Attending a Military Ball or Formal!

A couple weeks ago, I wrote “You Got Invited to a Military Ball!” Well, the time is here! In honor of the Marine Corps Birthday and Veterans Day next week, I am sharing my tips for attending a military formal. Now that you have done all the prep work to get ready, it is time to attend this fabulous and fun event!

  1. Arriving at the Ball
    • There’s no such thing as being fashionably late in the military. The military is a punctual culture and to them, arriving on time is arriving late.
      • Note: With that said, cocktail hour does give you a little wiggle room. If it starts at 6:00pm, you should arrive no later than 6:10pm. The cocktail hour is meant for mingling and you are expected to do so. The dinner and ceremony will run on a schedule and you typically do not get up to socialize during them.
    • Your date will escort you “arm-and-arm” on his/her right (the place of honor). Since it is a formal setting with a social aspect, it is unlikely he/she will be required to render salutes.
      • Service members are not allowed to hold hands in uniform and PDA in uniform is a “no go.”
    • If there is a receiving line, be prepared to shake hands (potentially a lot of them)
      • The first person in the line is the announcer. You simply tell the announcer your name and do not shake his/her hand. The host is next followed by the guest(s) of honor.
      • You should not have anything in your hands. If the receiving line is not at the front door, make sure you skip the bar and appetizers until after you go through the line. (A purse in your left hand is OK)
      • This is not the place for long conversation. Give a simple greeting and thanks such as, “Sir/Ma’am, it is so nice to meet you. Thank you for hosting me this evening.”
  2. Cocktail Hour
    • Follow your date’s lead on who you need to meet. He/she often has many officers or senior officials who are important to greet.
    • Again, be prepared to shake hands! Always leave your right hand free to shake hands by holding your drink/appetizers (and purse if you have one) in your left hand.
    • Once you are introduced by your date, extend your right hand, say “hello,” and introduce yourself using your first and last name.
    • Under no circumstance should you get drunk. Even though this is a social occasion, it is formal and in no way appropriate to drink too much. It is still the military and your date will get in trouble if something goes wrong or you do something inappropriate. Do NOT be the sloppy guest who needs taken care of and embarrasses his/her date and the host/hostess.
      • If you do not drink, that is perfectly acceptable! Do not let anyone pressure you.
      • If you do drink, I recommend 1 drink during cocktail hour, 1 drink during the course of the meal, and 1 drink post-dinner (dancing and mingling time).
    • During the cocktail hour, check the seating chart/place cards so you know where you to go once you enter the main room.
  3. The Dinner
    • Once you find your table, stand to the right of your seat. If seating is assigned, do not move your place card and rearrange the table. If it is not assigned, you will sit to your date’s right. Also, in social settings, you typically sit alternating men and women.
    • Once everyone for your table arrives, take your seat by entering your chair on the right side.
    • To review dining tips, please refer to my post “8 Foundational Dining Etiquette Tips.”
    • Be social with your table!
      • If you are seated with people you do not know, be sure to introduce yourself.
      • Do not gossip at the table. No one likes sitting next to the “mean girl” who comments on what everyone is wearing or makes snarky remarks about other people in attendance.
    • If you need to get up from the table, simply say “Excuse me for a moment.” No one needs to know if you have to use the restroom or need to step outside for something.
    • Do not play with your hair or apply make-up at the table.
  4. The Ceremony
    • Read the program! An overview of the service’s and event’s history is typically included as well as the background of your host and guest of honor (their bios will be in the program).
    • Parading the Colors: Stand while the American and service flag(s) are brought into the room and remain standing while they are present. The National Anthem will most likely be played as well. If so, face the flag with your hand over your heart. If the service’s song is played, you continue to stand, but you do not have to keep your hand over your heart. Do not sit until the colors are retired (paraded out of the room) and you are told to take your seat.
      • This is NOT the time to take photos. You should stand in respect of the flag and the playing of the National Anthem, not be snapping photos of the event while this is happening.
    • Invocation: The Chaplain will say a prayer to begin the evening.
    • Toasts: Giving toasts is usually a part of the ceremony. At the beginning of the toasts, your glass will be “charged” (filled with champagne). Typically, several people give toasts and your champagne is expected to last for all of the toasts. Take small sips for each toast to avoid running out!
      • If you do run out, each service has different traditions for this, but typically, you get “charged” a fine and no one wants to be that person!
    • The Ceremonial Cake Cutting (my favorite!):  The youngest person and the oldest person serving at the command or who are members of that service cut the cake together using a traditional military sword.
  5. Time to Dance!
    • Yes, there is a dance floor and yes, you can have fun!
      • With that said, remember there are a lot of “higher-ups” in the room. Reserve your getting low and sultry moves for the dance club.
    • I highly recommend keeping your shoes on. It is much more proper than going barefoot and even if you have not, taking your shoes off may give the impression you drank too much and are not able to keep your balance very well.
      • If you truly cannot dance in heels, you may bring a pair of flats and discreetly put them on in the restroom before hitting the dance floor.

