Posted on

Presidential Change Brings Opportunity for Career Growth

August begins a new academic year and along with it, an especially big change for our school:  Our president has announced his retirement. Such a major management change always triggers both trepidation and excitement causing some people to worry about how the switch will affect their positions and others to gleefully contemplate how a new boss might see things their way, fire so-and-so person, take a liking to their pet projects, or open new opportunities. A new leader definitely brings the chance for new approaches to old challenges.

For special events planners, especially those who report directly to the president, working for a new person means being prepared to accommodate his or her tastes and preferences, quickly figuring out how to operate under a different management style, diplomatically melding school traditions with new expectations, and persevering through a period of once again proving yourself. According to the latest American College President Study conducted by the American Council on Education, the average tenure of college presidents is now 6.5 years. Over the course of my career at four different universities I have worked for nine presidents. If you have not yet experienced a presidential change, chances are you will.

Here are some tips for mastering the transition:

  1. Keep your opinions to yourself. Campus gossip will likely churn into overdrive as people speculate about why the president is leaving, who might be selected, who might be fired, and how colleges, departments, and programs might be rearranged. People who talk about these things invariably are not the ones who are privy to such information.
  2. Do your job and be loyal. Your boss is still your boss until someone tells you differently. The concept of the president as a lame duck may be in part true and you may witness some colleagues behaving as if they are third graders with a substitute teacher, but rise above. Have enough loyalty and respect for the outgoing president and pride in your own work to press on with your usual high standards.
  3. Think about your next move. Presidential selection and the subsequent staff transitions usually take many months. This period is a good time for introspection, to assess your goals and strategize your next career move. Evaluate whether or not you want to stick around or if finding a new position will better help you accomplish your desires. Refresh your professional networking contacts by reengaging with community and professional organizations. Update your LinkedIn profile and dust off your resume. Attend a conference or two. Modernize your skills. Even if you aren’t ready to move on, developing a parachute plan is smart so you are not caught flat-footed in case your position is removed from the new org chart. Don’t discuss this exercise with your colleagues or you may find yourself on the short list of people who could be expended because word is out you were thinking about leaving anyway.
  4. Be part of the solution. Reevaluate your work and take an inventory of the projects you manage. Are they helping accomplish the institution’s goals and mission? Are there some things that are stale or that could be done better? Do you have ideas for new approaches? A new leader will undoubtedly make changes and may be skeptical of the way things have been done in the past. Being ready to adapt to new directions and offer positive fresh suggestions will be easier if you have already done an honest assessment of yourself and the functions of your office.
  5. Adapt rapidly. When the new boss does arrive, no matter how fond you were of the former president and how closely you worked with him or her, immediately adapt and switch your loyalty to the new person. Do things the way he or she wants them done and resist the temptation to point out how her predecessor did them. Keep an open mind and be flexible. Give the new leader a chance and make your best effort to help him or her settle in to the campus and community. Don’t expect the same relationship you had with your former boss, you will have to earn trust.
  6. Give the transition at least a year. During this time there will be changes and rearrangements in upper administration. Reorganization is inevitable as the new leader imprints his or her vision on campus culture. You may have a temporary assignment or an interim boss. Reserve judgment until the final structure is in place. By staying positive and focusing on possibilities you may wind up with the best boss of your career and a refreshed job description that you absolutely love.
Posted on

Service Dog Etiquette

A woman and her service dog attended one of my etiquette classes this week. It was my first experience working with such a team. The class was learning about how to work a room with exercises that required stand-up participation and handling food and drink. It was a beautiful thing to watch the woman and her dog navigate seamlessly through the buffet line and effortlessly manage all of the mingling, hand shaking, and introduction exercises.  I was amazed at the unobtrusive, magnificent behavior of her dog and its focus on her, no matter what else was going on. For example, one of the class participants spilled food on the floor and while the average pet dog would have dashed to clean up a free snack, her working dog was impervious to the temptation.  The woman took me by surprise when after class, she asked me what she should be doing to have consideration for her hosts and show good manners when she and her dog are invited to attend functions.  The experience got me thinking that many of us may not know the etiquette of being around a service dog.

