Between the leadership training I’ve received through Toastmasters and the training I received as a professional etiquette consultant, I’ve accrued a wealth of knowledge about hosting dignitaries.

During my tenure as a District Governor (2012 – 2013), or as an International Director I visited many clubs and districts. Time and time again, I kept having a similar experience: club and district leaders felt somewhat uncomfortable by the presence of an official and they struggled when it came time to present me to the members.

I can also remember how awkward I felt the first time my club hosted a dignitary.  So, I’d like to share a simple guide for any time a guest speaker or dignitary visits your club or district.

Within the club environment, your highest-ranking club officer, in most cases the Club President, extends a warm welcome at the door.  They may choose to share a few tidbits about the club as they introduce the dignitary to fellow members and guests before the meeting starts.

At a larger event, an appointed handler takes care of all the details for your guest speaker ahead of time: handouts are ready, technology is up and running, and the timeline is understood.  The handler knows where the dignitary needs to be and the times they will need assistance.

When it’s time for the meeting to start, there are two opportunities to acknowledge your special guest(s):

  1. At the beginning of the program, when the Chairperson mentions them in the opening remarks, and
  2. Just prior to the dignitary’s speech. This is a more formal introduction.

The rule of thumb for the order of acknowledgment is to start with highest-ranking elected member, followed by order of rank or office.

If numerous dignitaries are in attendance, in the interest of keeping the audience attentive and engaged, limit the acknowledgements to no more than four individuals or groups. (Example: District Director Superman, Area Director Wonder Woman, and most welcome guest Batman) Alternatively, it is acceptable to group dignitaries and attendees. (Example: International Director, District Leaders, fellow Toastmasters and guests)

The acknowledgement order at the beginning of an event is often confused with the order of a formal processional, where dignitaries are brought on stage or paraded through an audience. When dignitaries are not seated in the audience, they may be brought into the ballroom or on stage and introduced one by one, going up the ranks of elected officers.  The intention is to build excitement in the audience.

If past leaders are part of the processional and will be seated at the head table, they come first, ordered from lowest-ranking office to highest-ranking office. Special guest speakers come last in the processional.

At the head table or the dais, dignitaries stand behind their appointed chair until the presiding officer arrives at the head-table and is seated. At District events, this is usually the District Director.  Once the District Direct has arrived at the head table the emcee may state, ” Members of the head table maybe seated.”  (It is not appropriate to refer to members of the head table as simply “the head table” – people are not the tables!

When the time comes for the dignitary to speak, it is the chairperson or emcee’s responsibility to give the introduction as it was given to them prior to the meeting.  Audience members don’t expect the emcee to memorize the introduction, but if they do, it certainly sets a high tone for the program.

What’s the best way to thank a dignitary? A sincere and simple thank you from smiling members is enough to warm a dignitary’s heart.  For gifters who feel a verbal thank you is not enough, a card with a gracious sentiment and members’ signatures is most appreciated.  Cards are lightweight for traveling, can be kept forever, and can be shown to others. Beyond a card, leaders I have polled prefer that any monies allocated for a gift be applied in a way that adds value to the membership in the club, area, division or district.

With these simple standards, everyone can relax and enjoy the event to the fullest. If you have any questions or something to add, please feel free to post a comment below.