re walking into any room, whether for business or social purposes, you have seven seconds. Body language is so important — it’s what makes you approachable. Even a handshake — so many people have no idea how to shake a hand, and I think your handshake is your personal signature. There are so many little things that you can do to improve social interaction.
Who’s signed up so far?
It’s a mix, we’ve had 20s, 30s, 40s. We had a company sign up four of their employees, doing it as team-building after work. For the most part, they’re all professionals working in New York or the tri-state area. Some are currently unemployed and are looking for tips on how to get that next job. The response has been overwhelming to the point where we’re talking about expanding the program to include children for the summer, in addition to expanding to more classes for adults. We’ve had requests internationally and all over the country to do pop-ups.
For someone who thinks, who cares which hand you hold down the aisle or which fork to use at dinner, why would you say it is important?
If you are reaching across a table and you are holding your fork with your left hand and stabbing a piece of chicken — you are now distracting away from what you’re saying. At the end of the day, it is about protocol, and if you are going to an event, or a wedding or you’re eating on a date, that’s where you could benefit most from these courses. People ask me all the time — Who cares? Why does it matter? — and maybe some people in your life wouldn’t care or notice. But if you’re trying to advance yourself or your career, or meet new people, everything we teach goes back to the root of being kind and considerate. If you’re doing something that [someone finds] disrespectful, even if you don’t mean it like that, that’s what they take away from you in terms of your personal and professional being.