All protocols

There’s a common local practice of beginning a formal speech by saying “All protocols observed,” (APO) and then getting on with the speech.

It’s so commonly done that you’d think it was protocol, but it’s not.

Protocol is the accepted practice or rules of behaviour in any group, organisation or situation.

Protocol exists to help us agree on what is required, allowed and forbidden in formal occasions.

Protocol is usually codified so that it can be learned and shared among all those who interact at certain functions.  Following protocol reduces anxiety, facilitates planning and demonstrates respect.

Protocol requires every speaker to acknowledge the distinguished members of the audience at the beginning of their speech.  At the beginning of a formal event the first speaker, the MC or host should acknowledge the name and title of the distinguished guests from highest rank to lowest while (OMG) getting their pronunciation and order of acknowledgement correctly.

This is scary enough, but if it’s a full blown diplomatic occasion you might need to address a King & Queen, a President, Prime Minister, Ministers or Secretaries, ambassadors down to Ladies & Gentlemen.

Terrifying.   Especially when getting it wrong—by omission, mispronunciation or incorrect order—can bruise huge and fragile egos.

Properly acknowledging distinguished guests is not popular because it makes the inexperienced speaker feel like he’s defusing a bomb, and it bores the audience.

We anticipate having every speaker repeat the same acknowledgment of all 20 distinguished guests with the same affection we have for a long line.

It’s no surprise therefore that this handy, time-saving, low risk opening has been so enthusiastically embraced in the few African and Caribbean countries where it’s been observed.

If “All protocols observed” can suffice why not do it?  And everyone’s doing it so it’s clearly accepted.

Well everyone saying it doesn’t make it right.

Opening with“All protocols observed” is as ludicrous as it is expedient.  It’s expedient because it saves a lot of time and anxiety.  It’s ludicrous because you’re breaking protocol while saying you’re observing it.

It’s like saying, “All introductions made,” without actually introducing anyone.

While there’s no getting around the opening salutation you can take solace in not having to list every dignatory present if you’re further down the list of speakers.

The host or Master of Ceremonies must observe the entire list of dignitaries when they open the proceedings, but if you are merely one of many speakers that take the stage during the course of the evening you can get away with listing, only the top two or three dignitaries e.g. President, Prime Minister and Chief Justice while grouping all ministers present as Honourable Ministers, other distinguished guests, Ladies & Gentlemen.

There may be other accepted short-cuts that cluster dignitaries so you won’t have to name everyone, but rest assured a proper acknowledgment is mandatory.

There is no protocol in the United States or the British Commonwealth that allows anyone to open a speech with “All protocols observed.”

For those offended by being corrected let me just say “All apologies made.”

Any thoughts? Contributions/acknowledgments welcome.