HAINES CITY — Jacqueline Whitmore recalls working at the Disney Dolphin Hotel when she got laid off after three years, and someone suggested they take a shot at a very different kind of career.
“A friend of mine who was also getting laid off said ‘Why don’t we go down to the Marriott and apply for a job as a flight attendant for Northwest Airlines,’ ” Whitmore said.
She did – and so did an awful lot of other applicants.
“There were about 310 other people who applied for it as well,” Whitmore said.
But as luck would have it, she made that transition. And, she added, luck probably didn’t have all that much to do with it.
“I was one of only three people to get chosen for the job, and I think that was because I had dressed like a flight attendant,” she said. “That was one of the first rules in my book of etiquette – dress for success.”
That turned out not to be a major career change for Whitmore – she was laid off from that position a year later. One new job later, when she ot downsized there as well, Whitmore decided it was time for a significant change, by branching out on her own.
“I said to my husband, ‘Honey, if I’m ever going to start my own business, it’s going to be now,’ and he supported me all the way,” she said.
On Thursday, Whitmore demonstrated she had come a long way. A renowned etiquette expert, she was the guest speaker during the monthly meeting of the Haines City/Northeast Polk County Chamber of Commerce, which held its monthly meeting at the Lake Eva Banquet Hall.
In the banquet room where the meeting was held, Whitmore had set up a table in the front with copies of her book, “Poised for Success.”
Tracy Mouncey, chairman of the Chamber’s board of directors, said she invited Whitmore to address fellow members on the importance of proper etiquette in business and beyond.
“We are certainly so delighted to welcome Jacqueline Whitmore, a certified etiquette expert – and a Haines City girl,” Mouncey said. “Jacqueline writes a weekly news column on etiquette for The Ledger, and she grew up in Haines City.”
Whitmore said she was working at the Breakers Resort in their public relations department when she decided to take a course in etiquette – an area that Whitmore felt she already knew a thing or two about.
“I was from a small town,” she said. “My mother and my grandmother taught me southern etiquette.”
Nevertheless, she decided to try the course, and found she liked what she was learning.
“I went to Washington and took as five-day certification course,” she said. “And I started practicing it on my co-workers at Breakers.”
After five years at the resort, she once again got laid off, which is when Whitmore decided it was time to branch out on her own. And the skills she learned in that etiquette course proved vital to her success.
“Guess how people mostly find me – through the Internet,” she said. “But it doesn’t replace word of mouth. One thing I can say about growing up in a small town, the adage rings true – it’s who you know.”
That’s particularly true today, Whitmore said, when so many young people have been raised in a high tech age where they communicate with others electronically – through text messaging, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, or by email – but don’t have enough experience at face-to-face verbal contact. That’s a problem, se said, because clients like dealin with someone who can talk to them and relate to their concerns.
“I deal with a lot of students from universities, and when I teach them, these students are technically brilliant,” she said. “But when it comes to social skills, forget it.”
During a recent interview with a radio station in Wisconsin, Whitmore said, she was asked to comment on new surveys showing that a majority of Americans feel we live in a far more rude society than 20 years ago. She agreed with those conclusions.
“What do you think has contributed to our rudeness in society,” she said. Cell phones and advanced technology play a key role, she added.
“The way Generation Y communicates is if they must reach someone right away, what do they do? They text someone,” she said. “I’m from the tail end of the Baby Boomers generation, and I like to talk on the phone. But sometimes young people use technology to hide behind it.”
Clients today want to get to know the people they do business with, and feel comfortable with them, she added.
“What I teach is you have to listen to clients, and you have to know what makes their heart sing,” she said.
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