The Speaker Has the Floor

Saturday was a socially busy day for me.  At noon I attended a farewell luncheon in my honor hosted by my husband’s boss’s wife.  It was a small, casual affair – thank goodness – in my favorite local restaurant.  My two older daughters were invited.  Unfortunately, I did not sit the girls down in advance and explain protocol.  I assumed, wrongly, that they could follow on the spot cues.  They’re not little children any more.

They weren’t bad, really.  But since we were all seated at one long table with me at the head, and they to my right and left, their non-stop chattering and complete disregard for the adult conversation at the table prevented me to some degree from hearing and participating in it.  I asked them repeatedly to quiet down, but they didn’t get that I meant their conversation was rude; they only thought that it was too loud.

At home, I sat them down and told them I was disappointed in their behavior.  I explained that they were invited to the event with the understanding and expectation that they could – for a few hours – behave as adults.  I told them that side conversations were inappropriate in that setting and that if I have to ask them more than once or twice to be quiet they should have realized that no volume of noise was acceptable.

They were very disheartened and felt badly for not living up to my expectations.  Not wanting to leave them in such a state, I also explained that many children older than they – in fact, many adults – were frequently guilty of the same behavior.  I told them that I permit them to go to some adult functions/places as they get older so that I can teach them proper behavior so that they won’t be one of those rude adults.  Better to have your mother correct you when you are 10, then your boss to correct you when you are 20.  Or worse: to be labeled a rude person, possibly even without your knowledge.


That night, I attended a dinner hosted by Operation Homefront.  I’m not really sure of all the things this organization does, and I was afraid to ask, because the hostess promised us a 20 minute talk if we didn’t know.  My husband attended a dinner they did up in Hilton Head, SC, back in April – this one was specifically for wives of wounded soldiers.  Saturday’s event was just for Army wives with no specific group targeted other than the 3rd ID (the Division here at Ft. Stewart).

I really don’t know why I felt I should go, but, as usual, I am glad I did.  There was a good speaker, and I ended up buying her book.  I’ll read it and review it (sometime).

One would think that a roomful of Army wives would behave properly, even though this wasn’t a specifically military event.  Unfortunately, I have noticed in the last few years that even specifically military functions are lacking in proper behavior.

There are lots of rules at a military function.  I don’t even get them all right.  I watch others if I’m not sure what to do and when to do it.  Sometimes I do research in advance, especially if I fear eyes will be on me looking for guidance.  Sometimes, everybody stands; sometimes only service members stand.  Do you put your hand over your heart during the National Anthem?  Does the man or woman go through the receiving line first?  How do you introduce yourself?  Making mistakes is understandable – I have seen some behind-the-scenes planning for formal functions and know that committees spend a lot of time hammering out the details and researching the right way to do things.  There are protocol offices whose job it is to answer questions and remind event planners of certain requirements.

But the average event attendee doesn’t need a book, website or class on most of that stuff.  Most people can just rely on good old common sense: make eye contact, smile, shake hands firmly, state your name clearly, keep conversations neutral and on-topic, and be situationally aware: if everybody at your table stands, so should you.

Somehow, though, one basic lesson seems to have not been taught: do not speak when someone is at a podium addressing the group.  In other words, know when side conversations are completely inappropriate.  At Saturday’s event, I think at least half the group failed to observe this basic principle.  It was awkward and uncomfortable.  Over and over again, the guest speaker would capture everyone’s attention and then tell an amusing anecdote – only to have the break for laughter be an excuse for people to begin talking with their neighbor.  She was pretty loud, and she had a microphone, yet I still had difficulty hearing some of her talk.  I was embarrassed to be a part of the group.

This wasn’t a unique situation.  Most of the events I have attended in the past few years seem to have this problem.  I do think that the more civilians that are present (and I am a civilian, even though I’m married to a non-civilian), the worse it is.  But I wonder now if those in uniform only behave because they wear their name and rank on their chest and so might face disciplinary action for their rudeness…or do they truly respect a speaker’s right to not have to shout over unrelated conversations to have herself heard?


After that lunch with my daughters, it was a great lesson for me in how important it is to teach them now how to behave.  I do believe that rudeness has repercussions, eventually.  Perhaps not at that dinner or at that job or at that time.  But, eventually, habitually bad behavior will find it’s own punishment.

6 thoughts on “The Speaker Has the Floor

  1. I could not agree with you more about the rudeness of individuals in an audience! I am astounded when attending dinners that include a program how many people seem to choose to ignore the “program” part of the evening. I too feel awkward and embarrassed by such behavior…thank you for putting words to it!

  2. I've been attending events with speakers (fundraisers, award programs, etc) for over 25 years and I can tell you this problem is getting worse. It used to be people would never speak over the speaker for fear of getting a reprimanding look (your boss or an older person at the table) but now no one cares what others think of them. I hate to be one of those people who blames the younger generations….but they truly are a selfish bunch!

    Doug has a fundraising gala every year and as president of the foundation he has to talk. This last year he was trying to decide if he could get away with being rude right back. Instead the emcee did it. It was very funny for those of us who were not speaking over the speaker. 😉

  3. Not only is proper behavior not being taught at home (in part because their parents weren't taught or rejected what they were taught), but also this kind of behavior is allowed in our schools. I was appalled when I visited some of Matty's classes in the public school when she was in Junior High in Manville 25 years ago. Children were permitted to talk out of turn & get up & walk around. It was not chaos, but it certainly was not proper behavior! That & a general lack of respect for others is what we are experiencing today. There definitely was a benefit to being part of the generations that were taught that children were to be seen & not heard in adult company.

  4. I agree, if I am the only one out there who is teaching my kids to be quiet and respectful, so be it, I will continue.

  5. Agreed! When you are the most important person in the world, then it doesn't matter who is speaking. Unfortunately too many people think they are the most important person in the world, whether it is being rude during a speaking engagement, walking down the middle of the sidewalk slowly so everyone has to go around,or talking loudly on a cell phone so everyone on the train can hear your conversation. Less entitlement and more responsibility would be helpful.

  6. We had that same rudeness issue at a ball last week–people talking at full volume during an a capella choir performance. Ok, military ball might not have been the best place for that entertainment, but people could have been politely quiet!

    Worse, however, are people who are guests at special Masses, like 1st Holy Communion, and talk all through. GAH!

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