Posted on

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on

Hybrid Commencement Needs Essentials

Hastily conceived hybrid commencement ceremonies were implemented by most schools last spring as the pandemic was building at the precise time spring exercises were about to happen. Many schools promised graduates that later in the summer, or perhaps this fall, they could return to campus to walk in a traditional ceremony. Some schools mailed diplomas with no ceremony, and others held virtual ceremonies and mailed diplomas later. Things like awarding honorary degrees and hosting notable speakers were put on hold. Now, with the Covid-19 all-clear still not happening, schools are left wondering how to fill the promises of postponed in-person ceremonies and how to go forward safely without creating a backlog of graduates who are waiting to be recognized.

As the author of Academic Ceremonies A Handbook of Traditions and Protocol (available at www.case.org) I have received numerous inquiries about to handle sticky situations like diplomas that were mailed with no degree conferral being spoken, whether or not to virtually award honorary degrees to people who should have received them last May, and, how to accommodate the graduates whose in-person ceremonies were postponed from May, to August, to maybe December, which in truth, looks doubtful.

The best answer is to be certain your ceremony, whether virtual, in-person, or a combination, includes what the “Academic Costume Code and Academic Ceremony Guide,” calls “the essential elements of the ceremony.” The guide, agreed to in 1895 by a committee appointed by the American Council on Education, is the authority on such matters. (You can see it on this website by clicking on the “academic ceremonies” tab.) According to the code, the essentials of commencement are “the conferring of degrees and the commencement address.”

Conferral 

Excited to get their diplomas, most students don’t realize the conferral—the actual speaking of the words that award their degrees—is the true highlight of the ceremony. This happens when the president, or whomever is designated by your school’s governing body, confers the degrees by reciting a formulary, usually something like, “Upon the recommendation of the faculty, and by the power invested in me by the Board of Trustees, I confer upon each of you the bachelor’s degree with all the rights and privileges there unto pertaining.” This step is repeated for each level of degree. Without it, the degree technically isn’t official.

Unfortunately, quickly formatted commencement alternatives sometimes left this critical step out. If you are planning a virtual ceremony, be certain the president or chancellor, says the degree conferral language for each group of recipients. Once done, diplomas can be mailed with total peace of mind.

While deans can properly distribute diplomas and congratulate graduates, it is not appropriate for them to host ceremonies that give the impression they are awarding degrees unless they have specifically been given authority from your school’s governing body to confer them. If this power has been granted, they need to say the conferral words.

Degrees Were Conferred, Now They Want to March

Some graduates will want to return to participate in a commencement ceremony, craving the sense of accomplishment and closure that comes with it. If degrees were properly conferred and diplomas mailed over the summer, and now graduates are returning to march in a ceremony, it is incorrect to call them “candidates.” They are graduates. In such a case, it would be more accurate to refer to the ceremony that includes them as a “commencement celebration,” or similar. It would be improper to read the conferral language again, but correct to read their names and have them march across the stage for congratulations and a photo with the president.

Commencement Address

While the commencement address is a much-maligned tradition, I think it is especially important to include words of inspiration from your school’s highest authority in this time of disconnectedness. Even if the address isn’t from a famous person, words of encouragement from the president should absolutely be included in your virtual or hybrid ceremony. Commencement is one of life’s major milestone celebrations and the feelings the school imparts to graduates on their way out the door will likely greatly impact their alumni and donor attitudes going forward.

Honorary Degree Recipients

Honorary degrees are higher education’s most prestigious recognition. They are reserved for eminent individuals with national or international reputations. One of the main reasons for awarding honorary degrees is so that the school can highlight the prestigious people with whom it is associated and host them on campus. Not doing so in person diminishes the stature of the honor, deprives students of the chance to meet them or hear them speak, and robs the university of the opportunity to host them.

For these reasons, it would be preferable to postpone the presentation of honorary degrees until the person or persons, can be present and take part in all of the pomp and ceremony of commencement. Simply mailing honorary degrees to last spring’s recipients as has been suggested by a group of one school’s deans, is not an adequate representation of the occasion.

For more information about honorary degrees, see my blog post, “Alexander Hamilton to Get Honorary Degree.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on

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.

 

Posted on

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.

