Protocol for Events

Titles

The proper titles and spellings for guests—their forms of address—are of paramount importance. Before you finalize programs, schedules, engravings, or media announcements, confirm that these are correct.

Interpretation/English Language Capability

This is a very important factor to the overall success of an event. We always confirm the language capability of all guests and whether or not they need additional interpretation or interpreters. The staging of the interpreters is one matter to discuss and the other is if simultaneous or consecutive interpretation will be necessary.

Depending on the requirements for the guests and the type of interpretation coverage needed, you must consider the following:

  • Determine if interpretation is required.
  • Locate interpretation services in your area. Consider local universities as a possible resource.
  • Simultaneous Interpretation requires an interpreter (sets) for each language.
  • Simultaneous Interpretation requires an interpreters’ booth (area) and earpieces and microphones for guests. Microphones will be required for the leaders to speak through in addition to a sound system so that members of the delegation not requiring interpretation can hear what is being said.
  • Consecutive Interpretation requires that there are breaks within sentences—for this reason, Consecutive Interpretation takes twice as long as Simultaneous Interpretation. Therefore, you should be prepared to double the amount of time for Consecutive Interpretation into your schedule.
  • For Simultaneous Interpretation, make sure you have additional ear pieces on site and that they have been tested and charged.
  • Determine whether the interpreter needs to be seated next to the guest speaker.

Meetings and Press Conferences

  • A guest is always to the speaker’s right of the host.
  • The U.S. flag on U.S. soil is the farthest flag to the speaker’s right.
  • Remarks are opened first by the host followed by the guest.
  • If there are questions, the host should begin first followed by the guest. The host should conclude the event. Usually 2 – 3 questions are given but that is not a concrete rule

Receiving Lines

Who should be in the receiving line and what is the lineup?

  • The most traditional receiving line consists of the host, guest of honor, spouse of host, and spouse of guest of honor.
  • Order: One person typically facilitates the order and gives instructions to the guest (i.e., please give your name and your spouse’s name)
  • The direction that you feed into the receiving line can vary

What are some other considerations?

  • You may want to have a photographer and a purse holder available.
  • Announce cards, which are used in place of nametags, assist the host in identifying guests, even though it may seem unnecessary.
  • Special amenities to consider include hot towels, hand sanitizer, and a waiter with a tray to get drinks before going through the line.

Dietary Restrictions

If there are any meals being served during an event, it is essential that you determine what the food preferences and, if any, allergic reactions (including flowers, smoking) are for your guests. It may be necessary to have guests provide you with a list of things not to serve or that they are allergic to. Religious customs must be followed so when scheduling an event, you may want to consult a religious calendar on holidays, etc. In addition to holidays, you may want to inquire on any birthdays, celebrations, or anniversaries in your planning.

Invitations, Menus, and Place Cards

Our suggested fonts for table settings include “Edwardian Script ITC” and “Monotype Corsiva”, both of which are best used in medium or large sizes.

Seating Placements

Our basic seating template for a working event of 20 or fewer is to place the guest of honor across from the host/hostess. Typically, spouses are not included in working lunches and dinners.

Round Table Seating

For other seatings, such as at a round table, the place of honor is to the right of the host. If the host is married, the spouse would sit directly across from him or her to serve as the co-host. If the guest of honor is married, their spouse has equal rank and could be seated either next to the host or next to the host’s spouse, depending on which the host would like to do. Many times men and women are alternated. The next highest ranking person would be to the left of the host.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked protocol questions. Details on protocol for hosting events can be found in the link to the left. If you need further information or your question is not listed here, please contact us at ProtocolHelp@state.gov.

Q: How do you address the President of the United States?

A: An envelope is addressed as:

The President
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

The salutation would be: Dear Mr. President

Q: How do you address the Secretary of State?

A: When addressing an envelope to the Secretary of State, it would be:

The Honorable
Secretary of State
Washington, D.C. 20520

The salutation would be: Dear Mr. Secretary

Q: Does a person retain the honorific title “The Honorable” after leaving the position for which they hold it?

A: Yes, a person who has been in a position that entitled them to “The Honorable” continues to retain that honorific title even after he or she leaves that position.

Q: If both the U.S. national anthem and the national anthem of a foreign country were being played at an event (in the United States), which one would be played first?

A: Traditionally, the foreign anthem is played first.

Q: What is the order of display for the U.S. flag and a flag of a foreign nation?

A: The two flags should be on separate staffs. Both flags should be the same size and flown at the same height. The U.S. flag is flown in the place of honor, which is to the viewer’s left.

Q: How is a meeting between a foreign leader and the President of the United States arranged?

A: The President, working with the White House staff, schedules meetings with foreign chiefs of state and heads of government. The country’s Ambassador in Washington, D.C. works with the President’s National Security Advisor and his staff to set a date. When the date is set, the Office of the Chief of Protocol coordinates with the foreign Ambassador to the United States and the American Embassy overseas to make all of the arrangements from arrival through departure.

The Office of the Chief of Protocol coordinates approximately 350 visits per year by foreign leaders, foreign ministers and other high-ranking foreign dignitaries to Washington, D.C.

Q: Is the United States the only country with a Chief of Protocol?

A: No. There is a counterpart, usually called the Chief of Protocol, in almost every country.

Diplomatic protocol is a very historic profession dating back to the Babylonians who initiated the first recorded exchange of envoys with other kingdoms. The word “protocol” is the combination of two Greek words: “Proto,” meaning first, and “colon,” meaning glued. The “glued” portion of the word is derived from the Greek diplomatic tradition, or protocol, requiring that any diplomatic dispatch have a content summary glued to the outside of its case so that it could be read first and quickly

Q: What is the Blair House?

A: The Blair House is the building officially known as The President’s Guest House. It is located on Pennsylvania Avenue across the street from the White House and its principal use is as a guest house for foreign chiefs of state and heads of government visiting the President.

It is named the Blair House after the Blair Family who owned the residence and lived there from 1835 until 1943. In 1943 it was purchased from the family by President Franklin Roosevelt for use as a guest house for foreign leaders. The Blairs were the nearest neighbor of every President from Andrew Jackson through Franklin Roosevelt. A great deal of American history occurred in the house when the Blairs lived there. The term “kitchen cabinet” was born in the house when Andrew Jackson’s friends and advisors would gather in the Blair’s kitchen.

For a wonderful website about the Blair House, including an interactive tour, visit www.blairhouse.org.

Q: When a chief of state, head of government or foreign dignitary from another country is in the United States, does the Secret Service provide all security or is the home country’s protection used or a combination of each?

A: When a foreign chief of state or head of government visits the United States, the Secret Service provides security for them from entry in the United States through departure. This includes not only Washington, D.C. but anywhere in the United States they may travel.

A foreign minister is provided security by the State Department’s Diplomatic Security (DS) Service. DS may also provide security for foreign dignitaries who are not foreign ministers. For example, Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, were provided security by DS during their visit to the United States.

U.S. Department of State

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