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Jumping Into What’s Next

Jumping off the high dive was the final test to earn an advanced swimming certificate and I was determined to get mine, a prerequisite of my goal to become a Red Cross Water Safety Instructor so that I could qualify for future summer jobs teaching swimming lessons. At 5 meters high (16.4 feet) just the thought of climbing the diving board’s ladder (let alone jumping off) was terrifying to me but I was determined not to “chicken out.” It was the 1960s and we were in middle school. I was the only girl in the class. The boys had teased me about the test for most of the summer, certain the instructor would have to climb up to retrieve me after I burst into tears.

The jump day came and we all lined the pool deck watching our classmates and waiting our turn. I was trying to look brave but in truth, but my stomach was churning. I climbed the ladder on wobbly legs and tried not to look down. The board was longer and much more springy than I anticipated and even my slightest movement made an exaggerated bouncing motion. I edged out to the end and stood for what seemed like an hour, as my classmates stared in silence. The blue sparkling water looked to be a mile below and I felt dizzy. Suddenly, from somewhere deep inside, I felt an invisible push and I jumped myself into our town’s small group of “certified advanced swimmers” and in to an assured summer job.

Covid-19 has once again brought me to the high dive. As the person responsible for a university president’s events, an official residence, high-profile meetings, conferences and special events, the virus has stopped my job in its tracks. With nothing but uncertainty looming on the horizon and the announcement that we won’t have any major events for the coming year, I’ve decided it is time to jump into my “what’s next.” I wasn’t thinking about leaving, but being parked at home with nothing to do feels like being locked in a cage. Gone is the addictive adrenaline rush of my previously hectic lifestyle and the accompanying satisfaction of working hard to help advance the university. So, after contemplating the situation, I jumped. I resigned my position, sold my house, and relocated to another state.

In the coming months, I will be devoting full attention to my own company, Harris Etiquette, Events, Protocol. I’m converting my popular business etiquette and protocol courses to virtual applications, will be adding new training and resources for people in business and academics, releasing my new book about managing an official residence, and writing my blog. I’ll also serve as the Vice President for Membership of Protocol and Diplomacy –International Protocol Officers Association (PDI-POA). When the world returns to large public gatherings, I will resume my on-site consulting services advising schools on how to stage board of trustees’ meetings, presidential inaugurations, commencements, and milestone events such as capital campaign kickoffs. I look forward to once again being invited to speak at professional conferences. In the meantime, I am available to answer questions and to serve as an argument-resolving resource when debates arise about arcane topics like what regalia is appropriate for an academic marshal. I invite you to visit my web site at correctoncampus.com, e-mail me at april.l.harris@icloud.com, or find me on Facebook or LinkedIn.

I’ve made the jump and I’ll work hard to become an advanced swimmer in the sparkling new waters in which I’ve landed.

 

 

 

 

 

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Smiling Voices, Smiling Eyes

A simple trip to the grocery story while wearing a face mask is a lesson in how much we rely on smiles and friendly nods to communicate with others. Our facial expressions send potent non-verbal messages that convey everything from friendly greetings to subtle traffic-directing acknowledgments that keep the flow of carts and people moving without colliding. Facial expressions communicate wordlessly when two people reach simultaneously for the same cooler door, they help us share a quick giggle at a silly situation, or as any Mom knows, send a powerful, but silent “stop that right now” to a misbehaving child.

I live in the south where established custom indicates a slight smile and little head bob extended to strangers is just plain good manners. It’s our way of acknowledging the presence of another human being and extending a touch of the polite courtesy that is so essential to a civil society. Having our faces covered because of Covid-19 removes the most important part of this tool—our smiles.

While eyes and eyebrows play an important role in communication, they only tell half the story. We need the mouth to get the full version. The mouth shows happiness, anger, fear, scorn, sadness or confusion. We learn early on that the non-verbal messages we get from seeing the entire face are a clue to the sincerity and trustworthiness of the words we hear.

