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Books for Campus Events Planners

 

I’m proud to announce that updated editions of two of my most popular books, Special Events Planning for Success, 3rdedition, and Etiquette and Protocol A Guide for Campus Events, 2ndedition, are now available from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. Both have been extensively updated to reflect our current societal norms including everything from managing burgeoning dietary preferences to extending electronic invitations to properly addressing same sex couples. These new editions join my book, Academic Ceremonies A Handbook of Traditions and Protocol to serve as quick references (and sometimes argument solvers) for the situations we face on campus every day. I hope you will add them to your bookshelf and refer to them often. Please order at http://case.org

Here is a list of titles that I consider indispensable reading for people who plan special events and ceremonies and who welcome VIP and international guests on campus. These books belong in every campus event planner’s office to serve as quick references when deadlines must be met. They are also excellent reading for newcomers for whom little formal onsite training may be available.

Academic Ceremonies A Handbook of Traditions and Protocol, by April L. Harris. A reference for commencement, convocation, the meaning of academic symbols and how to use them. Includes suggested ceremony line-ups.

Choosing Civility, The Twenty-five Rules of Considerate Conduct, by P.M. Forni. Food for thought about why what we do every day is important in making our world a more pleasant place.

Disability Etiquette Matters by Ellen L. Shackelford and Marguerite Edmonds. An excellent quick reference for interacting appropriately with people with disabilities.

Emily Post’s Etiquette, 18thedition, Manners for a New Worldby Peggy Post, Anna Post, Lizzie Post, and Daniel Post Sending. A contemporary resource for general etiquette questions.

Etiquette and Protocol A Guide for Campus Events, 2ndedition, by April L. Harris. A quick reference for answers on the questions campus events planners encounter everyday including academic forms of address, symbols of office, and faculty colors.

Event Leadership for a New World, 4thedition by Joe Goldblatt. An excellent textbook that teaches everything from strategic planning to managing contracts.

Honor and Respect, The Official Guide to Names, Titles, and Forms of Address by Robert Hickey. This is the definitive reference on proper use of names and titles around the world.

Our Flag, a U.S. government publication available either online or for purchase at bookstore.gpo.gov. This pamphlet is an excellent, accurate reference for U.S. flag protocol with an interesting section about the history of our flag.

Protocol The Authoritative Source, 35thAnniversary Edition, by Mary Jane McCaffree, Pauline Innis, and Richard M. Sands. More detailed than most of us need on the average day, but if you are hosting government and military officials, or need to ensure flags are appropriately displayed, this book is essential.

Robert’s Rules in Action: How to Participate in Meetings with Confidence, by Randi Minetor. A great quick reference for the situations encountered in all but the most formal meetings.

Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, 11thedition, by Henry M. Robert III, Daniel H. Honemann, and Thomas J. Balch. This is the bible of parliamentary procedure for formal occasions like board of trustees’ meetings.

Special Events Planning for Success, 3rdedition, by April L. Harris. A how-to reference for creating effective events on campus including a discussion of why events are important for advancement.

Treating People Well, The Extraordinary Power of Civility at Work and in Life, by Lea Berman and Jeremy Bernard. A fun and inspiring read from two former White House social secretaries.

World Wise What to Know Before You Go, by Lanie Denslow. A primer for cross-cultural interactions, especially helpful for people who have never travelled overseas and useful to raise staff consciousness about cultural differences when welcoming delegations from other countries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Build A Better Board

Board development is the most important duty of a non-profit executive director, even though those words may never be mentioned in his or her job description.  Having the right board members, and a continual supply of more of the same, makes the difference in whether an organization thrives or shrivels. Building an effective board is not a one and done job, instead, it is a constant exercise in strategy, cultivation, and engagement. A few weeks ago, I posted about building bylaws. Once your bylaws are in order, it’s time to focus on building a better board.

