Thoughts on creating community within a large, international alumni association

I had the opportunity last fall to attend the Association of Yale Alumni’s annual Assembly* in New Haven, CT.

As an alumna and an AYA volunteer, and especially as a meeting planner and association manager (I do event planning and contract association management for a couple of regional associations in the Pacific Northwest); it was an exciting opportunity to see the inner workings of a large, international, global association encompassing more than 160,000 members around the world.

The theme for the event was “Creating Community at Yale” and attendees came from all eras, from The Silent Generation to the newest “Gen Z”ers from Yale’s graduating class of 2017.

The entire 3-day conference was packed so full of activities, I hardly had any time to document, but I did put together this short slideshow to give you a glimpse of what attending the AYA Assembly is like:

AYA Assembly 2017
Click for Flickr Slideshow


And how do you create community in such a massive organization, spanning so many age groups, interest groups, and regions? Certainly the answer can’t be contained in a short blog post, but I’ll try to cover a few points that I saw being discussed at Assembly:

  • Recognize Shared Interest Groups (SIGs) and give them a voice at the Assembly
  • Survey the membership for their preferences in what the AYA should be delivering to them; report on the results of the survey, and allow it to inform decisions moving forward
  • Acknowledge the need for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; and create a Task Force to study the issues and challenges of D/E/I at Yale and in the AYA

It was a great experience for a first timer to see the massive operation that is the AYA. I’m hoping I can take a lot of what I learned that week back to the other associations that I help to manage and coordinate conferences for, and see if any of these ideas about creating community also apply to other organizations.

*(For the Yalies out there, I was officially an alternate delegate from the class of 1995, and unofficially representing the Yale Club of Oregon and SW Washington in order to accept the “Outstanding Mid-Size Cities Award“.)

What is GX? – Guest Experience

You can’t swing a cat (god forbid! we don’t actually swing cats!) in Portland without knocking over a UX (User Experience) engineer or designer. There are entire conferences dedicated to thinking about the online user experience. People are super concerned about UX, and discussions of UX are everywhere.

Bride and Groom at the dinner buffet reception
photo by FritzPhoto

But what about the offline experience, when you are in the face-to-face? I call this GX, or the Guest Experience, and I think about it all the time as it relates to events.

It’s so easy to forget about GX as we are planning our events and I wanted to put the terminology out there and make it as well-known, cared-about, and prominent as UX. After all, if you have a great online experience, but then get to an event in-person and have a bad experience, the best online design in the world can’t help.

Here are four elements that cause event creators (CEOs, wedding couples, trade show organizers, etc.) to overlook GX. I’ll use a scenario of  “the client says they don’t want chairs at a wedding ceremony” as a common example of forgotten GX.

1. Personality type. For example, a “Free Spirit” personality may think it’s fun to do a standing ceremony without chairs in a forest clearing.

2. Budget – A client may think it would save money not to rent chairs for the ceremony.

3. Haven’t reviewed the logistics. A client may think chairs are not needed, since the ceremony timing seems short.

4. Making assumptions based on a narrow experience (“I’ve never needed to sit down at a wedding, so I don’t think we need chairs”).

But you as the event planner know that there are a lot of issues with foregoing chairs at a wedding ceremony (or any event requiring an audience to be at long focused, formal attention). Here are five complementary ways we as planners and coordinators, or employees tasked with helping with an event, can step in and bring the focus back on GX:

1. Appeal to the event creator’s personality type. Again, sticking with our example scenario, if they are a “Free Spirit” type, for example (see this link for some examples of negotiating with personality types), then appeal to their sense of creativity by showing all the things people can enjoy in the wedding venue when they aren’t fatigued from standing during the ceremony. Offer creative solutions, such as hay bales or picnic blankets, that allow them to express their creative streak while still solving GX issues.

2. Show budget data and analysis. Going back to our scenario example, I would show that certain items as a percentage of budget have a disproportionate effect on GX and guest happiness. So while yes, you can cut the budget by not having chairs at the wedding; if the chairs are $2.75 each and there are 100 of them; and the total cost of the wedding is $25K (this is actually on the lower end for designed weddings in the Portland area), the small percentage of budget (1.1%) being spent on chairs will have a relatively large positive effect on GX; while getting rid of them will have a large negative effect on GX while not having a very big effect on reducing the budget.