 

 

 

 

Posted on

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.

Posted on

It’s Time to Ditch Buffets

Overflowing self-serve buffets are likely going to be one of the victims of Covid-19, and that’s fine with me. Who wants to touch serving utensils and eat food that has potentially been contaminated by someone else (never mind this has always been the case)? Conversely, no one wants buffets where everything from fresh fruit to hot foods are encased in protective plastic. The virus-induced events reset is an opportunity to be smarter about not only cleanliness, but food waste. A good place to start is eschewing the buffet.

As an event planner, I see an obscene amount of perfectly good buffet food dumped into the trash each year. Cakes with one slice removed, full chafing pans of vegetables or chicken breasts prepared as “back up” quantities, and mounds of freshly-baked yeast rolls routinely get thrown away. According to the USDA, Americans waste 40% of our country’s annual food supply. Food waste, and often the accompanying single-use plastic it is served with (150 million tons annually) are the number one component of landfills.

I understand and appreciate the artistry of the visual feast of beautifully displayed foods that have become standard for meetings, conferences, and special events. We use food as both bait to get people to attend, and décor to make events beautiful and prestigious. Buffets include a wide variety of offerings, piled high to convey success and abundance. They are lovely to behold. The same applies to all-you-can-eat restaurant buffets and produce aisles in supermarkets. Americans have been conditioned to the look of bountiful excess. When it’s missing, right-sized food offerings can seem less prestigious, stingy, and “second class.” It is time to change this perception.

Our recent obsession to accommodate ever-increasing dietary preferences exacerbates the problem. We now provide a multitude of choices on the chance that we might offend someone by not being able to meet their specific desires. Even break services that once constituted coffee, tea, sweeteners, and cream have morphed into mini-buffets. While one form of creamer was once standard, we now provide oat milk, soy milk, low-fat, no-fat, real cream, almond milk and little tubs of flavored chemical concoctions called, “French Vanilla,” “Irish Cream,” or “Mocha.” Accompaniments have blossomed from simple pastries to yogurt and fruit parfaits, fresh fruit, breakfast breads, muffins, and bagels with their requisite toppings. We throw most of it out.

As we begin the fall planning cycle, there are many unknowns (will we be allowed to hold large events, will social distancing still be required, even if the danger has subsided, will people be ready to reengage?) but as planners, our duty is to be ready with options. I intend to begin by ditching the buffet, no small task because this has ramifications for everything from budget to staffing to venue.

Our fall semester has traditionally begun with the President’s Picnic, an outdoor event for the entire student body that includes food, bands, and fireworks. We serve from 14, double-sided buffet lines set up under a giant tent. Students eat seated closely together Octoberfest style at tables on the campus greenway. Replacing this will be a challenge. Perhaps this year we will keep the entertainment, but dispense with the picnic. We could feed students in the dining halls. Perhaps we won’t do it at all.

Here are some alternatives to buffets that are double wins because they reduce both food waste and the chance for contamination:

Cafeteria service. People select from a number of choices (though fewer than on a buffet). Food is served by an employee who controls portion size.

Food stations. Options are available from a group of scattered food stations. Serving is done by an employee.

Boxed lunches. Offer a few choices of main item, add “sides” that are universal. Boxes are packed in advance by employees. Be sure to use environmentally friendly packaging to avoid increasing plastic waste. Go an extra step toward reducing waste by polling guests in advance so you have a close approximation of how many of each choice is needed.

Plated meals. Food is served to seated guests by an employee.

Adjourning for “lunch on your own.” Provide attendees with vouchers to eat at existing campus food outlets.

Adjusting event agendas or start times to avoid lunch or dinner hours.

Determining at the outset if it is really necessary to provide a meal.

For more information about reducing food waste go to http://epa.gov  and http://rts.com.

Posted on

Project Your Best Image in Virtual Meetings

Campus closures have forced a crash course in something that most events planners don’t really do—audio and video conferencing. After all, our business is creating ways to get people together, not working with technology to keep them separated. Our staff was sent home last week with a directive to download several types of virtual meeting software and be prepared to use it. But how?

