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Polish Your Formal Meeting Manners

Advancement professionals are often asked to make presentations or represent university leadership at formal meetings such as those conducted by the school’s board of trustees, alumni or foundation boards, community non-profit organizations, or local government. Presenting yourself and your school with polished meeting manners goes a long way toward establishing credibility. Here’s how to project a professional image when you are attending a meeting.

Arrive on time in business attire (suits for both men and women), prepared for the topics to be discussed. Review any background materials, including minutes of the previous meeting, that were distributed in advance. Familiarize yourself with the names of board members. If you are making remarks or giving a presentation, plan and rehearse what you will say. Have your papers and relevant materials neatly organized in a folio so you don’t have to dig for them. It is considerate to give your business card to the meeting secretary so that your name and title can be accurately recorded in the minutes.

If you are a guest or newcomer to the group, make your presence known by introducing yourself to the meeting chairperson or planner. He or she should indicate where you are to sit. If not, ask before taking a seat. Place your computer bag, tote, or purse on the floor beside your chair (never on the meeting table).  Silence your cell phone and put it out of sight. Peruse the agenda so that you know when it will be your turn to speak. Introduce yourself to others and make light conversation with the people seated beside you until the meeting begins. Don’t arrive with a to-go cup of coffee, water bottle, or food in hand. Doing so lacks polish and hints that you don’t trust your host to offer refreshments.

If you are making a presentation that requires audio visual equipment, arrive early so that you have time to test it. Avoid computer compatibility problems by bringing your own laptop, connector cables, and your own remote. Always have a copy of your show on a thumb drive not only as a backup, but so that it can be given to the AV techs in the event all shows are being run from a house computer. Test all Internet or Wi-Fi connections if they are essential to your show. Remember that your computer may have to be signed-on to a secure network in advance.

When it is your turn to speak, take your tablet, laptop, or notes to the podium. If you’re using written notes, carry them in an attractive portfolio. Don’t place them on the podium in advance because other speakers may need room to spread out their things and you run the risk of them being accidentally being picked up by another speaker when he or she leaves the lectern. Respect others by confining your remarks to the amount of time you have been assigned.

During the meeting, keep attention focused on the purpose at hand by refraining from texting, checking e-mail, or doodling.

If no refreshments are offered, don’t ask for them. When beverages are served in cans, pour the contents into a glass before drinking. Keep your seat during the meeting and keep your place at the meeting table free from litter. Place dirty cups and trash on a side table (if one has been provided) during an appropriate break in the proceedings.

Don’t interrupt others or comment on everything that is said. Organize your thoughts before speaking. If you disagree with something that has been said, do so politely and avoid credibility-damaging outbursts of anger.

When the meeting ends, thank the chairperson before you leave. Follow up promptly on promises or assignments.

 

 

 

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Be A Polished Meeting Leader

Much of a meeting’s effectiveness boils down to manners (or lack of them). A well-managed meeting increases productivity and runs smoothly, largely because the meeting’s chairperson and participants know their roles. Here are some tips for chairing a meeting.

The first step toward meeting success is having a clear purpose and knowing what you want to accomplish. Define the meeting’s objective, and then determine who needs to attend to accomplish it. Invite only the people necessary to fulfill the task. Not only will a smaller group speed things along, people appreciate not having their time occupied unnecessarily.

Schedule the meeting for early in the day, so people can stop on their way to work. This strategy lets you harness participants’ creativity while they are fresh and energetic and helps ensure attendance because you catch people before they get bogged down in problems at their own offices.

Set an agenda and distribute it beforehand via e-mail. Include background information that will help make the time spent together more productive.

Select and prepare the meeting room for maximum comfort. A room that is brightly lit and cool will help keep people from becoming drowsy. Check the room arrangement by actually sitting in different locations to be certain everyone can see and hear. Cue computer slides, videos, test Wi-Fi connections, and conference-calling gear. Know what to do if equipment malfunctions or, if you are in a hotel or conference facility, how to contact the on-call AV specialist. Practice dimming and turning on lights. Thoroughly test sound equipment, including all microphones, and adjust volume levels. Tape electrical cords (especially those around the podium) to the floor for safety.

Offer beverages such as water, sodas, coffee, and tea. Other refreshments are not necessary unless the meeting will be long or encompass a meal time.

It is the chairperson’s responsibility to introduce people to each other and to tell them where to sit.

If your meeting is formal or will involve unfamiliar people, prepare each person a name plate that can be read by others in the room. Assigning seats also gives you the opportunity to strategically seat people together or to tactfully keep adversaries separated. Remember that the second most important person present should be seated on the chairperson’s right.

Begin on time, and don’t interrupt progress by stopping the proceedings to fill-in latecomers. Instead, keep the meeting moving, and bring those who are tardy up-to-date after adjournment.

Don’t allow phone calls or interruptions, and politely request that cell phones be silenced.

Set the tone and establish control by delivering a crisp welcome and very brief overview. Stick to the agenda, and guide conversation to keep things moving on track. Limit circuitous discussion and disagreements and don’t let the meeting disintegrate into bickering or aimless rambling. Settle differences by taking a vote, or if an issue cannot be resolved, assign the subject to a sub-committee for further study.

