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A Resource For You

I have a great resource for you. It’s the protocol officer’s association, an amazing organization for special events planners, chiefs of staff, people who work in government relations, international affairs, for hospitals, corporations, the military, who manage official residences, and for all of us who welcome distinguished guests, famous people, elected officials, or who plan ceremonies such as commencement, ribbon cuttings, dedications, or inaugurations.

Officially called Protocol & Diplomacy International-Protocol Officers Association (PDI-POA), we met last week in San Antonio for the group’s annual International Protocol Education Forum. Not only was the meeting attended by people from 16 countries, it included an exhilarating range of professional development sessions. We had  a talk from Ambassador Rufus Gifford, Chief of Protocol of the United States (who was anything but stuffy), enjoyed an interesting afternoon at a culinary school learning about the importance of food in relationship building, witnessed a military medal presentation ceremony, watched a demonstration by a security dog, chose from a plethora of expertise-building break-out sessions ranging from forms of address to managing an official residence, and finally, had a fascinating explanation of San Antonio’s famous annual city-wide charitable event, Fiesta, and its associated protocol. In between we built important friendships with colleagues who stand ready to lend “how-to” assistance on everything from what advice to give our principal when she has been invited to the White House, to how to participate in cultural traditions in Ghana.

I find that many colleagues aren’t familiar with what protocol actually is and how it is relevant to our work, yet we live it every day. The stereotype that protocol involves nothing more than rules-obsessed fuss budgets tut-tutting about where flatware belongs (though I confess, I do that) is simply not true. In fact, protocol is an essential component of strategy with the goal of creating a distraction-free environment so that leaders can relax and accomplish goals for the benefit of the greater good. Isn’t  that what we do every time we plan an event or prepare to welcome guests to the university president’s home? Whether it’s a major donor visiting campus for a private luncheon with the president, or welcoming a delegation from overseas with a detailed itinerary of tours and meetings in order to facilitate research partnerships, setting the scene to facilitate success is an essential part of our jobs. That’s what protocol does.

Yes, there is the official protocol used by the diplomatic corps, but all of us who work in advancement practice our own protocol as an essential part of our jobs. We do so by creating a set of expectations and a consistent style that communicates messages about our employers and that says “welcome” to the people we are hosting whether they are parents of students, or the leader of another country. What’s more, adding an understanding of protocol to your skill set is a powerful asset that can lead to career enhancing promotions.

As many organizations come to the end of their fiscal years and we begin to look forward to the fall, I encourage you to make room in your budget to join Protocol & Diplomacy International-Protocol Officers Association. Whether you are mopping up unused fiscal year funds or building your budget for next year, PDI-POA membership is a credible, solid investment, one that will yield an excellent ROI for both you and your employer.

You’ll find a rich source of high-quality webinars, myriad online programs, expert advice, a peer mentoring program, and an international member directory. You’ll also be eligible for a substantial discount on registration for the group’s 2023 Education Forum in Washington, D.C. Best of all, you’ll become part of a group of professionals who understand the unique demands of our roles and who “get it” in terms of the challenges we face every day.

As the PDI-POA vice president for membership, I invite you to visit our website at and click the “join now” button. Individual membership is only $250 per year and includes over $1,250 worth of professional development options. A three-year membership carries a discounted price of $700. Founded 20 years ago by a small group of people who worked for the State Department and the military (hence the government sounding name) PDI-POA has grown to be a highly-respected, unique resource that welcomes people from across the spectrum of public relations occupations. We have a place for you, too.

I look forward to welcoming you and to seeing you throughout the year as a participant in our online programs, and in person next summer in Washington, D.C.

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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. 

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.

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.