3. Review the logistics with them. While a wedding ceremony as written can seem short, only 10-15 minutes, remember that guests usually arrive 30 or even 45 minutes before a ceremony, especially if there are out-of-towners visiting who aren’t familiar with the area. Then it takes a few minutes to get everyone in place for the wedding and send people down the aisle. There are usually a few minutes at the end for the recessional and perhaps a receiving line as well. All in all, that “short fifteen minute ceremony” usually winds up being about 30 minutes long and 30 minutes of pre-ceremony waiting. Does the client really want their guests to be standing for a whole hour?

4. Educate, educate, educate. As the event organizer or planner, it’s your responsibility to educate the event owner so they can have good GX. Again, going to our example one last time, you could educate them about possible movement, accessibility, or ability issues that guests could face. Older guests may require a place to be seated. If it’s a corporate event, you could remind about the Americans with Disabilities Act and making sure you provide accessibility and accommodations for different abilities. Once you start providing seating for older guests, it becomes awkward for those who don’t have a seat. Overall, it may be best to provide seating for everyone, and hopefully you can convince the event owner.

This is just one breakdown of the GX process as seen through the eyes of an event planner. I hope it illuminates a little about GX, guest experience, and how we plan events.

Vintage and tweed styled inspiration shoot – with a little shot of velvet

I often have the opportunity to work with some really fun public events around Portland. This year I’ve been involved with the Portland Tweed Ride organizers’ group and had the opportunity to help them produce some promotional media for their event, starting with a Save the Date card. It seemed like a great way to do some vintage and tweed inspiration for a possible wedding style board. With the way velvet is trending for 2018, I thought it would fun to throw a bit of that in too.

Portland Wedding Photographer Evrim Icoz

We were able to secure the wonderful Evrim Icoz Wedding Photography to shoot the photos, and Event Cosmetics to handle the hair and makeup. Nea Posey, one of Katherine Sealy’s Event Cosmetics clients, and Jeanie Whitten-Andrews, who had worked with Evrim before, stepped up as models. Event Cosmetics also secured the indoor venue, Oregon Historical Society, for us. Luckily, I owned a great deal of the props and attire in my personal collection, so it wasn’t hard to put together the shoot!

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Oregon School Counselor Association Conference Photos

Got some photos back from our Oregon School Counselor Association conference a couple weeks ago. So great working with this group! EJP Events helped them from beginning to end, starting with venue search, contract negotiations, sponsor and vendor solicitation and management, catering menu planning, registration, social media, event marketing (the conference sold out for the second time we have been involved!), to onsite coordination and check in. We even printed and ordered their swag items, such as t-shirts, bags, pens, and notepads.

Portland Event Planning by EJP Events

More photos from this wonderful conference available here:
We love working with our conference and event planning clients and making their jobs easy!

Portland Retro Gaming Expo

As wedding season moves indoors and gets quieter, conference and expo season surges forward! This weekend we’re happy to help Portland Retro Gaming Expo coordinate their hotel logistics as they welcome 10,000 attendees to the Oregon Convention Center to enjoy hundreds of retro arcade and console games. Did you know EJP Events is a member of American Express Global Business Travel’s Meetings Expert program? I love helping groups find the best hotel venue for their needs. We were thrilled to match PRGE up with the Crowne Plaza Portland, Doubletree Portland, Jupiter Hotel and Residence Inn Lloyd Center this year. Let me know if I can help your group!

Portland Retro Gaming Expo - Convention Planning and Venue Sourcing

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Oregon School Counselor Association Annual Conference

We are very pleased to once again be helping Oregon School Counselor Association with their Annual Conference. If you know a school counselor or a student in the counseling field who may be interested in a career in school counseling, please share this event with them!

Indian Dance Recital (Arangetram) at PCC Sylvania

Anushka, a Portland high school student, has been studying classical Indian dance for 9 years. Last Saturday, EJP Events – Portland Wedding and Event Planning helped her parents celebrate Anushka’s arangetram, or formal debut recital. 350 attended the event at PCC – Portland Community College Sylvania’s Performing Arts Center with an intermission reception featuring food by Swagat Indian Cuisine. Family then returned home for a dinner party catered by Thai Bloom in NW Portland.

Indian Event Planning - South Asian Cultural Events

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I’m always humbled to receive emails like this.

I’m always humbled to receive emails like this. It’s a big deal to trust someone you haven’t yet met in person to work with you through all the details and issues that come with planning your wedding day. Thank you S&D, and I’m so excited to be working with you in the coming year ❤❤

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