The nerves before an important first meeting might sound the same in any language. 

Eyes locked. Arms reached out. Wait, are we going for a handshake or hug? Or now in COVID times … should we elbow bump? 

If anyone can answer those questions or calm those anxieties, it’s Peter Kirkwood. 

“It’s that first impression,” Kirkwood said, “so it means so much.” 

As Chief of Protocol for the International Center, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit organization, he’s tasked with briefing Indiana leaders before they meet with foreign dignitaries and visitors.

He works with the Governor’s office, Chamber of Commerce, mayors, economic development officials and others across the state. Kirkwood and his team may brief them on a country’s basic biographical profile, or they might offer guidance on the appropriate cultural greeting for a guest. 

His work is a reflection of Indiana’s increasing globalization — with growing immigrant populations and a sharper focus on securing foreign investments — the state has an important stake in staying connected with the world.

“Indiana has connections to every corner of the world,” Kirkwood said. “When we think about Hoosier hospitality, we’re very good at casual, (and) receiving and accommodating. “With ‘protocol’ …  we’re able to show Hoosier hospitality on the global stage.”