Wednesday, May 22, 2019

My Etiquette Fail - Or So I thought

Way back in April, I had the pleasure of attending an etiquette session led by Patricia Rossi at the NASC (now called SportsETA) Women's Summit in Tampa. This was the second annual Women's Summit held in conjunction with the NCAA Women's Final Four basketball tournament. I wrote about my take-aways last year as well.

Patricia was the last presenter in a 48 hours chalk-full of wisdom and knowledge bombs. All 70 attendees were exhausted, and perhaps more than a little sleep deprived, to say the least. You might say she had drawn the short straw. Not to mention, she was presenting to a bunch of awesome women who work in sports...let's just say (and I'm just surmising here), but this industry may be a bit more casual on the etiquette side of things than say, corporate finance.

Patricia with the entire SportsETA Women Summit contingent.
In a nutshell, Patricia rocked the house! She was engaging, hilarious, and an absolute delight. She is a southern belle that (if I'm honest) at first impression, intimidated the heck out of this mountain-dwelling tomboy.

She broke down walls of intimidation immediately. We learned a million etiquette tips, laughed until we *about* peed our pants (no, just me?!), connected to one another, and made lasting memories.

So here's the thing that stuck out to me. Patricia spoke about how she went to journalism school trying to "train" herself out of her natural (and charming) southern drawl. It failed. What she found was that the part of herself she was trying to change, was actually one of her most intriguing and genuine characteristics...she called it her "quirk".

She impressed upon us to embrace our quirks, too, whatever they may be. She asked, "What did you get in trouble for as a kid?" That's your quirk. It took me less than a nano-second to identify mine. My table mates - most of whom know me already - called me out on it, too.

My special quirk is that I tend to be a bit do I put this delicately...a smart ass.

Those that know me, know I love a good laugh and am the first to crack jokes. Quite frankly, it's been a part of my DNA as long as I can remember. Sometimes it emerges out of my sociability, sometimes creeps out of nervousness, sometimes it's just default, and sometimes I just plain don't think before I speak. (What can I say, but Mama Tried!)

True American legend and singer of "Mama Tried", Merle Haggard
A couple days before I left for Tampa, I gave an impromptu lecture to my sport operations class about networking as many of them are graduating this weekend and asked for some tips entering the "real world". I talked about being authentic, genuine and respectful. About following-up. About differentiating themselves. About how networking is a continual and amazing journey. About how the essence of networking is really sacrificial relationship-building.

After Patricia's presentation, I got the opportunity to put my lesson into practice.

I reached out to Patricia to thank her for her presentation, and specifically noted how her point about quirks resonated with me.

People. She called and left me the sweetest voicemail THAT VERY DAY! Keep in mind, this is a successful woman who travels extensively, is a regular on national TV, works with corporations and professional sports franchises, authored a book, and probably has a laundry list of other pressing items on her list. She didn't just respond to my email, she picked up the phone and called me. Actually dialed a number that wasn't programmed in her phone. In fact, the voicemail is still on my phone and sometimes I listen to it to remind myself that the small things we do can have an impact on people. (Don't worry Patricia, I'm not a creep or anything!).

Seriously, look at the penmanship! Far cry from my chicken-scratch.
Not only that, but she offered to send me a copy of her book, that I did not receive at the conference because she only had a few copies. Without delay, my personalized, signed copy of Everyday Etiquette arrived at my door with a thank you card written in the most gorgeous handwriting I've ever seen.

That, my friends, is above and beyond sterile, self-serving networking, and into the land of genuine relationship-building. It was an amazing example to share with my class.

You see, Patricia's authentic approach overflows. It makes people comfortable, even with their quirks that often express themselves as insecurities. It certainly did for me.

Hey look, some people were half paying attention to our presentation!
Earlier this month at the SportsETA Annual Symposium in Knoxville, I got the opportunity to present to a room full of event rights holders on the riveting topic of local politics. My initial thought was, "Oh no, a bunch of strangers and the worst possible topic, I better keep it serious." But instead, I embraced my inner-quirk, managed to weave in Tombstone, The Simpsons and Anchorman references, recruited a great colleague to co-present, and proceeded with confidence knowing - and most importantly, accepting - who I am.

If you ever have the chance to meet Patricia or invite her to speak, I highly encourage that you do so.

On Patricia's website, you'll see her mantra is: "Kindness not formality ~ Relationships not rules". Sage advice regardless of your walk of life, industry or role. Patricia, I hope you know that while I may be bombing at implementing proper table manners, the most important thing you taught me has taken root in my soul. And for that, I sincerely thank you! This is Stoll on Sports.


  1. Thanks Dan! Great to see you in Knoxville.

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