The big dump of software we’ve received presumes that many of us are lots more tech-savvy than we actually are. Unfortunately, the always-helpful IT staff are overwhelmed at the moment as they struggle to convert entire universities to online entities practically overnight. Without them to call, we’re on our own. Besides setting up our computers, there is the problem of how to look and sound professional in this new realm. We’ve all been tortured by audio and video conferences and webinars that feature bad lighting and sound, presenters who don’t know how to look into the camera, and distractions caused by everything from poor preparation to the unanticipated realities of everyday life like when a famous author’s dog barked throughout her entire online presentation.

Learning how to use these technology tools appropriately involves not only mastering the software, it requires a shift in how we behave. If you’re like me, the mere mention of such things makes my eyes glaze over and my mind wander to my happy place. Nevertheless, we no longer have a choice so I asked my son, who is a professional in the entertainment industry and veteran of many television productions and large corporate meetings, for some pointers. Here are some of his tips to ensure you project a professional image.

For both audio and video conferencing:

Test your gear and know how to operate software before meeting time. Meeting software may need to be installed on personal computers, and workers are discovering that their home office tech may not be up to the job. Update operating systems and security software before installing university-provided software. Slow Internet speeds can also pose a problem.

Learn how to operate software before the meeting starts. Explore your new software and practice with it before meeting time by connecting with colleagues or friends for a dry run.

Designate a work space at home (preferably one with a door) and set rules for children who may be there with you so that they understand not to interrupt while you are on a conference.

Keep pets, especially dogs, confined so that if a barking alert happens when a delivery person approaches your home, other participants can’t hear the ruckus.

Be on time! Always be logged on and ready to participate at the meeting’s start time. Late participants are rude enough during in-person meetings, but are extra painful during virtual sessions. A large group of us waited 10 minutes on a tardy participant this week before finally giving up. If you can’t make the call or video conference, let the organizer know in advance.

 For video conferencing:

Position yourself so that the camera is at top center of the computer screen. When speaking, look into the camera, not at the video feed, otherwise you will appear to be looking down or off-camera. I was on a conference with a man who was sitting parallel to his computer. Not only was it hard to understand him when he spoke, we all got a thorough view of his ear for the better part of an hour.

Test your microphone to be certain clarity and volume are adequate. Also check that speaker volume and microphone level do not combine to create feedback. Using a headset will help avoid this problem.

Work in a room that has adequate lighting, preferably from side sources. Without good lighting, you will appear as an indistinct face emanating from a murky background. Or worse, if you are illuminated only by your computer’s monitor your image could be reminiscent of a Vincent Price horror film.

Check what’s behind you. Much like your desk or office at work, the scene you set communicates volumes about productivity, attention to detail, and professionalism.

Sit in front of a blank wall rather than in front of a cluttered bookcase or a display of family photos. Check your desk, too. It should be free of stacks of paper and things like coffee mugs.

Remember, we can see you. Dress as if you were attending the meeting in person, because you are! A professional appearance is still required. Pay attention and don’t work on other things during the meeting.

For audio conferencing:

Use a headset if at all possible. Headsets improve your voice quality, help you hear better, are lots more comfortable than holding your phone during long calls, and leave your hands free to take notes. Using a headset also makes it easier to quickly mute or unmute your phone.

Mute your speaker when you are not talking. Background noises are magnified by microphones and can be very distracting to others. Ceiling fans, clacking keyboards, pets, and children are not good meeting companions. This week, I was on a call during which one of the participants was obviously cleaning up her kitchen. Enjoying telecommuting on your back deck? That light breeze sounds like a hurricane to the other participants.

Don’t use your smartphone on speaker unless you are in a completely quiet place and remain very close so it can be unmuted quickly if you are asked a question. If you do choose to use the speaker, always mute the phone when you are not talking. 

Identify yourself each time you speak. This is especially important for large calls with people who may not know one another and definitely helps when someone is taking minutes.

Pause before speaking and don’t interrupt. During in person meetings, much of what transpires is the result of visual cues and body language. We lose that capability on audio conferences and this makes it difficult to not talk on top of each other. Multiple voices talking at once makes it very hard to understand what is being said. Suppress the desire to say “uh-huh” or make other affirmational comments while someone else is talking. A normal part of in-person meetings that may not even be noticed, these become distracting on an audio call and can obscure what the speaker who has the floor is saying. If you remember to mute your phone, this won’t be a problem.

