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Repave Your Parking Lot Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s Time to Ditch Buffets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Project Your Best Image in Virtual Meetings

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

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

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

For both audio and video conferencing:

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

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

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

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

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

 For video conferencing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

For audio conferencing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Experience A Better Employee Awards Ceremony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Be Prepared for Events Emergencies

January has brought a vivid reminder that special events planners are often the first line of defense in emergencies.  Last week started with a woman having chest pains and ended with another having a seizure. This week, a guest’s parking lot fall required six stitches and a colleague’s office space heater caught on fire. The unexpected is always lurking just around the corner. In December, our region was raked by tornadoes. (Who would ever anticipate tornadoes in December?) As events planners, it is imperative that we know what to do when the unforeseen happens.

Now is the perfect time to renew staff training in first aid and other emergency procedures. And don’t forget to include student workers, members of your ambassador corps, and volunteers.

Get certified in first aid, CPR, and AED (automated external defibrillator) use. Many schools offer American Red Cross training through their risk management programs. Certification is good for two years. We attend as a group because it helps reinforce instruction. Over the years I’ve experienced emergencies small and large ranging from a man who smashed his finger in a car door to finding an event participant unconscious in a parking lot on an August afternoon, a victim of heat stroke.

Know severe weather procedures. Event staff should know where shelters are in each venue. Plan how you will direct participants to them. Once, while we were under a tornado warning, our audience of foreign visitors who had no understanding of the risk, wanted to go outside to watch since they had never seen a tornado. Fortunately, a well-trained special events staffer had a script that could be read from the podium that explained the danger. Her clear instructions about what to do kept the curious visitors inside and safe.

A recent severe weather drill exposed a serious flaw in a new building’s emergency plan: While the plan looked good on paper, the spaces that were designated as shelters are too small and some are behind locked doors. Without an emergency practice, we would not have discovered this until too late. A new plan has since been drafted.

Hold fire drills. Practice with your campus safety office to ensure everyone knows how to evacuate and what to do once that happens. Where do people meet? How do you account for everyone? Evidence shows that in an emergency people will try to exit through the door they entered. Unfortunately, this may not be safe or accessible. Be certain staff know alternative ways out.

Review Your Set-ups. Consult with emergency management personnel such as your campus safety office or risk manager to review venue set ups with an eye toward ensuring the arrangement of chairs, stages, catering, displays, and gear is not an impediment to people being able to evacuate.

Know the physical address of each venue. College campuses can be confusing places in terms of way finding. It is imperative that event staff know how to assist emergency responders in locating the building. Often, GPS directs to a generic address for the entire campus. This will delay response. We issue lanyards with the address of the buildings we are using so event staff need only read this information from the back of the card. If the campus map posted on your web site uses building numbers, it also helpful to provide this information when calling 911.

Meet with campus safety to discuss emergency procedures. Always keep them posted on large events and identify concerns in advance. This is especially important when hosting visiting dignitaries, elected officials, celebrities, or a speaker or group that might attract controversy. Make a plan for various scenarios and keep it up-to-date. Be certain all staff are aware of what has been decided.

Don’t forgot the big ones. Be certain that you have emergency plans for major gatherings such as athletics contests and commencement. Large audiences and in some cases, non-campus venues, demand emergency planning on a much bigger scale, a drill that is often overlooked because it involves coordination with multiple law enforcement agencies, emergency responders, facilities personnel, and events planners.

Empower Staff to Respond. No one should ever wonder if it’s ok to call 9-1-1. Let your staff and volunteers know that they don’t need to check with someone else before calling for help. Better to call and not need it, than waste critical minutes in an emergency. For large events, we hold a mandatory emergency briefing with staff and volunteers right before doors open. We point out all exits, be certain everyone knows the facility’s address, and discuss possible disruptions such as impending bad weather. Most importantly, we tell people that if they think a situation is an emergency, it is and we empower them to take the appropriate steps to get help.