Because board members and the talents they possess are the tools in your tool kit, members should be recruited because they have the skills the organization needs to develop, implement, and sustain its strategic plan. Board members should not be invited simply because they have a high-profile name in the community or they are someone’s friend. An astute executive director looks three to five years down the road to forecast what the needs will be and starts building a list of prospects. For example, if an important fund-raising campaign is on the horizon, grooming and recruiting future board members with track records of fund-raising success is critical. If a major building project is in the offing, recruiting a few members with engineering backgrounds might be useful. If engaging young alumni is a priority, identifying people who fit that category is imperative.

Always strive to develop a diverse board, one that includes a balance of gender, and a wide range of ages and ethnicity. There is strength in diversity and having people with many points of view will help keep your board relevant and prevent it from devolving into a clique.

Board membership should never be a person’s first involvement with your group. Instead, identify board prospects from a list of people who attend your events, are volunteers, and who are donors. These people are your true believers. Start inviting them to additional events, ask them to serve on committees, and engage them more personally. Observe to see if they are reliable and if their interest deepens before approaching them about joining the board. Non- or minimum-level donors should not be board members. Instead, consider these people long-range prospects and begin to increase their involvement in other ways with an eye toward possibly growing them to a higher level of involvement. Having a 100% donor board is important because it gives you credibility when it’s time to ask others for contributions.

Once board prospects are identified, the executive director should meet one-on-one with each possible nominee to describe what is involved. It is important for people to understand the time and financial commitments, length of term, and what the board’s priorities will be during their tenure. Don’t extend a nomination if you hear objections about how much time the board may require, constraints on the person’s availability to attend meetings, or reluctance to support at the required donor level. Listen carefully to avoid accepting a polite “yes” from someone who is flattered to be asked, but who won’t actually fully engage. Never try to persuade someone whose initial answer is “no.”

Once new members are elected, hold an orientation to familiarize them with financial information, bylaws, strategic plans, projects in process, and things like acronyms or other organization slang. Begin to merge old and new board members by holding a planning retreat and assigning everyone to at least one working committee. Create a buddy system where continuing board members are matched with newcomers to serve as guides while the new people learn the ropes.

Make board experience meaningful by giving meaty assignments and being certain everyone is fully engaged in important projects that are consistent with their skills. Making the board experience robust and satisfying will ensure you’ve created an excellent group of ambassadors who will support your cause long after their terms expire, and who will be invaluable in helping you recruit the next batch of great board members.

 

 

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Freshen Up, Attend A Conference

The annual meeting of the North American Association of Commencement Officers (NAACO) just wrapped up. It was three days of shared ideas, access to resources, and making connections with other people who do the same work. We heard from subject matter experts, swapped ideas, told war stories, learned about best-practices, and participated in provocative, motivating sessions designed to dislodge us from our ruts and push us to rethink business as usual. For people who work in the niche world of academic ceremonies, rubbing shoulders with others who do the same and listening to authoritative presenters can be a font of useful how-to information and a confidence-building validation of our own practices. We left feeling refreshed, heads swimming with ideas and phones filled with new contact information. We also made connections with quality vendors who are themselves subject matter experts, and who offer tools that can make our jobs easier.

I believe that all employees should attend at least one annual professional meeting. Nothing grows committed, creative, motivated, and effective employees more quickly than signaling that you respect them enough to invest in their continuing education by sending them to a conference. Attending a conference is not only mentally rejuvenating, it is the most efficient and cost-effective way to update employees about the latest thinking in their specialty areas. Without this infusion of new information and ideas you and your staff are simply talking to each other in a stale echo chamber of “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” By staying home, you miss developing a network of colleagues with whom you can consult to solve problems, or whom you can call to celebrate success. Contact with professionals from other schools keeps us fresh through the cross-fertilization that can only come from listening to others who work in our field. Attending also keeps us abreast of learning about new tools and technologies that help us all do a better job for our schools. Being an active member of professional organizations has added a dimension of quality and satisfaction to my professional journey that cannot be overstated.

