You may recognize Connecticut entrepreneur Karen Thomas of Karen Thomas Etiquette from her ongoing segments on local TV. Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Karen about how she built her business 19 years ago and asked for etiquette tips for communicating professionally—and virtually—in these challenging times.
NAN PRICE: You’re a certified etiquette educator. What exactly does that mean?
KAREN THOMAS: I get that question all the time! Many people associate etiquette with children and having good manners. Simply put, etiquette is respect for self and others. It’s very similar to life and social skills.
As an educator, I’m certified to teach businesses and colleges, which is my niche. I work with them to teach them etiquette rules. For example, I do corporate training and college lectures on topics such as networking etiquette, creating a professional presence, and leadership.
NAN: How did you get into this business? Have you always been entrepreneurial?
KAREN: When my son was eight years old, I taught him that when you answer the phone you need to be polite and take a complete message. Everybody thought it was the cutest thing and they’d ask if I could teach their kids manners.
At the time, I owned a waste hauling company with my husband, but that just wasn’t me. I decided to jump on the idea about teaching manners and etiquette. I went to California to become certified to teach children and business. My business has evolved a lot since I launched in 2001. I started with children and now I’ve found my focus clientele of colleges and businesses.
The college mindset—especially with college seniors and juniors who are readying for graduation and entrance into the business arena—is one of my favorite teaching experiences. We explore soft skills, networking, and (the most popular) dining etiquette with the end result being college students well versed in business decorum and acumen. One of the biggest highs for me is receiving emails from college students who aced the interview at a top Fortune 100 company after working with me. That’s amazing.
Corporate training with businesses ranks right up there with the college high as well! I can tailor workshops to the exact needs of corporations and improve customer service skills with the end result being increased bottom lines. With clients in New York City, Boston, and the greater New England area, it makes for a unique experience.
NAN: How did you land spots on TV and radio?
KAREN: I believe that what brought that on was the royal weddings. Local TV stations were searching for an etiquette expert to offer insight into what traditions and expectations were about to take place and who better than an etiquette expert to do so! From there, a TV career was born unto me. After that, several TV stations were interested in the idea of hosting an etiquette expert monthly addressing everyday topics local audiences could relate to. I am blessed to work with such amazing producers in Connecticut and Massachusetts, where we brainstorm and craft segments of pertinent value and information. You can catch me on Good Morning Connecticut and CT Style Live on News Channel 8, CT LIVE! on NBC-CT, and Mass Appeal in MA WWLP, a lifestyle show. I am also the resident etiquette expert for the Anna & Raven morning show on the radio at Star 99.9 FM & Walk 97.5 NY, where you can catch the latest pearls of etiquette wisdom.
NAN: In the midst of this pandemic, is business continuing for you or has it come to a temporary halt?
KAREN: That’s a great question. Unfortunately, with these circumstances, my business on the college end has definitely come to a bit of a halt. My lectures and workshops have been cancelled on campus; however, virtually I have been continuing my college lectures. A lot of solopreneurs like me and businesses in general have adapted to the Skype and Zoom world to conduct business, and I’m grateful to have that option.
What is important to remember is that we’re all in the same boat, rowing in the same direction. We’ve all been halted by this disruption in our lives, whether we own our own business or work for a company. We’re spending a little more family time together. We’re talking a little more to one another. And, we’re all contributing to more of a civil society. We’re all dealing with this uncertainty together. During this time, I think it’s so important to be a little kinder to one another. It is my hope that we emerge from this epidemic a little kinder, more respectful, and socially civil.
NAN: What etiquette tips do you have for people now?
KAREN: Here are some simple little things, since we’re working from home in our remote offices:
1. If you’re doing a screen call via Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime, make sure your screen is clean, so you don’t come out blurry.
2. Create a little bit of a presence so you’re coming across as pleasing to the other people you’re talking to. That doesn’t mean you have to be dressed up per se, just make an effort to look professional from the waist up.
3. Be still. Movement is distracting to others. If you’re on your phone, try using a stand or propping it up so it’s not moving around.
4. Also, put yourself in the best light. Put your stand or laptop up and at an angle versus looking directly into the screen, so it’s flattering.
5. Be mindful of everyone’s time when on screen and refrain from unnecessary idle chatter to avoid a lengthy meeting.