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Do You Work With A Volcano?

Do you work with a volcano? I’m talking about an irascible person whose irrational adult temper tantrums explode on all bystanders at the most inopportune moments causing fear, confusion, hurt feelings, and embarrassment just when the team most needs to pull together. The deadline pressure of special events in particular seem to provoke these people. Over time, this unpredictable, immature, and vicious behavior breeds distrust, anger, and contempt for the individual and causes good staff to head for the door in search of a better work environment, one where they are appreciated and trusted. The behavior is especially damaging when the volcano is an authority figure.  I am not a mental health professional, but here are my observations on how to deal with a volcanic colleague.

Experience tells me that volcano people explode when the stakes are high (e.g.—during load-in or moments before a major event is about to happen) and when they don’t feel in control or they don’t have all the information they think they need. This applies even if that information has nothing to do with their areas of responsibility. The outburst exposes their deficient self-confidence and lack of trust of others. The tantrum can also be triggered by lack of preparation on that person’s part—the bubbling up from deep down inside his or her own conscience that perhaps he or she didn’t complete tasks or didn’t do them well. The fear that they are about to be exposed causes a panic explosion thus diverting attention from the real problems.

Like a volcano, once the explosion begins, there is nothing that can be done to stop it so don’t be drawn in by arguing or contradicting, even though you may be right. This person isn’t listening and your efforts to reason with him or her will likely escalate the anger. Instead, maintain your professional composure, offer little or no responses and when you do, keep an even, calm (not sarcastic or condescending) tone in your voice.  If possible, try to maneuver her or him out of earshot of guests and other staff members. When the tirade abates, calmly give instructions to get people refocused on their jobs and get back on track. This will require an extraordinary amount of self-control but sucking you in and baiting you to lose your poise by provoking you to an angry response is just what this person wants. Don’t do it.

Later, when tempers have cooled, meet with the person to discuss what happened. Adult volcanoes are often bullies and I have found standing up to them with an unruffled demeanor when they are not irrational is one of the few methods that has any effect. Set boundaries by telling him or her (even if it is your boss) that you don’t appreciate being spoken to in that way and that you won’t tolerate such disrespectful behavior. Don’t be surprised if he or she denies the outburst or seems to remember it very differently from everyone else. Never mind rehashing the specifics of the incident or attempting to present facts. Volcanoes never accept responsibility for their actions and will not be receptive to your facts or defenses (even if you are right). If this person is one of your staff members, require him or her to apologize to those who were in the direct path of the eruption.

Bottom line: Work should not be a place where you have to constantly fear another outburst. Repeatedly having to endure such behavior, especially when the person is your boss, can affect not only your work life, but your personal relationships and overall happiness. Unfortunately, adult volcanoes rarely change their behavior and sometimes, the only certain relief is to seek another position.

There are many articles online about why adult temper tantrums happen and how to deal with them. One that I like is here: https://www.powerofpositivity.com/5-ways-deal-someone-temper-tantrum/.

 

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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.

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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.