Service dogs are highly trained specialists who assist people with a variety of physical challenges, not all of which are apparent to the eye.  The dogs are readily identifiable by the vests that they wear when on duty. Service dogs are trained for a wide variety of jobs including guiding people who have low vision or who are blind, alerting deaf people to sounds, warning people of impending seizures or diabetic emergencies, helping flip switches or retrieving items for people with mobility problems, pulling wheelchairs up ramps, and providing support for people with balance problems. Service dogs are not pets, rather they are working professionals who undergo years of specialized learning before being matched with their humans. There is a difference between service animals and the controversial emotional support animals that have recently been in the news. The Americans With Disabilities Act (https://www.ada.gov) enumerates the legal protections that guarantee accommodation in public places for people and their service dogs.

Here are some tips for respecting your guests with service dogs:

Ignore the dog and focus on the human. As beautiful as the dog may be, it is on duty and should not be distracted by others. Doing so could cause the dog to take its attention of its human and miss an important cue.

Talk to the person, not the dog.

Don’t touch or ask to pet the dog.

Don’t offer the dog food or water, the handler will take care of these needs.

Don’t offer the dog toys, whistle to it, or otherwise try to draw its attention with sounds or motions.

Don’t approach a dog that is laying down or that appears to be napping, it is simply waiting or resting, but it is still keenly focused on its duty.

Don’t ask the owner about his or her disability or why he or she uses a service dog, such questions are an invasion of privacy and are way too personal.

Keep your pet dog away from the service dog.If you encounter someone with a service dog while you are with your pet, keep your distance so the service dog is not distracted.  

In answer to my student’s question about how to have good manners when she is out with her dog, speaking as an event planner, I would:

Appreciate knowing in advance that a service dog is attending. This would give me the opportunity to ask if there are things I could do to make their experience the most enjoyable. These would include finding out if the person had a preference about seating and to offer information about the location of water and relief areas, details that would be especially important if the pair were attending a workshop or long meeting. At our president’s home where there are numerous pets in residence, knowing in advance that a service dog is coming would let us ensure that the household pets were confined.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on

It’s National Business Etiquette Week

It is National Business Etiquette Week, a chance to enhance your personal brand by practicing polished professional manners. Here are 20 ways to celebrate:

  1. Sending someone a hand written thank-you note.
  2. Taking a colleague to lunch to say thanks for all he or she does to help you be successful.
  3. Volunteering to get the mail from the mail room because you’ll be near there anyway.
  4. Paying full attention during meetings by putting your cell phone away.
  5. Cleaning up after yourself when using the office kitchenette.
  6. Being on time and prepared for meetings.
  7. Keeping your private life out of the office and off of social media.
  8. Respecting the opinions of others and disagreeing when necessary without being disagreeable.
  9. Making introductions when you know not everyone has met.
  10. Presenting yourself everyday perfectly groomed and appropriately dressed.
  11. Being cross-culturally literate.
  12. Sharing credit where credit is due and acknowledging the contributions each person on your team makes to the success of your endeavors.
  13. Pushing the elevator buttons for everyone when you are the one standing closest to the panel.
  14. Sending an on-time rsvp to business invitations.
  15. Practicing Mom’s maxim, “If you don’t have something good to say, don’t say anything at all.”
  16. Completing assignments on time.
  17. Offering to help others who are swamped with deadlines.
  18. Eschewing foul language.
  19. Respecting your office administrative assistant for the professional he or she is and acknowledging that person’s role in helping you achieve your agenda.
  20. Avoiding gossip and mean-spirited office conversations and refusing to listen to sexist, racist, or other demeaning comments or jokes.

 

 

 

Posted on

Ceremonies Connect Past, Envision Future

For a person who plans ceremonies, there is nothing to compare with a royal wedding! On Saturday, I was up early, fixed a pot of tea with fresh scones, strawberry jam and whipped cream (the closest I could get to clotted cream in northern Alabama) and glued myself to my computer to soak in every detail of Harry and Meghan’s big day. It didn’t disappoint.

The ceremony was modern as befitted the bride and groom yet filled with traditions representing both of their heritages. The significance of the day was beautifully expressed through hundreds of symbolic details that tied past to present. Meghan chose to wear Queen Mary’s Diamond Bandeau Tiara which featured a brooch that the queen had received on her wedding day in 1893. Meghan carried a bouquet that had snips of myrtle from The Queen’s garden, just as other royal brides before her. Harry and Meghan’s rings were formed from a nugget of Welsh gold, following a 100-year tradition that was established by the late Queen Mother. The service incorporated not only traditional Church of England hymns, but songs from the African American gospel tradition in salute to Meghan’s heritage. Now known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, the couple took a celebratory ride through Windsor in an open carriage built in 1883, the same one that has been used for numerous royal weddings.