There are many ramifications of having one’s face covered such as:

Sarcasm and pithy remarks can be misinterpreted because the listener can’t see the wry smile that says, “I’m joking;”

My son works with a man who is deaf but reads lips very well. With mouths covered, work has become a frustrating experience for both him and his colleagues;

Meeting new people is more challenging because we can’t see and remember the person’s face;

Masks muffle words making it difficult to hear and understand, especially when compounded by six-feet of social distance;

Masks confirm some things we prefer not to think about, for example, if you’ve ever wondered if your breath offends people the day after Pad Thai, there is no longer any doubt;

And sadly, masks have become the new American litter, dropped in parking lots and left in public spaces.

I Can “Hear” the Smile Behind Your Mask

Perhaps we need to practice an established sales training tip, putting a smiIe in our voices by smiling as we speak, even though no one can see our mouths.  Call center operators, fund-raisers, sales professionals and radio broadcasters are all schooled in smiling even though their audiences often can’t see their faces. We can definitely “hear” the smile in the speaker’s voice and we certainly notice when it’s missing. As a bonus in this face mask era where we can see eyes, smiles help give another clue to meaning because they have a way of “lighting up” a speaker’s eyes and making the person seem sincere, kind, and happy.

For the moment, wearing a face mask is essential and while lots of us are frustrated and cranky because we miss our normal lives, perhaps each of us could help lighten the mood by practicing what Leslie Lautenslager, president of Protocol and Diplomacy-International Protocol Officers Association (http://www.protocolinternational.org) said in a recent post. She signed off with having “smiling eyes and smiling voices.” I’m going to work on my technique.

 

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Flying is Squeaky Clean

I flew last weekend for the first time since Covid-19 upended life. It’s a strange new world, but one that I believe we’ve got to engage with if we are ever going to move forward. I flew Delta, and I must say, I’ve never felt so clean!

The first big change is the absence of the frenetic pace that typifies airports and the entire arrival process. No traffic congestion in front of the terminal, no security people shooing lingerers away from the loading/no waiting zones. Inside, the check-in counters were empty with one lone agent standing at Delta. All those frequent flier perks that we work so hard to accumulate so that we can skip the lines, were suddenly irrelevant. No one was there but me.

The biggest change? Each time you move from one step of the flying process to the next, someone is sanitizing you and your surroundings.

It starts with the Clear line. No more putting your fingers on the touch pad, instead, with mask on, you stare in to the just-wiped screen for an eyeballs-only scan. No full-face scan because they don’t want you to lower your mask. That finished, a chubby bottle of hand sanitizer is plopped in your hand. Next, step up to the TSA agent who does not touch your ticket or ID. It is do-it-yourself scanning. That done, use sanitizer again.

In Delta’s frequent flier lounge, the Sky Club, the always friendly hosts are now ensconced behind Plexi-glass walls making them seem less approachable. It’s like looking at them through a store window display. The normally jammed club is usually filled with passengers bustling to all points of the globe and the energy always fires me up and makes me feel like I’m part of something special. This visit, I was seated alone in an empty lobby, so quiet that I could hear a man’s food wrapper rattling from the other side of the room.

The Sky Club’s big draw is the always delicious hot and cold, self-serve buffet that makes the weary traveler whole without having to go to a restaurant. On this day, hot soups, fresh salads, side dishes and baked goods were replaced by a space-age looking, carefully organized selection of wrapped, labeled foods arranged on a grid by someone who must be an engineer, not a chef.  Everything was encased in protective plastic from vegetables to tiny individually wrapped pita breads. As soon as you finish eating, attendants whose hands are covered in black safety gloves swoop in to whisk away your debris and swab all surfaces you may have touched with disinfectant. Guests are spaced so far apart, it’s as if you are there alone. The local newspapers that I love to read are gone (you can learn a lot about a place by reading its newspaper) as are the slick travel magazines that never fail to fire my vacation fantasies.

As we stepped on board the jet, a masked, gloved flight attendant handed each passenger another sanitizing wipe and encouraged us to use them. We were all assigned a luxurious amount of room with no one in the dreaded middle seats. Once airborne, the chance to ponder whether my snack should be Biscoff cookies or Cheetos, and if it is too early for a glass of wine, is gone. Curated refreshments now arrive in little plastic bags and include a small bottled water, packaged snacks, and tiny individual one-squirt packets of hand sanitizer accompanied by a note about keeping clean and safe (as if we had forgotten).