When you are the moderator, remind people to mute before the call begins, control the pace, and don’t let any one person How dominate the conversation.

Take heart, hopefully we will soon be back in the world of real people gathering together at great special events to celebrate, discuss, learn, and have fun! But the reality is, this technology is finding its way into daily operations more and more frequently. It’s time to step up the game and embrace what the millennials already know. It really wouldn’t be a bad idea to develop some training and schedule regular video conferences to help us all look and feel confident while communicating with tech.

 

Posted on

Franklin Roosevelt Was Right

 

Franklin Roosevelt famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He was trying to calm the nation by pointing out that fear was making things worse as people struggled to find a way out of the Great Depression. His words are certainly applicable today. We need to calm down!

Yesterday, our university announced plans to move all classes online for the remainder of the semester and all meetings and events were cancelled due to fear of the coronavirus. Parents were jamming parking lots to gather up their (adult) children to move them home, and in the events office, we spent the afternoon cancelling arrangements for the many spring ceremonies, symposia, meetings, conferences, and donor gatherings that would normally take place between now and semester’s end.  The consolation for students who will now miss the final weeks of their college careers including awards recognitions, opportunities to compete in once-in-a-lifetime sporting competitions, and possibly even commencement, is knowing that one day their children will be able to earn master’s degrees by studying the panic of 2020.

On Monday we will report to work in an abandoned campus, but are being told to stay in our offices and not interact with others in person. As events planners, preparing for the unexpected is a routine part of what we do. We make and practice contingency plans for a wide variety of situations so implementing these measures is not a stretch. This problem will pass.

While prudent preparations to prevent disease are essential, what disappoints me is the hysterical response of many Americans to the situation. I thought we were made of sterner stuff. People aren’t really to blame, however, because irrational behavior is being fueled by fear-mongering out-of-control cable TV broadcasters and the non-stop distribution of social media disinformation. Print media is no better. In Thursday’s edition of “USA Today” it is not until 16 column inches into a front-page story with the terrifying headline, “We Have Rung the Alarm Bell” that we learn, “The new coronavirus, or COVID-19, causes only mild or moderate symptoms for most people, such as fever and cough, but can progress to serious illness including pneumonia, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems. WHO says mild cases last about two weeks, while most patients with serious illness recover in about three to six weeks.” The same description applies to seasonal flu from which the Centers for Disease Control tells us that so far during the 2019-2020 flu season, 16,000 people have died and 280,000 have been hospitalized. There is a vaccine for flu, yet if you asked most of the sky-is-falling types whether or not they bothered to get a flu shot this year, the answer would be no. Statistics say only 43.5 percent of Americans did so.

This morning I went on my usual Saturday grocery run for sushi and cat litter and was surprised to find jammed parking lots, masses of frantic people and bare shelves. Someone started the rumor that “they” want “us” to stock pile 45 days of groceries! People are rushing to do so. Why?  A sign limited purchases of giant bricks of toilet paper to no more than five per person. Each brick contains 30 rolls, if you purchased the five-brick limit, that’s 150 rolls of toilet paper. Astonishingly, they were disappearing faster than Tickle Me Elmo the week before Christmas. This is perplexing since there is no shortage of toilet paper in the U.S. In fact, Green Bay, Wisconsin is the toilet paper production capital of the world.  What’s more, the U.S. imports only 10 percent of the annual TP consumed, mostly from Canada and Mexico. Psychologists say this hoarding behavior is similar to squirrels stashing nuts for the winter. It pays to play it safe.

Shoppers were smearing handles, carts, hands, and anything else they might touch with sanitizing wipes. I overhead one man on the phone trying to ascertain if white vinegar would kill the bug. Mounds of used wipes were piled on the floor and there were signs on the doors saying the store would close at 8 p.m. to give workers a chance to restock shelves. I live in a community that has the highest percentage of Ph.Ds. per capita of any city in the southeastern United States. Obviously, advanced education does not correlate with common sense.