 

 

 

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Plan To Reduce Special Event Waste

New years in academia comes in August and one of my resolutions is to make this year’s events as eco-friendly as possible. As the planning cycle starts, now is the time to work on this. Fall begins with a series of outdoor picnics and tailgating that are by their nature, messy and wasteful, generating a mountain of one-use plastic cups, plates, cutlery, table covers, and bottles. Why? Because it’s convenient. Planning not to make so much waste requires extra effort and involves negotiating with vendors and seeking out alternatives. Wasteful packaging has become our default to the point that we’ve forgotten the ways we used to do things before the world was filled with single-serving containers, polystyrene and Styrofoam “take out” boxes and bottled water. Being environmentally aware and doing our part as events planners to stop waste is no longer just “nice,” it is imperative. The collapse of the plastic bottle recycling market and the intense media coverage this year of the billions of pounds of plastic we are stacking up on land and tossing into our oceans highlight that the effort to control event waste is essential. Here are some ways to get started:

Understand your waste and plan how to avoid it. What will you be generating? One of our first fall events is a picnic for 1,600 students. I didn’t appreciate the impact of my choice to use plastic covers on 200 tables until last year when I saw the post-event giant ball of them headed for the landfill.  This year we are using paper covers held in place with reusable tablecloth clips!

Cutting down waste begins with planning not to create it in the first place. Plan menus that don’t require plastic cutlery and put condiments like ketchup and mustard in large pump dispensers instead of single serving plastic packets. If you do have to use cutlery, choose biodegradable bamboo. Avoid the ubiquitous plastic bagged napkin, knife, fork, spoon, salt and pepper. Often, only one of these items is used and the entire packet gets tossed in the trash. Cheap and readily available, I’ve seen caterers discard cases of these rather than load them for a return to their headquarters. You’ll no doubt get push-back from your food service provider or caterer, but strive for ways to offer unwrapped cutlery so people can choose only what they need.  Ban beverages in plastic bottles completely. Instead, offer drinks in aluminum cans or in paper cups filled from dispensers. Encourage people to bring their own bottles that can be filled at water stations but don’t make your own event-specific water bottles.  Everyone already has cupboards full of reusable bottles and making new ones is just generating more plastic! There is a strong market for aluminum recycling so canned beverages are an eco-friendly option. Water (and even wine) is now available in cans. Canned water comes in still, carbonated, and mineral options and with a little advanced planning, it’s possible to get it branded with your school logo.

Require vendors (including on campus food service) to honor your commitment to recyclables. Until everyone gets used to the idea, you’ll have to reinforce your commitment over and over again. Changes will need to be incorporated into the supply ordering process so start early.

Avoid the following because they cannot be recycled: Items that come in wrappers such as candy, condiments, and chips (serve chips in baskets with tongs); polystyrene/Styrofoam plates, cups, bowls, clam shell containers,  and “to go boxes;” plastic cutlery, bags, straws, stir sticks, and lids. Food-soiled boxes (like pizza boxes) and used plates.

Know what is accepted by your local recycler.  Find out what your campus recycling capabilities are and determine how to use them effectively. You may have to contract with an outside vendor.

Make it easy with good collection containers and clear signs. Put clean, nice-looking containers in high-traffic, high-visibility, convenient locations. Avoid dirty containers and those with lids because people don’t want to touch them. Clearly list the items that go in each container so people don’t have to try to figure it out.  Instead of saying “#1 plastic,” make it simple with “plastic bottles, aluminum cans, paper,” “food, used plates, and cutlery.” Since you’ve already selected products that can be recycled, there is no need to confuse people with too much information. Signs should be at eye-level. Always put a trash can beside a recycle bin to help people separate recyclables from trash in one stop.

Create a “Green Team.” Organize volunteers to tend recycling containers, answer questions, and empty as needed. This helps prevent people from dumping everything in the trash.