All of these highly meaningful expressions of tradition were juxtaposed against a moment in time that was anything but traditional. Who could ever have imagined the archbishop of Canterbury presiding in St. George’s Chapel alongside the African-American leader of the Episcopal Church? Not too many years ago, an heir to the throne would have been denied permission to marry a commoner, let along one that is American, divorced, and bi-racial. Marriage was for securing alliances, and marrying for love was not done, yet that is exactly what happened on Saturday.

Ceremonies and the traditions expressed through them, bring order and meaning to the passages in our lives. They separate time and announce publicly that who we were and who we are becoming, are two different things. Meghan and Harry would be just as married if they had forgone the elaborate ceremony and eloped to Las Vegas for a quickie service officiated by an Elvis impersonator. But ceremonies, whether they are weddings, commencements, inaugurations, military promotions, or funerals tie us to our roots and help us move forward to embrace life’s next phases. When witnessed by relatives, friends, and others, our support network is signing on to help us achieve success.

In academia, May is synonymous with commencement, a ceremony that announces to the world that students have completed their studies, have closed a chapter in their lives, and are ready to join the ranks of educated men and women.  Like the royal wedding, commencement embraces traditions that date back to other centuries. The highly symbolic regalia, faculty colors, and the grand procession with its presidential mace and medallion, all harken to the Middle Ages. But like the wedding, today’s ceremonies have also evolved modern modifications, building on the solid base of tradition but interpreting the occasion in the context of our era. We no longer hood students individually but this does not lessen the hood’s symbolism. Technology using computer bar codes lets us project graduates’ names on jumbo screens and while each name may or may not still be read from the podium, mom and dad treasure the iPhone photo they snapped when their child’s name appeared for all to see.

Ceremonies and traditions are an important part of our cultural fabric. They let us all know when something truly special is taking place. Modifications occur naturally with the passage of time, but as long as we incorporate them respectfully and meaningfully, they blend with cherished traditions to paint richer, more relevant ceremonies that ensure our celebrations will continue to have memorable meaning for generations to come, just like Meghan and Harry’s very special day.

Posted on

Alexander Hamilton To Get Honorary Degree

Even though he died in 1804, Alexander Hamilton is going to receive an honorary degree from Albany Law School at the college’s spring commencement.

Honorary degrees, higher education’s most prestigious recognition, are reserved for eminent individuals with national or international reputations. Hamilton certainly qualifies. He was one of the nation’s founding fathers, had a distinguished career as one of George Washington’s most trusted aides during the Revolutionary War, later practiced law, served as the first secretary of the treasury, and is considered the father of the nation’s financial system.

Why now? Honorary degrees are an opportunity to establish ties with a prominent person, to bask in the reflected glory of his or her accomplishments, and to generate some positive media buzz. In Hamilton’s case, Albany Law School said it is recognizing his contributions to the Albany, New York area where he practiced law and married into a prominent local family. With Hamilton currently riding a wave of rock star status thanks to the Broadway musical that bears his name, tiny Albany Law, an old, private school with only 372 students, is riding his coattails with a creative local angle that has brought an enormous PR bounce. Hamilton never actually earned a law degree, so awarding him an honorary is the perfect way to call attention to the school. Honorary degrees don’t typically get much publicity, but this announcement has generated extensive media coverage.

So how can a guy who has been dead for 214 years qualify for a degree? Honorary degrees are conferred honoris causa, a Latin term meaning “for the sake of honor.” They are typically doctoral degrees, though not equivalent to Ph.D. s, nor do they entitle the recipient to the same professional privileges as individuals who have earned degrees.

Honorary degree recipients are leading scholars, discoverers, inventors, authors, artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, social activists, and leaders in politics and government. Occasionally, honorary degrees are awarded to people who have rendered lifelong service to a university through board membership, volunteerism, or major financial contributions. At some schools, honorary degree recipients deliver the commencement address, but this is not a requirement.

Honorary degrees are often presented at commencement to take advantage of the large audience and the pomp and circumstance already in place. The candidate is part of the platform party and processes wearing a black doctoral gown or the school’s custom doctoral regalia. Candidates are hooded and receive a diploma and a citation. In the case of a posthumous degree like Hamilton’s, a surrogate stands in to accept these items.