Now we are all hunkered down in our houses, confined with our pets and relatives, surrounded by boxes and cans of shelf-stable food that no one really likes, and what’s worse, has to be cooked.  There’s nothing to do but perhaps build a fort with all those rolls of toilet paper. Since I wasn’t one of the lucky ones who arrived in time to purchase TP, I’ll take comfort in knowing that I can rip up my hard copy editions of “USA Today” to serve the purpose in case of emergency. I’m not sure what happens next. I guess we wait until Glenda the Good Witch appears to tell us munchkins it’s safe to come out from our hiding places. In the meantime, I’m going to pour a cup of tea and re-read Edgar Allen Poe’s “Mask of the Red Death.”

 

Posted on

Experience A Better Employee Awards Ceremony

Spring semester often includes employee recognition events honoring years of service which means people are given thank-you gifts of ad specialty products ranging from coffee mugs to key rings to cheap watches. This year, supplies may be disrupted because coronavirus has idled factories in China, the place where many logoed tchotchkes originate.  The cut-off of these goods gives us the opportunity to hit the reset button and find more environmentally friendly, creative, and useful ways to show loyal employees appreciation. While service award ceremonies often get short shrift from events planners because they fall into the category of routine annual events, these occasions may be the only recognition a person receives for his or her efforts. We need to make the day truly special. Here are some gift ideas that are far better than a plaque, certificate, another tee shirt, plastic water bottle, or portable cell phone charger, and that will actually be used and appreciated.

Shop on campus. Research shows that Millennials, the generation that will comprise the majority of your 1-5 year honorees, don’t want more stuff. Instead, they want to experience new things. Ditch the car coffee mugs and look no further than your own campus for goodies this group will enjoy. Collect a selection of things like tickets to campus theatre, music, and athletic events, concerts, vouchers for food courts and dining halls, coffee shops, and the bookstore. Let people pick from the selection to enjoy a gift that will give them a campus experience that interests them.   

Some people do want stuff, so supplement from inventory on hand. Not everyone wants an experience so do plan to provide options. Select items from your bookstore, or visit the events office gift closet. Often we have odds and ends of high-end gift items that were purchased for specific occasions. Currently our gift closet includes logoed cutting boards, pad folios, good quality pens, etched stemless wine glasses, umbrellas, and autographed books by faculty authors. There is insufficient quantity of any of these things to use at a future event, but because they are high-quality and aren’t labeled with a specific event name or date, they would make nice additions to the recognition gift table. As a bonus, you’re recycling instead of throwing items away or warehousing them indefinitely.

More service? Bigger prize. Beginning with 10 years of service, employees are often given more expensive items. Sadly these frequently include versions of outmoded prizes no one really wants like framed photos of campus buildings, key rings, logoed paperweights, cheap acrylic trophies, business card holders, and fancy pad folios.  All too often, these gifts become bookcase clutter or junk-drawer dandruff. (Not to mention that many categories of employees have no use for office sit-arounds because their work stations are not desks.)  Instead, reward employees who have more years of service with things like a certificate for professional development or a continuing education class, a fitness center membership, an upgrade to a stand-up desk, a uniform voucher, or a generous bookstore gift certificate. How about a personal day off (or two) that doesn’t need to be charged to vacation time?

Give long-time employees what they really want. At our school, employees with more than 25 years used to receive a logoed wooden rocking chair. While this was a pricey prize, it pleased some but offended many and the concept is definitely passé in 2020! Of course, the longest serving employees deserve the best gifts. How about giving something that everyone on campus covets–an annual parking pass or a reserved parking place for a year? Perhaps season tickets to his or her favorite sport or VIP passes to your school’s premier concert or special occasion.  Now those are gifts worth receiving!

Employee recognition is important. Research shows that employees who feel appreciated, recognized, and valued are more loyal, work harder, and have less turnover so it is important to personalize the occasion for each honoree. An effective way to give individuals a moment in the spotlight is to stage your ceremony like a commencement. Call each individual’s name as he or she walks onstage, shakes hands with the president, and has a photo taken. Distribute the photos digitally with a personalized note of appreciation. Serve refreshments while honorees browse the gift tables and make their selections. Your honorees will thank you and you’ll never go back to ball caps and cell phone grips again!

For more tips about planning a meaningful ceremony, click on the special events tab on my web site,  http://correctoncampus.com.