Madelyn Ridgeway, a wife, mom and event planner living in Waterloo, IA is the latest winner of our National Business Etiquette Week contest. This year’s contest asked entrants to explain why they would like to be the next Business Etiquette Superstar and Madelyn impressed us with her career trajectory and reasons for entering the etiquette field. Learn more about Madelyn below—our next Etiquette Superstar!
Madelyn, congratulations on winning the National Business Etiquette Week contest! Tell us a little bit about you, your professional career and your current position.
After finishing graduate school in the Family & Consumer Sciences field, I worked from The University of Georgia’s Cooperative Extension service as a county agent serving families and organizations in my community through teaching various classes. I got married and moved to Iowa where I started working for the Department of Defense as a School Liaison Officer with Child & Youth Services. I worked with local school systems to ease the transition of military students to the area. After leaving that position, I went to work for Iowa State University Extension as a Families Field Specialist where I once again had the opportunity to serve the citizens of my community and state through teaching family related classes and courses. I also served on many national committees and boards and helped plan conferences and events for those organizations.
In 2013, I left Iowa State to stay at home with my kids and start my own event planning company. I also occasionally travel as a contractor for Iowa State University, training people all over the country in the #1 parenting program in the world, the Strengthening Families Program 10-14.
My life is very full, to say the least, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
How did you hear about the contest and The Protocol School of Washington?
I learned about PSOW when I began searching for a place to be formally trained in the etiquette field. As I mentioned in my video, I’d taught etiquette classes in graduate school and have always had an interest in the field, but I had never been trained specifically in the field. As I was researching, the PSOW kept coming up as one of the top options.
This year’s contest sought out the next Business Etiquette Superstar. Why would you like to have that starring “role?”
I truly enjoy serving others. Being the next Business Etiquette Superstar gives me the opportunity to serve others in a way that gives them something powerful and can help them succeed and grow in their lives and careers.
In your winning video entry, you talk about the power of business etiquette in today’s world. Why do you think business etiquette is powerful and why does it prove beneficial to working professionals?
I’ve always felt very fortunate to have exposure to etiquette and especially business etiquette at the early stages of my college career. I am positive it opened doors for me that might have otherwise been closed. I think it’s a very powerful skill many young professionals are missing. It’s powerful because it allows professionals to navigate their particular field with confidence and graciousness, a combination that makes them valuable to any company. Good business etiquette gives you a roadmap of sorts of what to say when and to whom. It allows a candidate to focus on learning the things they need to learn to advance in their careers and not waste energy focusing on if they are conducting themselves in the proper manner.
How did your upbringing—and particularly your mother’s guidance—help form your interest in etiquette?
Although it wasn’t referred to as etiquette, my mother always taught me graciousness in the form of courtesy and kindness to others. She taught me that giving gifts was important and could be an expression of your thankfulness towards others. I also learned to conduct myself in a manner that always reflected the person I wanted to be known as; someone loving, kind and confident. As I would take the many classes and courses she enrolled me in, I was always reminded to be kind and treat others the way I would like to be treated—if not better! Thank you notes and hostess gifts were also a regular part of my childhood, so she led by example.
In high school, I was the go-to student in Mrs. Crocker’s Home Economics class where we learned the basics of setting a proper table. Perhaps my friends saw something in me at the time that I had yet to realize. I also had an Aunt Barbara who taught me how to cook and entertain for special occasions. This most certainly played a part in me eventually choosing the Family & Consumer Sciences department as my place to land in college. This department and the people in it were the first to formally introduce me to good business etiquette and the power it could have in one’s life.
You are already a very established event planner in Iowa. Tell us about your business and how you weave in good etiquette into your approach to planning events?
My company is a boutique event planning company that gives “meaning to the pretty;” we see many events today that are very beautifully decorated and executed but lack the meaning behind them that truly make them special and memorable. My goal as an event planner is to always serve my clients by working with them to capture the essence of who they are and what they want their guests to feel when they attend their event.
Good etiquette is an essential part of running an event planning company. From proper table settings and introductions to eating skills and presenting yourself confidently to your guests, it’s essential I am able to help my clients navigate their events by sharing good etiquette tips and directions with them.
In your winning video entry, you talk about the importance of graciousness. What does being gracious mean to you, personally, and why is it important professionally?
Being gracious, to me, is being kind, courteous and pleasant to others.
As a gracious professional you are realizing your full potential. You have the ability to be a team player and complement your company and co-workers, which promotes growth potential. Additionally, you are capable of making positive impressions in the office and with clients. It makes you an all-around better employee.
You also have a great quote about bright stars and their effect on other people? Can you tell us about that?
That quote actually came to me during my quiet time one morning. I like to take some time and reflect on things I’m working on each day and possibly further process them. As I was reflecting on what it means to be a Business Etiquette Superstar, I began thinking about stars and their properties and as I did the quote came to me, “the brightest stars share their light with others around them.” I began researching to see if that was really true of stars and I found that indeed it was. Many of the small twinkles we see at night are a result of one of the earth’s largest stars, the sun, reflecting its light on stars that are otherwise dark. This was such a great revelation for me and summed up perfectly why I wanted to become the next Business Etiquette Superstar!
Like last year’s winner, you are from the South, a place that has a reputation as the birthplace of good etiquette and civility. What is some good old-fashioned Southern advice about business etiquette and treating your colleagues with respect?
Some of my favorite go-to advice is not specifically business etiquette but good etiquette in general; arrive on time, have a firm handshake and smile and for goodness sake, make sure you send a thank-you and treat others the way you want to be treated!
As the winner of this year’s NBEW contest, you will be attending a complimentary PSOW training session this fall. What are your goals for this training and how do you hope it translates into your professional plans?
My goal for the fall training is to soak up every bit of the opportunity I can. I want to learn all The Protocol School of Washington has to offer, meet other attendees who have an interest in etiquette and learn about all the possibilities this industry has to offer.
In recent years I’ve had the aspiration to combine my event planning business with my background in planning and teaching classes. I plan to offer etiquette classes and seminars in addition to using the training to further assist my event planning clients.
As you continue on your own path as an etiquette professional, where do you see yourself in five years? In 10 years?
In five years, I see myself with a thriving business offering business and social etiquette classes on a regular basis. I will have added 2-3 associate planners whom I’ve trained in the basics of etiquette so they can better assist our event planning clients and guide them through the planning process. I will have increased the business etiquette side of my business so having associate planners will free me up to focus on growing that portion of my business.
Precious Pearls (my nonprofit mentoring program for young girls) will be established and I will be looking at expanding that effort even more by seeking corporate and philanthropic sponsors to the movement, so we can create further exposure for the young girls in the program.
In 10 years as I send my oldest children off to college, I’m free to more widely pursue creating other offices for Madelyn Ridgeway Events, perhaps a Southeastern office.
I would also like to see additional chapters of Precious Pearls being chartered and online courses and partnerships with college campuses and school systems to expose young adults to good etiquette.