What to Call an Honorary Degree Recipient

Honorary degree recipients are properly addressed as “doctor” in correspondence from the university that awarded the degree and in conversation on the campus. But honorary degree recipients should not refer to themselves as “doctor,” nor should they use the title on business cards or in correspondence.

The honorary degree recipient is entitled to use the appropriate honorary abbreviation behind his or her name, for example, (full name), Litt.D. On a resume or in a biographical sketch, they may indicate an honorary degree by writing out the degree followed by the words honoris causa to signify that the degree is honorary, not earned.

When addressing a person who has received an honorary degree from another university, it is not correct to use the term “doctor.”

Because many people misunderstand these nuances, it is courteous to provide recipients with a card or brochure to explain how to appropriately signify their degrees. Tuck the card in with the hood and citation when these items are shipped to them after the ceremony or send in a follow-up congratulatory letter.

So, while I don’t know for certain, my guess is Alexander Hamilton will receive a Doctor of Laws (L.L. D.) and were his ghost to ever to appear at Albany Law School, it would be correct for all there to address him as Doctor Hamilton. Back in his New York City law office, however, he would be just plain Mr. Hamilton.

For more information about honorary degrees, including presenting the degree, awarding it posthumously, regalia for the recipient, and how to appropriately host the honoree, order my book Academic Ceremonies A Handbook of Traditions and Protocol, available at http://case.org.

 

 

 

Posted on

Why Manners Matter

Evaluations are in from a presentation I made to a group of young professionals, all new to university advancement and eager to start raising money and promoting their schools.

My talk was about business etiquette and included skills such as how to introduce yourself and others, shake hands, initiate and sustain conversation with strangers, and manage food and beverage so that it’s easier to do your job.  After all, fund-raising is about building relationships and much of that is done in a social environment such as a reception, dinner, meeting or conference.

One woman rated my presentation as “poor,” stating that time could have been better spent on “content relevant to the emerging generation of advancement professionals,” noting that social skills are old fashioned and that “country club manners” are not needed. What’s more, she said, they are sexist. While I respect her opinion, I hope time and experience will change her mind.

Mastering these fundamentals is not about being a snob or memorizing social customs of bygone eras, rather it is about building self-confidence and making others feel welcome. It is not easy to dive into a room full of strangers and start conversations, especially when guests represent multiple backgrounds, generations, and will likely include people from other countries. Etiquette creates a common framework in which people can interact so that everyone feels welcome, respected, and valued.

It is not hard to understand why this person would deem manners to be irrelevant. Incivility surrounds us. It clogs the political system, it causes us to shout, call names, be greedy, pushy, self-centered and suspicious. Incivility closes our ears and minds depriving us of the opportunity to benefit from melding ideas and differing points of view to forge a stronger whole. It erodes our way of life and even threatens our liberties.

The saying, “You are what you eat,” is true and for the past 25 years (approximately her entire lifetime) we have ingested a non-stop diet of bad behavior that has led to a steep decline in courtesy. Things that used to shock us (like the use of the f-bomb, crude potty references from Congressmen, leaders having public tantrums, or people showing up at work looking a disheveled mess) no longer do.

Instead of teaching children how to interact with others, we’ve taught them to withdraw because of “stranger danger.” Television news has devolved from reporting to angry people spewing slanted opinions. We’ve spent a decade glued to the television to see what outrageous things dysfunctional families will do to each other, who the bachelor will dump, or which person will be fired or voted out of the competition. People no longer seem able to separate entertainment from reality and instead mimic these rude, crude, mean behaviors in their daily lives.

The absence of public figures who serve as positive role models exacerbates the effects of our bad behavior binge. Incivility reigns everywhere from the local school board to the halls of congress and is becoming accepted as the norm. With a president who calls people names on Twitter, belittles those who disagree with him, and a pop culture that worships the gods of “me first,” and “in your face,” it is easy to understand why a young adult who has only seen these examples would find consideration for others to be irrelevant.

While not the cause of the decline in our interpersonal skills, the digital revolution is also a contributor. For the many great benefits of technology, the downside is people no longer need to expend the energy to interact with those around them. Instead, we use our devices as defensive barricades, studying them with intensity when we want to avoid engaging with others. We wear ear buds to send a “don’t talk to me” message and we use the anonymity of social media to shoot comments into cyberspace that we would never have the courage say to a person’s face. We battle tech neck, gamer’s thumb, and email eye because of our device addiction. We can order everything from airline tickets to groceries without ever having to talk to a human, and when we’re bored, our devices offer ample entertainment options and will even explain the choices. Why would we ever need to interact with anyone in person?