As chairperson, see to it that people speak in turn and that everyone has a chance to contribute. Call on quiet people to encourage their participation, and tactfully cut off a windy person’s lengthy remarks, especially when they are inappropriate or off-subject.

Take minutes, and distribute them via e-mail before the next meeting. Minutes serve as a reminder of who promised to do what by when.

Next week: Polished Manners for Attending Meetings

 

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Show Appreciation, Write A Thank You Note

 

Saying thanks and showing appreciation to our colleagues is one of the most powerful motivators in the work place. It’s also one of the most under used. I like to say “thank you” throughout the school year because it makes me feel good and it helps keep spirits up as we march through one event after another. If you haven’t been doing so, there is an old saying that it is never too late to say thanks. The academic year-end is a perfect time to express your gratitude.

While there are many sources suggesting ways to thank employees or colleagues ranging from snacks to gift cards, I find one of the most effective is to give the rarest of items–a hand-written thank you note. A personal note is just that–it communicates to the recipient that you noticed and appreciated his or her contributions and because it is in your own handwriting, it conveys your message in a way no emoji-sprinkled text, commercially produced thank you card or box of bagels left at the office coffee maker can ever rival.

A recent study on employee engagement cited by the Huffington Post (http://Huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/19/appreciation) found that 80 percent of employees are motivated to work harder and remain more loyal when the boss shows appreciation for their work. But you don’t have to be the boss to send a thank-you note. No event planner can be successful without the hard work of others and recognizing them is not only appreciated, it can pay major dividends going forward.

I send a blizzard of thank you notes following events to everyone from the featured speaker to the cleaning staff (remember your administrative assistant, too). Occasionally, I even send a note to the president’s spouse expressing thanks for her graciousness after we have invaded her home, the university’s official residence, with gear, caterers, and hundreds of guests.  I also send thanks to the university police department for their help with  security, parking, and crowd control.

I address each person personally and mention specifics of what they did to help make our efforts a success. Over the years this habit has helped engender willing cooperation when I ask people to go above and beyond their everyday tasks. Recently, a theater professor who often teams up with our events staff told me that when he moved offices he found a trove of old thank you notes I had sent. I was very touched that he had saved them.

We all crave thanks and recognition, yet it is a scarce commodity in the work place. People who say thank you stand out. I once worked for a president who thanked his staff with notes, flowers, or small gifts when a job was particularly well-done. In the back of our minds, all of us were working to earn one of those special recognitions every time we undertook a new project. Showing appreciation conveys respect and builds loyalty and trust because it affirms that someone noticed and valued our efforts.

Writing thank you notes is not a long, complicated, or odious task. Simply make a list of people and take pen in hand. Use a fold-over note card, either one produced by your school or company or purchase your own from a stationary store. (Crane and Co. (http://www.crane.com) is my favorite. An American paper manufacturer since 1770, the company produces fine 100% cotton papers that are classic in styling and noted for understated elegance.)

Open the card and writing only on the bottom half, address the person, mention the occasion and something specific about his or her contribution. If possible, use the person’s name again in the body of your message and then say “thank you.” You’re done! Mail as soon as possible after the occasion. You will make someone’s day and you will feel good, too.

 

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Yea, May! Commencement Time!

Yea, May! It’s the time of year when campus events planners have the end in sight and are looking forward to some time off. The academic year that began last August and that has since encompassed literally hundreds of events big and small, is about to wind up with the year’s biggest celebration: commencement!

Campus events planners often say to me “I don’t have anything to do with commencement.” But wait, we all do. Commencement is our reason for being, without graduating students, none of us would be employed. There would be no need for events to recruit students, re-connect alumni, or court donors.

Commencement (called “convocation” in Canada) is the year’s biggest celebration, a day of accomplishment and achievement celebrated by thousands of very happy people. For many, it will be one of the highlights of a lifetime. Why wouldn’t you want to be involved?

Orchestrating commencement requires a team of people with specialized knowledge and the capabilities to manage a large ceremony involving everyone from dignitaries to proud grandmothers. It’s worth learning how to do.

For one thing, adding commencement experience to your special events planner skill set adds value to your resume, is good for job security, and is attractive come promotion time. Even if diversifying into commencement and other academic ceremonies seems a far-off likelihood, I encourage you to get experience anyway by volunteering to help. While every campus has someone who is ultimately responsible for commencement, no campus has a permanent staff large enough to manage the ceremony without others. Volunteers are always needed and being one is a good way to try out commencement to see if you like it. Besides, volunteering for commencement may yield some return favors when you need assistance with major events. Beginners usually start by assisting with line-up, helping in the robing rooms, or facilitating post-ceremony receptions.

Commencement is a joyous day and it is always gratifying to watch the graduates and their proud families celebrate one of life’s major milestones. The positive energy and excitement never fails to rejuvenate my planner spirit and leaves me deeply satisfied.  Commencement brings closure to the year.

To learn more about commencement, check out the North American Association of Commencement Officers at http://naaco.org or plan to attend one of their regional meetings or annual conference.

To those of you who are already part of the proud commencement team, good luck with this spring’s ceremonies. I have posted answers to commencement FAQ in “Academic Protocol Fast Facts” under the Academic Ceremonies tab.