Even the cabin safety announcements have changed. Passengers are now asked to refrain from placing used sanitizing wipes in the seat pockets in front of us. Instead, the attendants will come through the aisles to collect them. Ugh.

Now that I’ve had my first taste of protective flying in the Covid era, I’ll definitely do it again, but I long for the good old days of traffic jams, big crowds, rushing people, smiling flight attendants, overflowing overhead bins, and rubbing arms with some stranger who is crammed in the middle seat beside me.

 

 

 

 

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Repave Your Parking Lot Now

I’ve noticed many restaurants in our area have taken advantage of the time they’ve been Covid closed to redecorate, update, and re-do infrastructure such as parking lots, projects that have likely been on the “to do” list for a long time, but that would be disruptive to perform under normal circumstances. Their investment demonstrates confidence in our future, and also provides an allegory for collegiate events planners.

Most of us have finished work-arounds for spring awards ceremonies, board meetings, and even commencement. While the majority of us have managed to hang on to our jobs, now that commencement is in the rear view, the real belt-tightening will begin. The majority of campuses will remain closed for the summer, with fall reopening still in question. On our campus, no in-person events are scheduled for the foreseeable future. Some schools have announced no large events and no off-campus groups allowed for at least a year. It’s tough to justify keeping events planners on staff under those conditions. I know of colleagues who have already had hours and benefits reduced. It’s time for events planners to craft a strategy to protect employment and build for the future. Here are some suggestions:

Make Yourself Indispensable by Offering to Help. Take the initiative and offer your services to one of two areas that need help right now, development and admissions. Because events planners deal with people on a personal level, we often get to know alumni and friends in very different ways than other staff members, something bosses may not realize. We know everything from guests’ stories about their college experiences to their work lives, to their food preferences. We often have their administrative assistant’s names and know how to get on the person’s calendar, or know all about when they change jobs and why, or what ails them. This knowledge can be of great benefit to fund-raising staff, and let’s be honest, during the regular crazy-busy flood of events, we don’t often take the time to share. Make yourself indispensable by putting this information to work for others. Volunteer to spend your summer building lists of people who might be good advisory council, board, or committee members or who might otherwise be prime candidates for increased involvement. Offer to brief prospect researchers, help vet lists, and update databases.

Admissions offices are working on overdrive right now as they scramble to confirm fall enrollments and prevent admitted students from changing their minds. Predictions are that up to 20 percent of students may not show up for fall. Your people and tech skills may be useful in helping admissions staff reach out to admitted students to encourage them to enroll.

If you choose to try a volunteer strategy, talk to your boss now before cutbacks are announced. Once you have been indicated for reduced hours, a furlough, or worse yet, layoff, it’s too late because your salary has already been factored into a draw-down formula. Assisting other offices may not only keep your paycheck coming, it shows you are a team player. It is also a good way to sample other career options in advancement that may open doors for your future.

Invest in Yourself. If a reduction in hours, or a layoff does come your way, use the opportunity to reinvent yourself for the future. This is a great time for some introspection about where you want to go in your career, and how to get there. Like the restaurant that is adding extra seating even though they are closed, use the gift of time that we have been given. It is rare and invaluable. Significant career progress in higher education means that a master’s degree is mandatory. If you don’t have one, enroll in an online program now. If you don’t want to pursue a degree, there are many other online resources to enhance your skill set in everything from protocol to commencement, to food and beverage, to meeting management. Edx.org http://Edx.org offers high-quality, university-based courses for free on a wide variety of topics. If you want a certificate for your efforts, there is a modest fee. The Protocol School of Washington http://psow.edu has put some of their training online. The North American Association of Commencement Officers http://naaco.com offers a certificate program, as do meeting management associations such as MPI http://mpi.org.