Through the decades, politics, cultural, and economic situations have always caused the manners pendulum to swing back and forth between periods of formality and times of little manners whatsoever.

There is no question we are in a period of social change, but I believe that this climate makes it more important than ever for us to reconnect as individuals by learning and practicing common courtesy and respect for others.

I, too, started my career in an era of cultural change and lack of civility. The nation was struggling to regain its footing after the Vietnam War and the resignation of a president. Fueled by the then new idea that women could be more than coffee fetchers, I firmly intended to change the world by junking most of what I had been taught, beginning with stodgy social customs.

What I didn’t realize then is that civility is the glue that holds our society together. It is what we are missing today. It is the practice of courteous self-control that gives us the ability to listen respectfully to another point of view and to disagree without being disagreable. It is the kindness of deferring to an older person. It is willingness to think of others before ourselves. It was formerly the grease that allowed the wheels of our democracy to turn and that gave legislators the self-restraint to effect compromise.

Civility and manners are timeless marks not of class or status, of “good” or “bad” people, but of leadership and humanity.  Contemporary manners are not an exclusive, elitist social code intended to exclude others. Rather, they are the lingua franca that allows us to transact our societal and interpersonal business in a global society and achieve great results.

Today’s etiquette is not that of 25 years ago. Instead, contemporary business etiquette has evolved to be gender neutral. It is not sexist like old-fashioned social etiquette, but rather, it is empowering because it levels the playing field with a defined set of norms under which we all can all operate equally regardless of religion, race, culture, gender, sexual preference, or socio-economic upbringing.

Polished manners are an equalizer that gives people the confidence of never having to feel ill at ease in any social or work situation. What’s more, using manners costs nothing and may even yield a payback—the satisfaction of knowing you have been kind to someone else.

These are the reasons we practice and study etiquette and why the effort is relevant to today’s generation of advancement professionals. None of this is unimportant or old-fashioned. Rather, it is essential to our cultural survival.

 

 

Posted on

Presenter Prep Prevents AV Problems

AV techs always get blamed when things go wrong. The presentation won’t load, a video doesn’t run, the speakers send ear-splitting feedback, or the talent can’t be heard. The truth is, problems with technology are more likely the fault of the presenter. As a special events planner and a frequent speaker, I can attest that most presentation disasters are caused by lack of presenter preparation.

Last week I saw one presenter abandon the room in total frustration when the video he was relying on to be the climax of his remarks wouldn’t run. On another day, I watched an emcee stare blankly at the audience confessing he was having a “brain freeze” and couldn’t remember what he was supposed to do next. The week ended with an expert historian delivering a talk to a packed room. Unfortunately, no one could hear her because she kept moving away from the mic making it impossible to hear her soft-spoken voice even in the closest seats. Compounding the problem, she shuffled papers as if she was hunting for clues about what she intended to say.

None of these presenters had invested sufficient preparation time in honing their remarks, nor were they willing to rehearse in advance, a small extra effort that would have ensured a better performance. Had the first man rehearsed, techs would have known there were problems with his video in time to do something about it. The second man would have laid down a mental memory path that would probably have prevented his freeze. The timid, disorganized historian could have been fitted with a lavaliere mic that she couldn’t avoid, or at the very least, she could have been coached to help her delivery.

The old adage “practice makes perfect” is true. This is why before touring, rock stars hole up for weeks in advance rehearsing every aspect of their shows. It’s also why the most mundane one-mic ballroom meeting presentation deserves the same amount of attention.

Here are some tips to help presenters succeed, and to help you prepare for your best delivery when it’s your turn at the mic.

Respect every trip to the podium. No matter how many times you’ve presented, how confident you are, or how busy your week has been, each situation and audience is different and requires preparation. You have been asked to speak because people feel you have something to offer. Return the compliment by giving the audience your full effort by preparing to do your best. Always update and customize your show for the occasion and audience you are addressing.

Use established presentation software such as Keynote or PowerPoint. Keep it up-to-date and know which version you used to build your show. Software that requires an Internet connection to pull your show from the cloud is very precarious because you are at the mercy of the quality of the connection in the hotel or conference room. Often, it is inadequate.

Avoid relying on videos because they are frequently the source of technical difficulties. Just because a video looks good on your computer does not mean it will when projected in an auditorium or hotel ballroom. PowerPoint was never intended to run video and most of the time, it won’t! If you must use video, download the file and save it on your desktop separate from your slides. Create a back-up by also having it on a thumb drive.

