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Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing Dwight MacAulay, Chief of Protocol for the Government of Manitoba. I came to know Dwight through a student networking event, ‘Backpack to Briefcase’  that I organized on behalf of the Canadian Public Relations Society. As one of three panelists, Dwight provided networking tips on dealing with government officials and dignitaries. As a student, networking with professionals can seem daunting at times – So the elevator speech went well? Great! Now what to say..and for how long? Do I seem like I am lingering? Well, I got the business card…how do I follow up?!

Dwight’s warm smile, light demeanour and sound advice put our minds at ease. He told us to be ourselves, be genuine and not to worry about rejections as students. His resume for lack of a better term is so freaking cool. His started out in radio and television. He has had an extremely interesting career working with everyone from rockstars to royalty! Needless to say, I was tickled pink when Dwight invited me to his office at the Manitoba Legislative Building to talk about one of his favourite projects.

Dwight and I

Dwight and I

While he has had vast experience hosting royals from Princess Anne during the PanAm Games in 1999; which marked the longest royal visit ever of 6 days, to 1984’s most popular royal couple: the visit of Prince Andrew and Sarah, he chose to speak on his experiences organizing visits from Queen Elizabeth in both 2002 and 2010.

Royal visits garnish a great deal of international media. A visit from the Queen presents many opportunities to showcase your city on the world stage. The rhetorical question of What is Winnipeg?  is answered to primary (the Queen/locals), secondary (national), and tertiary (international) audiences. First and foremost the objective is to show unprecedented hospitality to the Queen, while leveraging the magnitude of her profile to showcase Winnipeg’s many unique attributes. Visits are centered around people, events, structures and food.

Extensive planning and attention to detail is essential to ensuring the success of these projects. Each royal visit plan has consisted of 20-30 significant columns ranging from security, being of upmost importance; media planning; transportation logistics, all the way down to parking; various points of contact; cultural nuances, with respect to differences such as gift exchange; to menu selection. Did the Queen have pickerel yesterday? If so – the menu needs adjusting. (As was the case for the 2010 Government House Luncheon!)

Dwight’s mantra is to “Be the Jack of all Trades and Master of None”. This meaning you absolutely know how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together from the biggest to most minuscule detail. A successful event is one where no one knows you were even there. A strong team is needed: start with a small nucleus and build outward. Dwight keeps his team in the loop throughout the entire process, sharing every detail even if said team member isn’t supposed to carry out that specific piece of the puzzle. Leading a team in this way requires a Master Degree in Micromanagement – but not in the negative sense! It’s not that you do everything, but you do need to make everything as seamless as possible.

This is easier said than done. Often, plans are tentative until the last minute as to when exactly the guest of honour will arrive and the duration of their stay. To best facilitate this process one must determine interest with many while tactfully communicating that there is only a chance the Queen may be able to attend your event/venue. Over-plan essentially and trim the fat as you go along to make the best use of resources come time to the event.

The Queen’s visit in 2010 included a trip to the newly renovated airport; an Aboriginal cultural performance at The Forks; visits with cadets, seniors and the Winnipeg Corgi Dog Club (Her Majesty’s favourite breed, who knew!). Queen Elizabeth also partook in a a formal unveiling of the cornerstone for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. This event also displayed the Magna Carta, the first ever significant document on the modern concept of human rights from Britain dating back to 1215. Read more here.

Dwight stressed the importance of always having contingency plans in place. No event goes exactly as planned, but nobody knows but you! This visit was challenging due to many uncontrollable factors. The Queen’s visit was 2 hours behind schedule and she was to take a boat across the Red River…it stalled…TWICE! It didn’t help that the weather was a little colder than expected, but the rain could not have been any better (See what happened). Dwight also recalled the serendipitous nature of the rain. Rain was on and off in the most favorable way – it would rain while Queen Elizabeth was in the plane and miraculously stop as she had to walk to the car; rain again en route and stop on queue as she had to step out of the car. This happened all day!

All in all this visit went extremely well, so much so that Dwight was invested as Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) by the Queen. After doing a little digging, I found that Dwight was the first Manitoban to receive such an honour.

Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO)

Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO)

It was an absolute pleasure to interview Dwight! I am very grateful that he took time out of his day to meet with me. Other helpful tips he offered included:

  • Writing is the foundation of everything. Get as much practice as you can and you will soon see how you become more adept at the art of writing and communicating.
  • Read out loud. Practice reading the paper, you will quickly notice that your voice carries better and an improvement in your enunciation.