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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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Perception is Reality

 

We will likely never know the true intention of New Jersey Gov. Christies’ July 4 weekend trip to his private beach while the adjacent state park beach was closed due to his government‘s shutdown. Was it a “let them eat cake” gesture, or simply a callous obliviousness to how his behavior would be perceived? It doesn’t matter. Perception is reality. His beach trip was interpreted as an “in your face” message to New Jersey’s lawmakers and citizens. It created a firestorm of negative press and outrage from people across the country. There are lessons here for leaders, event planners, and protocol professionals.

Every move our principals make, whether they are university presidents, elected officials, military officers, or corporate CEOs, is only a disgruntled tweet or unflattering cell phone photo away from controversy. The university president leaves an awards function early. Some will interpret the fact as someone has angered her, or she disapproves of something, when in reality, she has to attend two more events before day’s end. The mayor doesn’t show up for a ribbon cutting instead sending a surrogate because an urgent matter has arisen at city hall. People may read this as a snub to the new business. The senator doesn’t personally greet everyone in the room leaving some people feeling slighted. They make negative comments on social media.

In an interesting ed.TED talk called, “Truth vs. Perception vs. Reality,” (ed.ted.com/on/AsddeXsA) Trevor Maber gives an insightful explanation of how our brains zoom to conclusions based on what we see when a current situation is compared against our experiences, emotions, and assumptions. Sadly, our brains often jump to incorrect conclusions because we don’t have all the facts. We believe what we see.

While we can’t control the behavior of our principals, we can help steer them away from potential perception PR disasters by

  1. Being situationally aware. Knowing the issues and political climate, who will be present and what their agendas might be. (The mood of the populace after losing their traditional July 4 beach visit was not favorable.)
  2. Being willing to modify plans to enhance or avoid situations. (An announcement from the podium during the president’s introduction that she is present to welcome the gathering and then must leave, could potentially avoid negative speculation.)
  3. Being willing to make suggestions to the boss and apprise him or her of possible situations or consequences. (People might be angered, sir, if you use your private beach when theirs is closed.)

An important component of leadership is leading by example, and most seasoned leaders do this very well, but sometimes, principals may not realize how their behavior might be perceived. The governor had the perfect right to sit on his private beach, regardless of what anyone might think. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t bad PR.

As event planners and protocol professionals it is our job to help prevent disastrous episodes by thinking and acting in the best interest of our leaders to avoid potential problems. Afterall, we are the people responsible for arrangements, itineraries, and guest lists.

A five-course gourmet meal with expensive wines for the board of trustees on the day they vote to increase tuition and announce no pay raises, is an unseemly juxtaposition and one that could easily be avoided. An astute planner would discreetly and quickly work with the chef to modify plans.

The next time the planner sees the supposedly snubbed supporter’s name on a guest list, she cues the boss and tactfully orchestrates a personal greeting.

In the case of the beach outing, a planner could diplomatically offer a list of enticing alternative activities.

Some principals accept guidance readily and others may never do so. But while suggestions and work-arounds may not always be adopted, you’ll sleep better knowing you did your best to avoid a problem.