If nothing else, the one thing I want you to take away from this post is: you are an extension and a reflection of your date for the evening. You will be meeting your date’s Chain of Command (his/her bosses) as well as the service members he/she leads and it is incredibly important to leave a positive impression on them. Smile at everyone you meet, enjoy the time with your date, and take this chance to learn about the history and tradition of the Service Branch and the Corps or specialty. Be polished, positive, and poised while also having a wonderful and fun evening!

Lastly, in honor of Veterans Day, please take the time to say thank you to those who have served and are currently serving in our Armed Forces. To the many service members with whom I have the privilege of working, the Wounded Warriors who I am honored to serve, all the men and women who wear and have worn the uniform, especially my Dad and Paps, thank you! Your service and sacrifice are appreciated more than words can express. God Bless America and all of you!

Sparkle On,


Having a Successful, First Professional Interaction

This week, I have the opportunity to connect with a professional in my field and ask her my questions about her career, the field, and what it takes to “make it.” I want to ensure I make a great first impression so I have put a lot of time into preparing for my phone call with her. Part of my prep has been to think about what goes into making this a great conversation so, I am sharing some tips on how to have a successful professional interaction.

  1. Do your research!
    • Find the professional’s bio and be familiar with his/her backgroud and professional story.
    • If the professional has started their own company, business, etc., research that as well.
    • Check out his/her social media (TV appearances/interviews, LinkedIn, Twitter, Professional Website or Blog, Professional Facebook page, Pinterest etc.).
    • Pull out some “fun facts” or things you have in common to show you are interested in him/her as an individual and not just a professional. This also helps ease into the business conversation.
  2. Be prepared
    • Once you have done your background research, create a list of questions and topics you want to discuss. Come up with new and inventive questions! By this, I mean make sure your questions are not answered by the information readily available to you in the research you did in step one. If you have questions about career progression, ask for suggestions on how to gain experience, what credentials are important in the field, and what training/educational opportunities are available.
  3. Be persistent, yet patient and polite
    • It may take a few tries before hearing back from the person or being able to schedule a time to meet with him/her. Make sure you ask the professional, “When is best for your schedule?” and find a way to meet the time they give you.
    • It may not be possible to meet the person as quickly as you hope. The fact you are establishing contact via email or phone before being able to meet in a person is a great accomplishment and first step so keep in touch with the individual!
  4. Be focused
    • Whether meeting in person or speaking over the phone, environment is key. Be sure to choose a location with minimal distractions and not a lot of noise: You want to ensure you will stay engaged in the conversation (and be able to hear!).
      • If the meeting is taking place in person and not at the professional’s office, choose a small, quiet coffee shop or bistro where you can sit and talk easily.
      • If you will be speaking over the phone, be sure you are sitting somewhere you will not be distracted by other people.
        • Close the door to your office, room, etc.
        • Silence notifications on your phone
        • Do not have things open on your computer which will distract you
  5. Express your gratitude and thanks!
    • The professional you are connecting with no doubt has a busy schedule because he/she is successful in the field (after all, that is why you are making the connection!). Be sure to thank him/her each time you connect.
      • For example, “Thank you for be so willing to speak/meet with me. I greatly appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule.”
    • You can always send a thank you note! People appreciate you taking the time to recognize their effort.