Test Your Wings. How many of us have an idea for a side hustle or self-employment that has been sitting on the “someday when I have time,” burner? Now is the chance to go for it. I know a man whose hobby is cooking bar-b-que for tailgate crowds of 100 people. His dream has been to someday have a food truck. He’s using his furlough to try it out. Another friend has long wanted to open an Etsy store to feature her custom-sewn creations. A layoff and the need for stylish masks has prompted her to get started. Her shop opened last week to great success. The opportunity to showcase her skills and build a customer base will lead to an easy transition to other products once the need for masks has passed.

When I lost a university job years ago during an economic downturn, I started publishing a subscription-based newsletter for events planners, something that I had dreamed of but didn’t have the time to do. With nothing on my hands but time, I gave it a shot, funding myself with credit cards after banks refused to give me a loan. Five years later, I sold my successful company to a much larger publisher. The exposure of that venture brought me attention on a national level that has propelled my career ever since.

So, don’t wait to be a victim or falsely assume that you won’t be affected by job cuts or hours reductions. Now is the time to go on offense and take charge of your situation. It will pay off in the future.

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A Very Special Event Well Shared

Every special events planner dreams about someday creating a signature annual event, one that has long-lasting and meaningful impact. Often, it’s a fund-raising event for an important cause. Women in our town have created signature events in support of the symphony, to fight breast cancer, and to build neonatal care facilities at a local hospital. In most cases, you don’t know you are creating a signature event until it becomes one.

My signature event is the outgrowth of a routine assignment from my boss—figure out a way to demonstrate the university’s commitment to future workforce development with an emphasis on encouraging girls’ interest in STEM. The result was Girls Science and Engineering Day, a day-long annual program that brings 500 third through fifth grade girls to campus to take part in workshops presented by women engineers, scientists, mathematicians, computer experts, biologists, and rocket scientists. A hard sell the first year, Girls Science and Engineering Day  (http://gseduah.com) has grown in quality and passion, attracting a faithful cadre of volunteers, excited girls, corporate sponsors, and even the U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team. My job is to be the catalyst that creates the structure then ignites the efforts of more than 300 enthusiastic volunteers who implement the program, infuse it with energy, and ensure its success. With 10 years under our belts, Girls Science and Engineering Day has won a wall full of awards and is widely copied by other schools. We happily share our formula.

This week I had the honor to join women from Bolivia, Burma, Cameroon, Indonesia, Nepal, Nigeria, Peru, and Slovenia who are here on a U.S. Department of State International Visitor Leadership Program to gather ideas and share how-to information so that they can implement STEM support programs for females in their countries. All accomplished professors, engineers, astronomers, and even a medical doctor, it was fascinating to hear the obstacles they have encountered and the joys of their successes on their quests to attain their career goals. Like us, they all share the desire to help other girls and women achieve their dreams and they are willing to make time in their own busy lives to mentor and to provide programming to help lead the way.  Despite very different backgrounds, talking with these women felt like we were seeing old friends. We swapped ideas, compared notes and told the story of our experiences.  It is very satisfying to know that Girls Science and Engineering Day has now been shared internationally and that our program may germinate ideas that will help little girls in other countries awaken their full potentials. Now that’s future workforce development!

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We Could All Use A Peach Corps

Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is one of my favorite places. It is a clean, friendly model of efficiency, organization, well-curated shops, eating establishments, and services. On top of that, it’s pretty swell as a first-rate international airport. This week, it is also a model for special events planners tasked with organizing major events. It is Super Bowl week in Atlanta and the city is expecting an estimated 150,000 out-of-town visitors, many of whom will arrive by air. Predictions are between 65,000 and 75,000 more people than usual will fly the game’s official airline and Hartsfield-Jackson’s main tenant, Delta, in the days leading up to and just after the big event.

Atlanta is already the busiest airport in the world, but as I navigated my way through the conspicuously extra-crowded terminals during Super Bowl week, I was impressed because things were still working beautifully. The corridors, gate areas, and restrooms were clean, and waiting lines for everything from security to fast food were reasonable. This was thanks to months of careful planning to ensure everyone was prepared for the big week.

