August is New Year’s in higher education. By month’s end, the majority of schools are back in session and advancement teams are already involved in a tide of fall special events that entail managing mingling including football tailgating, alumni reunions, fund-raising programs, and student recruiting receptions. Hosting guests and making them feel welcome is one of the fundamental jobs of advancement professionals but “working a room” is a skill that isn’t natural and doing it well can take years of practice. These days, most people are far more comfortable texting than they are talking to the living, breathing humans standing nearby. This includes our own staff members, especially if they are newcomers to our profession.
Special events are some of the most effective tools for building personal relationships, but they are also one of the most expensive. When guests attend an event without being greeted, made to feel welcome, and encouraged to deepen their involvement because someone actually took the time to engage them in conversation and get to know them, events are simply a waste of resources. The obvious per-person cost of food and beverage notwithstanding, special events carry a large cost in planning, staffing, and follow up. But the irreplaceable fact that makes events worth doing is that they offer one-on-one relationship building opportunities far more powerful than any online campaign.
We’ve all experienced events where staff huddle talking to each other rather than working the crowd, or they make certain the boss sees them, then load up at the buffet and finally melt away without interacting with anyone. I’m not talking about just rookies. Senior staff are equally guilty!
As American culture has become more casual, many people have arrived at adulthood without knowing how to socialize in a crowd. This doesn’t mean they aren’t willing, it just means the opportunity to learn hasn’t been available. Giving staff tools for self-confidence through training is a proven way to boost performance and maximize ROI whether they are attending a board meeting, or mingling at a black-tie gala.
A perennial exercise of each new school year is holding planning “retreats” and training workshops to indoctrinate newcomers, update continuing staff, map out goals, and energize everyone for the work ahead. This is the perfect time to train your staff by honing their interpersonal skills which in turn will give them the confidence to take the lead in social settings.
Essential skills include knowing how to shake hands properly, make a self-introduction, introduce others, mingle while balancing food and beverage, enter and exit a group, enjoy conversation, and dress for the occasion.
This summer I recorded a webinar, “Conferences, Receptions, and Cocktails,” for the Council For Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), that covers these and other pertinent topics relevant to the variety of the occasions we encounter on campus. I encourage you to consider incorporating it into your fall retreat. Doing so will provide staff with the self-confidence to do their jobs, and help establish a standard code of conduct for your advancement team. The webinar is posted at case.org and is complimentary to members. Log-in at www.case.org and go to Publications and Products, Store, under Product Type, find Webinars.
Best wishes for much success in the new academic year!