Make indoor functions green, too. Use china instead of disposable cups and plates, linen instead of throw-away table covers. Skip plastic straws and stir sticks. If you must offer straws, search “paper straws” online and you will find many vendors. You can even get the straws logoed. Don’t use plastic encased name badges or the now conference-standard name badges in giant plastic holders that dangle from lanyards. Most of these short-lived items wind up in the landfill and no one uses those “souvenir” lanyards after your event, meeting, or conference is done. (We’ve returned to logoed, paper stick-on badges with no complaints.) Don’t print programs, tickets, brochures, maps, agendas and the like. Instead, provide free Wi-Fi and either create a meeting app for this information, or post it on your web site. Skip purchasing ad specialty items that wind up in people’s junk drawers and eventually in the landfill. Forget ordering Polypropylene tote bags that are often given to attendees (with good intentions) to be reusable as grocery bags. A thermoplastic, about 5 billion pounds of Polypropylene are produced in the U.S. annually, yet less than 1 percent is recycled. The rest winds up in landfills where it takes 20-30 years to decompose.

Make your efforts known. Publicize the fact that you are striving to reduce waste and enlist people to help in the cause. Use the power of your higher-ed pulpit to teach students about environmental awareness and recycling by modeling these practices on campus. It’s an easy and important way to instill these habits in the next generation.

 

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Commencement is the Happiest of Days!

I love the peace of campus the Monday after commencement. Everything is quiet, no traffic, no parking challenges, no stressed-out students rushing from place-to-place. Faculty are gone and those of us involved in commencement can enjoy a long, quiet cup of coffee at our desk for the first time in weeks. Campus has the feeling of having been washed clean, much like the tranquility that follows a gentle spring rain.

Commencement is my favorite ceremony of the year. It’s a day when everyone is happy. Parents are proud, significant others celebrate, and graduates are ecstatic. It marks the end of years of work and holds the promise of adventures to come. It tells the world that you are different from the person you were yesterday.

That said, it is undeniable that commencement prep is stressful and can be frantic. Sometimes it’s downright aggravating. There are multiple ceremonies with a million moving parts, each one integral to the success of the whole. Each ceremony has its own cast of VIPs, seating arrangements, speeches, special awards, honorary degrees, and platform participants. Often there are but a few hours to re-set, re-do and be ready for the next “show.”  Our team manages just the dignitaries, a tiny slice of the thousands of people who participate and attend. In the days before, we dog trustees to confirm their plans, hunt for students who’ve forgotten to pick up their families’ VIP seating tickets, follow-up with people who have failed to rsvp, and cajole dignitaries who would rather skip preliminary events.

And commencement day is not a lone occasion, rather it is typically the culmination of other related activities all nested together in a cluster of celebratory events leading up to the big day. At our school, these include a formal dinner at the president’s home for the outstanding graduate from each college and the honorary degree recipients, a nursing pinning ceremony, the presentation of college awards and, of course, student parties. It requires physically moving tons of boxes of diplomas, platform party regalia, instruments and music stands, gonfalons and flags, and the university’s most precious relics, the mace and chain of office.

If I had any doubt whether it’s all worthwhile, that doubt was erased by one of my events office colleagues, a 50-year-old woman who received her master of business administration degree. Watching commencement work its magic on her even though she has helped facilitate for years and has been up to her ears in commencement prep for weeks, was gratifying. We observed with pride as she strode onto the stage, shook hands with the president and practically floated off the stairs. Afterward, she recounted how when the starter told her to go, she was frozen in place, then certain that the reader had said her name incorrectly, and finally, didn’t remember her two-foot-off the-floor dance down the stairs followed by hugging everyone she passed. She had what another colleague of mine calls “commencement face,” that gobsmacked, euphoric look that comes with realizing you’ve just accomplished something amazing. Commencement is the celebration of dreams, hopes, and visions. Like the work it took to get there, it’s definitely worth doing.

Congratulations to the class of 2019 and, in case you were too excited to hear the degree conferral formulary, welcome to the society of learned women and men.

 

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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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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.