While the Atlanta Super Bowl Planning Committee has been meeting for more than a year, according to the January issue of Delta’s Sky magazine, the company also began months ago to plan appropriate staffing, smooth traffic flow (including ensuring competing teams’ hometown fans don’t arrive and depart from adjacent gates), ordering adequate food and beverages, arranging for additional flight attendants and pilots, and purchasing extra catering and fuel to accommodate the super-sized crowd. Plans even extend to having added supplies of pillows, blankets and toilet kits ready for the inevitable travelers who plan to await flights home by sleeping at the airport.

A key component of Delta’s success is that the company recruited employee volunteers to act as airport ambassadors. Dubbed “Peach Corps,” because Georgia is the peach state, volunteers were interviewed and selected for their expertise and commitment to customer service. They have distinctive uniforms making them easy to spot and they were readily apparent today, strategically deployed near trains and other critical junctions to direct people and answer questions. I watched as one assisted a panicked woman who had misplaced her cell phone. After calming the frantic woman, the volunteer called her number to locate the phone. It wasn’t long until the woman’s back pocket was buzzing and everyone nearby enjoyed a good laugh with the relieved customer. “Don’t tell your kids,” someone joked. The gracious sincerity of the Delta volunteer was impressive.

The takeaway for collegiate events planners is that when we are anticipating a major event on campus, no detail can be overlooked. It’s not business as usual and assuming that our regular systems, good though they may be, will not buckle under the strain is foolhardy. Creating our own Peach Corps could be just the thing to ensure that alumni, donors, prospective students, and friends enjoy a hospitable experience and take home great memories every time they enjoy major events on our campuses.

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Build Better Bylaws

Bylaws define the rules of non-profit entities and understanding them is essential to success for advancement professionals who serve as alumni association or foundation executive directors or as members of other non-profit boards.

Simply put, bylaws are a set of rules established by an organization to regulate itself. They define the group’s purpose, who its members are, who can be an officer, how often meetings must be held, who is eligible to serve on its executive committee, whether or not there are standing committees, what parliamentary authority will govern proceedings, and how the bylaws can be amended. Not knowing what they say, or having an up-to-date document, can short-circuit plans and in the worst-case scenario, get you in legal trouble, especially when fund-raising and the distribution of funds are involved.

Oftentimes, bylaws rest out-of-sight in a dark drawer until a problem arises. In actuality, they are a living document and the first place attorneys look when something goes wrong. For an executive director, bylaws can be a powerful ally. Bylaws should be updated every five years or so, especially in light of rapidly changing technology. Building good bylaws can be a fraught experience and attempting to make changes is probably not the best first action for a new executive director. Eventually, however, you will likely be in a situation that requires updating or creating them.

Twenty years ago, as a rookie alumni association executive director, I got my baptism in the ramifications of living with bylaws when I inherited a somewhat rogue board. Since then, I have had many non-profit roles, both for universities and charitable organizations, and while I am not an attorney and this post is not about telling you how to write bylaws, here are my opinions on useful concepts to include.

Define the relationshipof the executive director to the board and specify whether or not he or she has voting privileges. State that the executive director is an ex officio member of all committees.

Keep the board small.Large membership means difficulty in getting things done and higher costs to host meetings, especially if your association pays member travel expenses. Choose an odd number that is divisible by the length of years that constitute a board term. Therefore, if terms are three years, the board might have 21 people which means seven members would rotate off and seven new people would arrive each year.

Make terms short.Three years is about the length of time most people can sustain interest and be truly effective. Short terms will keep your board fresh, provide opportunities for more people to participate, and ensure that its composition reflects your membership both in age and diversity. The first year is for learning, the second is for peak productivity, and the third is for productivity, leadership, and mentoring newcomers.

Don’t allow a progressionfor officers that stipulates people automatically progress through officer roles until they finally retire or become president by default. The person who was brilliant as the first vice president for finance may not have the skill set to be the next president but you’ll be stuck with her if that’s the sequence the bylaws stipulate. Flexibility in filling officer positions allows you to recruit the best people for jobs.

Use a nominating committeeto vet potential board members and officer candidates. The committee then brings a slate to the full board for an up or down vote. This cuts down on politics and voting for personalities as opposed to selecting the right people for jobs. Bylaws should define the structure of the nominating committee. It is a good idea to include both current and former board members. Including past board presidents in this role is an effective way to keep them meaningfully involved and take advantage of their insights and experience. Rotate members each year.