Here are three organizations that have been enormously helpful to me and that have served me well as vibrant, reliable resources for quality continuing professional development and have led to a network of colleagues who have become personal friends:

Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).This international organization offers a year-round calendar of conferences, plus webinars and publications for people who work in all aspects of advancement. Of particular note is their selection of specialized summer “institutes” that provide excellent foundation training for newcomers designed to help get employees up-to-speed quickly by immersing them in higher education how-to and best practices. As careers develop, CASE has excellent programming for people at all levels and offers opportunities for meaningful volunteer and board involvement. Case.org 

North American Association of Commencement Officers (NAACO). This group is tailored for people who manage commencement and other academic ceremonies for U.S. and Canadian schools. It offers a wealth of specialized best practice information for commencement planners, provost’s staffs, registrars, and special events planners. The group hosts an annual conference and regional meetings throughout the year. Naaco.org

Protocol and Diplomacy International-Protocol Officers Association (PDI-POA). Traditionally, most PDI-POA members came from military or diplomatic backgrounds but in the past eight years, academic event planners have been the fastest growing segment of this organization’s membership. Collegiate event planners have been welcomed into the fold because we often host people and occasions that demand observance of protocol. It is necessary that we understand customs and expectations for everyone from government officials, military officers, famous authors, scientists, artists, celebrities, and international visitors and imperative that we understand their customs and expectations. Because the group’s members hail from all over the globe and include leading experts and authors on all aspects of protocol, PDI-POA is an excellent resource. PDI-POA hosts an annual forum and also offers regional workshops. Membership is particularly beneficial for people who plan president’s or chancellor’s events, who handle VIP and dignitary events, and special events planners who field a wide variety of ceremonies and occasions from every corner of campus. Protocolinternational.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We Could All Use A Peach Corps

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

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

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

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

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

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Build Better Bylaws

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Include a statement about your commitment to diversity.

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

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

Define what constitutes a quorumfor conducting business.

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

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

 

 

 

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Time Out! University Event Planners Need A Break

Time out! University events planners need a break! We’ve been running full tilt since early August managing everything from back-to-school events to football tailgating, reunions, ribbon cuttings, symposia, board meetings, celebrity speakers, fund-raising events, and miscellaneous other types of entertaining. We’ve got at least seven more event-packed weeks between now and holiday break crammed with commencement, concerts, and seasonal entertaining. It’s no wonder event planning is ranked by CBS News as the fifth most stressful occupation of 2018.

We just finished one of our signature events, the award-winning Girls Science and Engineering Day (gseduah.com) a fantastic program that introduces elementary girls to STEM. The day requires months of planning and preparation, inevitable long hours and maximum stress the week of the event as we strive to placate helicopter parents and ensure that students, presenters, and volunteers are all where they are supposed to be when they are supposed to be there with all of the tools they need for success.  We offer 24 workshops, enroll 550 girls, and manage it with two paid staff members and 289 volunteers. It’s all over in five hours. Girls Science and Engineering Day is always high-visibility and high-pressure to perform but there is usually a euphoria that happens on the back side as we bask in our success, enjoy the happiness of the girls and the great feedback from parents, presenters, and sponsors. This year, we missed that bounce because we were too exhausted to care. This is because Girls Science and Engineering Day was back-to-back with a major week-long symposium with no time to rest and rejuvenate. We are spent from giving our all for weeks on end. A tired, cranky staff means short tempers, errors, and poor attitudes. The opposite of everything we stand for.

As much as we could use one, a 10-day vacation is definitely not an option. But that is exactly what we need—time to take care of ourselves, tend to routine needs like paying bills and going to the grocery store and dry cleaner, seeing family and friends, and most of all, having time to indulge in the luxury of not having to be “on” for other people. No matter how much you love your job or how well you are compensated, eventually, each of us needs time to stop and relax our minds and refresh our bodies. How can we do this when there’s not a vacation in sight?

Here are the things that I’ve found to be helpful:

If you are the boss, start by extending sincere thank yous to your weary staff. I’m not talking about doughnuts in a box cast on the breakroom table, rather, I mean a handwritten personal thank you note for each person recognizing specific ways that individual contributed. Next, give your staff a few “no charge” days off. Let them pick which ones. These are compensatory days that don’t have to count against vacation time. More than just about anything else, this simple acknowledgment of a person’s contributions will be remembered and appreciated.