I hope these tips give you a boost of confidence to make a positive and successful professional interaction. Now get out there and start networking! If you have questions about any of these tips or something I did not mention, please leave a comment!

Sparkle On,


Strangers Everywhere? Make a Positive First Impression!

This past week, I attended a protocol training course. On the first day of the course, the organization hosted an “Opening Night” which consisted of a welcome social. I had prepared for the course for quite a while, but that evening, I realized I did not know anyone attending and I suddenly got nervous. What was I going to do when I walked into a room full of people I did not know? The majority would be older than me and much more experienced in the field. As we have all been told, “You only get one chance at a first impression.” I wanted to make a positive first impression on these new professional colleagues and not show the nerves I felt!

After thinking about it for a while before arriving and then reflecting on the experience afterwards, I came up with the following tips on how to successfully navigate these types of first interactions:

  1. Be confident!
    • When you walk into the room, stand tall with your shoulders back and smile. Do not play with your hair, jewelry, or clothing and do not be on your phone or any other tech device. Fidgeting can relay nervousness or apprehension – even if you are, do not show it!
    • Do not burst through the doors like a diva demanding attention. Instead, walk in gracefully and make eye contact with the others in the room. Most importantly, remember to smile!
  2. Find an Individual or a Group of People to Join
    • Look around the room to find another individual who is there by him/herself or a group of individuals who appear to be talking casually.
      • Do not choose a group who looks to be “too tight” and deeply engaged in a personal conversation. Groups like that may be dear friends catching up or coworkers discussing office matters and joining their conversation can set you up for failure seeing as you do not know the background details to equally contribute to the conversation.
    • Once you have found an inviting individual or group, approach and ask, “May I join you?” Most individuals are more than happy to meet someone new!
  3. Introduce Yourself!
    • Once you have found an individual or group, make eye contact with someone and extend your hand. Give a gentle yet affirming handshake (you do not want to crush someone’s hand, but you also do not want to be like a wet noodle!). Keep eye contact during the handshake and introduce yourself.
    • When you tell someone your name, use your first and last name! Your last name anchors you as a person and makes a more professional statement. Using your last name also sets you apart from anyone else in the room who may have the same first name as you. Equally as important, state your first name as you like to be called.
      • For example, my name is Alexandra and I prefer to be called Alexandra, NOT Alex. Therefore, I always introduce myself saying, “Hi! I am Alexandra Bitonti.” If I am introduced by someone else and he or she refers to me as “Alex,” I politely extend my hand and say, “Nice to meet you, I am Alexandra.” so the new individual hears my name as I like to be known.
  4. Prepare Easy Conversation Starters
    • Think of a few easy, friendly questions or talking points you can use to start a conversation.
      • “Where do you work? What do you do?” – At business gatherings, this is great for networking. After all, it is why you are there!
      • “Where are you from?” – If you have been there before, chat about the city. If not, ask about the area.
      • “Have you taken any vacations this summer or do you have one planned?” – People love to talk about their travels!
      • “Where did you go to school?” – If it is football season (or any other sport’s season), school pride and sports are a great conversation starter and can lead into a variety of other topics. **Go Terps!**

Overall, the biggest takeaway from this is to be confident when meeting new people! Tell yourself, “I have got this,” smile big, and then walk tall into the room and show everyone just how much you shine!

I hope these tips help give you extra confidence to make a positive and memorable first impression! If you have any questions or there is something I have not mentioned here, please leave a comment. I love hearing from my readers!

Sparkle On,