Know how to run your software. It’s amazing how many presenters show up with a presentation built by an assistant or the company PR staff but have no clue how it works—an implosion waiting to happen when the speaker takes the podium and is expected to run his or her own show.

Bring your own laptop and all of the necessary cables and know how to connect to projectors.  Most meeting, conference, and civic group presentations are done with bare bones AV support. Often the presenter takes the podium in do-it-yourself mode with nothing more than a dangling projector cable and a hot mic. By providing your own computer, its connectors, and a remote control, you gain the confidence that comes from being familiar with your equipment and software and reduce the hiccups that can happen when a presentation is created on one computer and shown on another.

Always bring slides with you on a thumb drive and when possible, e-mail them to the event planner or the AV techs in advance. This serves as a back-up in case something happens to your laptop. For those occasions when your show will be loaded onto a house computer, providing it in advance enables AV techs to load and test it.

Show up for rehearsal, it builds confidence! Rehearsal gives you time to trouble-shoot your presentation and get the feel of the room. If you can’t rehearse at the venue, set-up in a conference room at your office or deliver your show at home to your dog.

An on-site rehearsal includes a sound check that will let the AV techs adjust levels to your voice and give you the opportunity to learn where the speakers are so that you don’t walk in front of them causing that ear-bleeding squeal everyone hates.

Use this time to practice advancing and reversing slides, especially if you are using an unfamiliar remote control or someone else’s laptop.

Rehearsal lets you get used to the lights so you don’t look like the proverbial deer in the headlights when you take the stage for real. Theatrical lighting is very bright, but without it, the audience can’t see you and the video we’re trying to record will look awful. Don’t ask for the lights to be turned down.

Speak into the mic! Poor acoustics, soft or low voices, background noise, and people with hearing impairments make it imperative to use a microphone. A mark of a true amateur is the statement, “I don’t need a microphone.” Yes, you do!

Know your material well enough and/or have notes with you in case your visuals fail. Remember filmmaker Michael Bay’s famous come-apart at the 2014 CES show when problems with a teleprompter left him speechless? He admitted to trying to “wing it,” but without his script he was lost and stalked off the stage. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VcA6CY6M7dY

Many speakers rely heavily on their slides to guide them through their presentations. It’s easy to get completely flustered when the electronic crib sheet disappears! Always have a back-up.

Know what to do when a problem arises. Real pros press on regardless and trust the AV techs to resolve issues. Leaving the stage or stopping to try to fix problems on your own is like letting go of the steering wheel when your car starts to skid. The right answer is to hang on and turn the direction you want the car to go. The same technique works when presenters need to fend off disaster. By stopping, making jokes, or getting flustered, you divert the audience’s attention from where you want it to be—on your message. Instead, hang on and turn attention away from, not toward the problem. Stay on point and trust the AV techs to do what they do best–save you.

Posted on

Create Comfortable Meeting Seating

Hotels and airlines have one thing in common: They seat people too closely together. People, especially Americans, don’t like to be pressed together with body parts touching, and definitely not when the contact involves a stranger. Yet, prevailing meeting management does just that. I just spent the afternoon in a jammed hotel conference room with 100 other hot and uncomfortable souls. Why? Because the chairs were “ganged,” that is, locked together in long straight rows. We were sardined in to a tiny partitioned hunk of a much larger ballroom with no less than 30 hot can lights blazing down on us throughout the hour- and one-half presentation. I had my shoulders scrunched together to stay in the 18-inch boundary of “my” space and couldn’t have crossed my legs if I tried because the space between the rows was too narrow.

By the end of the session the audience, dressed in winter business suits and sweaters, was sweating and fanning. It must have been 83 degrees in there.

The presentation was standing room only, but a closer look revealed there were lots of empty seats scattered throughout the room. That is because people would rather stand than crawl over a row of others to shoehorn themselves into a too-small vacant seat. Scattered vacancies demonstrate that people instinctively leave blanks to create a more appropriate boundary between themselves and others. We need our personal space in order to relax, listen, and concentrate. Claustrophobic seating makes grumpy participants who want to leave—the exact opposite of the mood event planners strive to create.

Seating is an important and often overlooked factor in the success of a meeting or event. If people can’t see and hear, if they are crowded, feel trapped, and can’t get out to use the restroom, effectiveness suffers. If you can’t think about anything except how uncomfortable you are it is difficult to pay attention.