Define a period of timeduring which retiring board members are ineligible to be reelected. One year works pretty well. This way, board members can’t simply renew themselves. This will help prevent your board from getting stale and becoming a clique.

Require board membersand prospects to be current donors and involved in your organization’s activities. It is important for leaders to have skin in the game. Board membership should never be the first exposure to an organization, no matter how prominent a person may be.

Don’t allow family membersto serve simultaneously. In the case of alumni associations, I also don’t recommend allowing school employees who happen to be graduates (or their alumni spouses), to serve as board members. In all of these situations there is too much chance for conflicts of interest. Besides, you’ve got many qualified people among your alumni body who would love to be part of your board. There is no need to fall back on using two members of the same family or alumni who are connected by employment.

Specify what constitutes causefor removalfrom the board and how this process would work.

Include a statement about your commitment to diversity.

Add the authority to conduct business via technology.This might include voting, signing documents, and transferring funds.

Include the requirementthat the group provide directors and officers insurance to protect board members in the event of a lawsuit.

Define what constitutes a quorumfor conducting business.

Specify your parliamentary authority.This means the board is bound by a set of procedures for conducting business, casting votes, and resolving disputes. The classic reference, Robert’s Rules of Order is the U.S. standard. Editions are updated regularly and the book also includes sample bylaws.

Consult an attorney before accepting bylawsto ensure that they are strong enough to withstand legal challenges and written in accordance with the laws of your state.

 

 

 

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Follow Through For Great Events

Follow through is what we are seeing when we admire the beautiful tall arced posture of a golfer whose ball is headed straight down the fairway or the powerful coiled position of a baseball player as the ball he has hit heads for the centerfield fence.

Follow through means carrying motion through until a plan or activity is concluded. It is a fundamental taught to anyone learning golf, baseball, or tennis because the momentum of continuing the swing after the ball is struck creates the force that delivers power. Follow through is also critical for events planners. It is the difference between events that are good enough and those that are great.

Solid follow through ensures attention to detail and saves time and money because we don’t have to re-do work or finish what someone else started. Follow though prevents mistakes and helps eliminate last-minute chaos caused because critical details were left unfinished.

The university opened last month for the new academic year which meant a flurry of back-to-back events for thousands of people, all compressed into a short timeline. Watching the work crews hurriedly set up tables to accommodate 1,000 picnic guests, I noticed that one man was not snapping table legs firmly into place. For him, this was a time saving short cut, but this dangerous lack of follow through meant tables would likely collapse spilling hot food and drinks on unsuspecting guests.  The consequence: We had to stop progress and recheck all tables.

Many large trash receptacles were delivered to the site to be distributed to pre-determined locations. Instead of following through and arranging them according to plan, the delivery people unloaded the containers into a massive group far from where they would be used and went home for the day. What’s worse, they delivered numerous cans that had not been emptied from a previous event! Their lack of follow through meant people had to be pulled from other jobs and deployed to solve the problem.

Follow through is everyone’s responsibility. It could be that the man setting up tables had never been shown how to lock legs or that the trash receptacle delivery personnel were never told where to put the containers. If so, it means that someone in their organizations failed to follow through with good training and complete instructions.

Here are five tips for ensuring good follow though:

  1. Do what you say you are going to do. If you accept responsibility for certain tasks, be sure they are complete, accurate, and on time. Follow through to be certain you have met your obligations by reviewing meeting minutes and checking your own notes.
  2. Handle tasks once. While events planners must be adept multi-taskers, the more times you handle a task, the more you are likely to forget details or run out of time to complete them. Whenever possible, handle things once, complete them, and move on. Don’t leave details dangling.
  3. Organize all components of an event on a spreadsheet. Check each off as completed. Follow through by double-checking the list with members of your team.
  4. Make decisions and stick to them. Ambiguous or tentative plans leave the door wide open for lack of follow through because everyone is waiting for a decision and in the meantime, moves on to service other needs. If plans must change, be certain this is communicated and that new tasks are assigned and those that are no longer needed are cancelled.
  5. Build follow through in to planning. Follow through with your team by periodically meeting to review progress, identify trouble spots, and revise plans, if necessary.
  6. Always file a debrief detailing what worked, what didn’t and why—doing so is the ultimate follow through and helps ensure mistakes won’t be repeated and that events continue to improve year after year.
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Special Events Planners Need Vacations

