Business Etiquette Series session teaches students to be polite anywhere

Lindsay Miller

Deborah Thomas-Nininger recalls a story of World War II spies who were caught in Germany because they were not engaging in proper global etiquette. Their legs were crossed at the knees, and they were cutting their food in the American zig-zag style.

“Table manners will set you apart from all cultures,” Thomas-Nininger said. 

Thomas-Nininger shared her knowledge on global etiquette with students at a session of the Stevens Family Global Business Etiquette Series held Friday afternoon at the Kent State University Hotel and Conference Center.

The Stevens Family Global Business Etiquette Luncheon, hosted by Kent State’s College of Business Administration, was a facilitated etiquette lunch program to help prepare students for interviewing over a meal and interacting with global business partners.

“The event gives students the opportunity, in what I would consider a safe environment, to practice dining etiquette but to ask questions about the global business environment that they might not feel comfortable addressing if they were in the situation,” said Kristin Williams, the College of Business Administration’s career services director. “The takeaways are that they should now have, like Deborah mentioned, just enough information to want to know more. Deborah is so well equipped because she is working with global organizations and has heard from our corporate employers, who will be hiring our students, what they should not be doing.”

Thomas-Nininger is the founder of DTN Productions International-Hallmark of Etiquette, a training company that provides seminars on all areas of international and domestic protocol, specializing in “perception management.”

In addition to being an executive trainer for a Fortune 500 company, Thomas-Nininger has more than 20 years of business etiquette expertise.

“Ninety-nine percent of my time, I spend in the corporate world — the professional world — training companies around the globe on their professionalism, their soft skills, assertiveness, questioning skills, and presentation skills,” Thomas-Nininger said. “I’ve also been teaching global etiquette, custom differences and etiquette differences for years.”

After talking about her background, Thomas-Nininger opened the luncheon by asking students to reflect on their learning objectives, why they signed up to attend and what they hope to gain from the luncheon.

Thomas-Nininger said students should not merely tolerate diversity but should learn to appreciate it. 

“Honda requires its Japanese employees to take two years of American etiquette,” Thomas-Nininger said. “If you appreciate, you’re going to learn and enjoy.”

Thomas-Nininger said that tolerating diversity will lead to arrogance, which she said is how much of the world views Americans.

Business administration graduate student Jyoti Sharma shared a story with Thomas-Nininger that supported the preconceived stereotype that Americans are viewed as arrogant.

“I’m from India, and when I stepped off my plane into America, I said ‘thank you,’ and the person responded ‘mmhmm,’ ” Sharma said. “It almost seemed arrogant to not receive a ‘you’re welcome.’ ”

Thomas-Nininger used the rest of the time to explain different global etiquette rules to ensure students will not come across as arrogant and instead be respectful toward other cultures.

Discussions included having napkin etiquette during meals, addressing clients, exchanging business cards, avoiding American clichés, using proper body language and handshakes and using silverware correctly. Thomas-Nininger closed the luncheon with a toast after explaining how to properly deliver one.

“I wish you nothing but continued success as the future face of all global citizens, as I am certain you will make everyone proud,” Thomas-Nininger said. “I wish you on this journey a lot of comfort and a lot of joy as you experience so many wonderful opportunities, and my very best wishes to you in your very near future.”

For more information on the programs offered by Kent State University’s College of Business Administration’s Career Services Office, visit

Contact Lindsay Miller at [email protected].