What’s more, jammed seating can be a safety hazard. Beyond the possible violation of fire code capacities, meeting safety demands that people be able to access aisles and get to exits without tripping over chairs. One safety expert has noted that because interlocking “ganged” seats are heavy, cannot be easily separated and quickly moved away, they become an added hazard in an emergency situation when the difference between life and death could be the ability to rapidly exit a space.

Comfortable seating begins with selecting a right-sized room. Better to have a space that is slightly larger than needed than to cram people into a room that is too small. First consider what the audience needs to do. Are tables required to hold computers or will participants be seated theatre style in rows of chairs? Are you planning a board meeting, or will everyone be watching a webinar? The meeting’s purpose and length should always drive the room arrangement.

Check out the chairs. Are they in good condition, not wobbly, clean, and comfortable to sit in for an extended time? If a theatre style scheme is needed, arrange the chairs with four inches between seats rather than allowing them to touch. Instead of putting them in a straight line, encourage better audience interaction by using a curved arrangement which lets people watch the speaker and see the screen without turning their heads. It also allows them to see each other, thus stimulating discussion. Paul Radde, the meetings industry seating guru, explains in his must-have book, “Seating Matters State of the Art Seating Arrangements,” (thrival.com), that a curved arrangement can actually increase the number of chairs that will fit.

Next, instead of creating long rows that are difficult for people to enter and exit, cut the semi-circle into pie shaped wedges by creating several aisles. This way, people can get in and out of seats with much less difficulty. Make the rows as short as possible.

Another tactic to try is ditching the commonly used center aisle and instead separating seating into three groups, a center section and two side sections, with two aisles separating the sections. This allows shorter rows and easier access. Why leave that prime middle of the room real estate, the space with the optimal viewing angle, empty?

A critical comfort measure is the spacing between rows. It should be at least 17 inches though many hotels will use only the 12-inch minimum required by many states’ fire codes. Rows that are too close together create the “knees in the chin” feeling that we all experience on airliners. To check spacing, use a tape measure beginning at the front edge of the chair bottom and stopping when it touches the top of the back of the chair in the next row. Ensuring a comfortable amount of leg room also creates space for people to place personal belongings such as tote bags and back packs on the floor without blocking the aisle. Wider spacing is imperative when your guest list includes older people.

Philosophically committing to use more comfortable room arrangements will likely be easy. Getting set-up crews (especially in hotels) to honor your requests may be another matter because they are trained to squeeze for maximum seating and to create tight, straight rows with touching chairs. Begin by issuing clear instructions including an illustration. On campus, plan to be present when set-up is being done. At a hotel or conference center, chances are the set-up will happen after-hours when you are not present. Be certain your hotel sales representative knows your plan because if you have not provided clear instructions, arrive and want furniture to be rearranged, you will probably be charged a penalty unless you can substantiate that your instructions were not followed. Provide two copies of your illustration, one for the sales representative, one for the set-up crew.

Once you’ve got seating arranged, adjust the room temperature to 69- to 70-degrees, depending on the season and what guests will be wearing. A 69-degree room when people have on business suits may be fine, but on a hot summer day when people are wearing lightweight clothing, 69 may feel chilly. Finally, turn down the glaring recessed ceiling lights, pick a seat and enjoy a comfortable, productive meeting!

 

Posted on

Super Bowl LII Is A NSSE Lesson

 

Some people will watch Super Bowl LII to root for their team, others to catch a glimpse of puppies with Clydesdales, but I’ll watch to admire an exquisitely complicated and perfectly orchestrated NSSE (National Special Security Event)

A major public event that attracts a large attendance, includes dignitaries, or that has historic, political, or religious significance may be designated by the Department of Homeland Security as an NSSE. Many of America’s marquee events that could be attractive targets for terrorism or other disruptions fall into this category. Typically, such events are of a size and scope that is far beyond the scale of local resources. A NSSE determination is based on a SEAR (Special Event Assessment Rating). This system assesses threats and incorporates a risk analysis and then ranks the event on a 1-5 scale, with 1 being the highest priority. Super Bowl is definitely a SEAR 1 event.