Special events planners need vacations. I just returned from mine. Not just any vacation, this was an unplugged, disconnected, off the grid, tech-free week! No smartphone, e-mail, texting, Facebook, and no television. It was time well spent. My goal was to rest from the unrelenting pressures of constant event planning and the toxic continual bad news spewed 24/7 by omnipresent media. It took me several days to gear down, but it worked. Even after a full day back in the office, I still feel refreshed.

It’s hard to get away from technology, but I found the perfect place to do so, Big Bend National Park, one of the most remote places in the U.S., a destination that is far off the beaten path and is noted for its dark night sky, rugged landscape, great hiking, and bountiful wildlife. What’s more, I went with a group of strangers, thus leaving relationship politics and behavioral expectations behind. I spent eight days being myself, deliciously “in the moment,” concentrating on just what was in front of me. It was positively therapeutic.

Everyone needs a vacation, especially special events planners. CBS News recently listed event coordinators as number six on their top ten list of most stressful jobs noting, “Arranging meetings, conventions and events of any sort requires myriad organizational and people skills that can raise just about anyone’s blood pressure.”

https://www.cbsnews.com/media/the-10-most-stressful-jobs/

The fact is, most Americans don’t use their paid time off and even when we do, technology means that we are constantly checking in with the office. This is a mistake.

An interesting report by Project: Time Off called “The Tethered Vacation,” is chock full of observations and facts about why people don’t use their vacation time and the effects of pervasive technology when they do. The one I find most interesting is, “Employees who are more connected are not only taking less time off, they are also more stressed. More than half (51%) of those who check in frequently report stress in their home life, compared to 48 percent of those who check in occasionally and 36 percent who unplug on vacation.”

https://www.projecttimeoff.com/research/tethered-vacation

Bottom line: The constant interruption of smartphones and other technology actually makes us less effective, not only as worker, but in our interpersonal relationships. We all need a break, but taking one requires a commitment to yourself. Think of it this way, not using vacation means you are working for free. Event planners work many, many extra hours. Compounding that by giving back vacation time is like taking a salary reduction. Besides, giving your coworkers a break from you and refilling your creativity by immersing yourself in a different environment will yield benefits in productivity down the road. As people who devote much energy to taking care of guests and ensuring that they have a perfect experience, letting someone else take care of you is well-deserved and soothing. Vacation is an investment in yourself.

Whether or not you disconnect like I did, here are some ways to make your vacation a reality.

  1. Pick a date and make a deposit or purchase an airline ticket. Doing so means you are less likely to back out and also helps spread the cost over many months. Good times to get away in academia are after spring commencement, in early September after the initial rush to open a new academic year, after December commencement, anytime in January, and during spring break. Try scheduling vacation the same week that your boss will be away. It lessens the chance for “pop up” events that need last-minute attention.
  2. Plan to really get away. A “staycation,” that is, remaining at home, will not yield the same benefits as a complete change of scenery.
  3. Control your calendar. Diplomatically steer events away from your vacation week. Having a clear calendar while you are away will dramatically reduce your anxiety about being gone.
  4. Tell your friends, family, and colleagues that you want some down time and ask that they not contact you while away.
  5. Give yourself peace of mind by assembling a home based “first response team.” Arrange for friends and family to back you up to handle minor problems or field emergency calls. Designate someone to check on your elderly mom and to be the first point of contact in case of emergency.  Recruit someone that the vet can call if your dog gets sick while boarding.  Ask a neighbor to watch your house.
  6. As the date approaches, don’t remind coworkers that you will be away. Telling people as you are about to leave only encourages them to dump projects on which they’ve procrastinated onto your desk at the last moment.
  7. Trust your colleagues to manage events while you are off. You will have the chance to return the favor when they take their vacations.
  8. Remind yourself that taking a break will make you a more productive employee and energize you for events ahead.