But what about yourself? When there is only one day to refresh, here is my tonic:

Disconnect from technology. No cell phone, television, or computer allowed;

Be quiet and let quiet surround me;

Reconnect with Mother Nature by taking a walk, working in the garden, or sitting by the water;

Take a too-fast drive in my sports car with the windows down;

Put on comfy clothes and eschew make-up;

Read a book;

Meet non-work friends for brunch or supper. Talk about what theyhave been doing;

Do something with family that has no connection with work and that takes place where you are unlikely to run into people you know;

Pet the cat and concentrate on his rhythmic purr;

Exercise;

Be myself.

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Protocol Professionals Make Events Run Smoothly

People often ask me what protocol professionals do. The simple answer is we ensure that things run smoothly so that business can be accomplished and relationships can develop without the distraction of logistics.

We just finished one of my favorite events of the year, the week The University of Alabama in Huntsville hosts the annual Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium, an international gathering of the world’s space experts and next-gen space pioneers who convene to imagine, discuss, debate, and strategize the future of space. It is an excellent illustration of what protocol professionals do every day.

Presented by the American Astronautical Society, the symposium is held on our campus because of Huntsville’s storied history in the space business (this is the place where the Saturn V, the rocket that launched men to the moon, was developed) our proximity to Marshall Space Flight Center, and our status as the anchor institution to the nation’s second largest research park.

One of my favorite aspects of the week is the opportunity to work with public affairs and protocol colleagues from industry and government, many of whom are friends that I see only once a year when they arrive to escort their principals. The Von Braun Symposium brings an impressive international collection of government officials, corporate executives, astronauts (including moon walkers from the Apollo era and numerous Space Shuttle commanders, pilots, and mission specialists), researchers, academicians, and students from other universities. The week includes panels, speeches, debates, private meetings, social gatherings, tours, competitions, and recognitions. It has many moving parts, each advanced by teams of public affairs or protocol officers. We intuitively work together to help each other succeed, because we know success for one, is success for all.

Throughout months of advance planning we have sorted out agendas, routes and parking, we’ve held many phone conferences and numerous walk-throughs. We’ve negotiated what will and won’t be possible. But what do protocol and public affairs professionals actually do during the gathering? Here’s a sampling:

Stand in the cold before the sun is up to welcome a VIP;

Facilitate an important government official’s short notice request for a private meeting space with sophisticated communication capabilities, marshaling staff from across the university only to watch the meeting get cancelled at the last minute;

Find a substitute meal for the luncheon speaker who is also the highest-ranking person in the room when he surprises us all by revealing he doesn’t eat the day’s entrée;

Rearrange flags on stage moments before the conference convenes when one of us notices a serious mistake in the line-up;

Soothe the nerves of an exhausted out-of-state student suffering from 24 hours of delayed and rerouted flights to arrive minutes before her presentation at an important scientific competition that could help shape her future;

Deploy a hospitality team to feed and make her stressed travelling companion, her mother, comfortable;

Noodle together as we sort out the appropriate seating for a collection of distinguished participants who hail from very different walks of life, all of whom are accustomed to being the ranking person in their universes;

Resist the temptation to request a photo or autograph from the famous people with whom we are conversing;

Abandon the first real hot meal we’ve seen in two days because of a changing situation. Return to eat it later in the hallway when it’s cold and flavorless;

Make eight large-sized bottles of Mountain Dew appear immediately for a dignitary’s car;

Facilitate a surprise award for a retiring leader by stalling his departure without annoying him;

Diplomatically redirect important people who are nonetheless “crashers,” from seating themselves at luncheons to which they were not invited;

Work with security details and know when and how to discreetly communicate critical information;

Go home when the moon is high in the sky and return when the same moon is still up;

Understand that your principal is oblivious to most of your efforts, which is as it should be;

Enjoy a great sense of satisfaction from knowing that your behind-the-scenes efforts helped make an important gathering a success.

 

 

 

 

 

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Follow Through For Great Events

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are five tips for ensuring good follow though:

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