Once designated an NSSE, federal and local agencies work together to construct a security plan that covers everything from traffic and crowd control to hotel security, tactical units, communications, volunteers, evacuation plans, access, and much more. Work is done in committees. The Minneapolis Super Bowl Host Committee and Minneapolis Police Department have been working for two years in conjunction with federal agencies to develop security plans including snipers on rooftops and the largest influx of federal agents in Super Bowl History. Most guests will never see the extra layers of personnel and resources assembled to keep them safe but security personnel and systems will be everywhere.

Campus event planners need to be aware of what constitutes an NSSE because we frequently host events that might qualify. Occasions such as presidential debates, visits by international leaders or religious officials such as the Pope, or high-profile sporting events like an NCAA championship game are all candidates. An NSSE’s heightened and complicated security arrangements are not business as usual meaning that we need to learn how to appropriately engage in security planning. Security on such a massive scale forces planners to give up some autonomy and requires that we cannot adjust plans at the last minute (as we often do) without first conferring with those in charge of security.

Recently, a group of lighting professionals were working at an NSSE. The crew had been instructed the night before by the event planner to dress in show black without logos, bring their backpacks, and set up underneath the bleachers inside of the secure perimeter. The problem was, she never told security officials of her last-minute directive. While the crew were waiting in the designated place, an officer spotted the unknown men and an alert went up the chain of command. Security quickly responded, detaining the men while an investigation took place. The situation was soon resolved but it was unnerving to reflect on the fact that the men had been in the sights of snipers. The moral of the story is, during an NSSE, event planners are no longer the final authority but part of a much larger team. We must be forthcoming with information, be aware of the potentially dangerous consequences of our decisions, and be fully engaged in planning and briefings.

If a major security event is on your horizon

  • Begin planning early by contacting local law enforcement;
  • Take part in committee meetings;
  • If you are not included, speak up and get involved;
  • Follow directions;
  • Never change plans without first consulting the security team;
  • Attend briefings as appropriate so you know what’s going on.

To learn more about NSSE designation requirements, go to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, http://www.dhs.gov

 

Posted on

Drive Events Like A BMW

Enrolling in BMW Performance Driving School was my New Year’s treat to myself and it didn’t disappoint. It was challenging, adrenaline-pumping fun, and most of all, instructional. But before the panic braking, sliding, timed laps, and stability control exercises, we started in the classroom with a clear set of objectives. They were 1. Safety; 2. Have Fun; 3. Learn Something.

Before we ever approached the cars, we talked about fundamentals like proper adjustment of mirrors and seats, posture in the driver’s seat, how to hold the steering wheel, and learning to look much farther down the road than most drivers typically do. At day’s end, the pièce de résistance was being a passenger on a hot lap driven by a professional race driver who incorporated all of the techniques we had learned into an exhilarating, heart pounding, thrill ride around the track. I’ll never forget it.

On the way back to the hotel it occurred to me that the lessons of performance driving school are 100% applicable to special events management. Here are some ways we can put those course objectives into practice to create our own unforgettable special events in 2018:

  1. We’re all well aware of the news and that crazy people can wreak havoc on gatherings anywhere, anytime. But imminent threats aren’t always from active shooters or terrorists. While we must have those plans, you are much more likely to experience unexpected severe weather, a medical emergency, or the need to evacuate due to a fire. As we begin 2018, all events should be reviewed for the fundamentals, beginning with safety. Resolve to develop a comprehensive safety plan in concert with campus emergency management professionals. Practice it. Be certain all staff members know what to do in case of emergency. Learn panic braking before you need it!
  2. Have Fun. This year instead of retreading events, resolve to ensure the trip to your campus, or to your recruiting or fund-raising reception or whatever the occasion might be, is fresh, interactive, and truly fun. People have limited time and the choice to attend your event means something else won’t get done. Make your events worthwhile by inviting an infusion of new ideas, volunteers, and willingness to make things exciting, an experience they’ll never forget.
  3. Learn Something. Isn’t this the reason we do events in the first place? Special events are the perfect opportunity to deliver carefully crafted messages about our schools to people who have opted to spend their time with us. Crafting events that deliver great learning may require looking farther down the road than we typically do. Does the horizon reveal a milestone occasion in your school’s history? Is there an important discovery that will be announced soon? Start planning now to celebrate and educate by building great events around these natural hooks. Our guests are groups of interested persons who want to be part of our universities. Take full advantage by being certain the purpose of each event is clearly communicated. Everyone should understand the reason for being there when they accept the invitation, but most important, should be able to articulate it at the end of the day. Just like BMW Performance Driving School.

Best wishes for much success in 2018!