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May 2013

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The first time, all over again

The annual Dean’s Reception celebrates student completion of the various graduate programs in the Opus College of Business as a more intimate prelude to the public commencement ceremony.  I have attended a number of these in the last few years.  From a communication standpoint, these events represent some important, but sometimes forgotten tenants of the craft.

First, while these parties exist primarily to celebrate with our students, the format ensures that this opportunity to engage them with the university for the long term is not lost.  Even though the centerpiece of the evening will always remain the dean’s speech, the plates are served with encouragement from alumni relations to remain active on campus.  This moment represents a critical time in the school’s relationship with these stakeholders, as they convert from students to alumni.  Recognizing the transition of an audience is all too often obscured by the activities of the day.  Strategic communication planning should always consider the evolution of customer experience and relationship with the organization and what it offers them.

The other thing relates back to the words spoken by the dean.  Faculty and staff find more than just predictability in themes the narration will include.  For those who have been paying attention, many portions could be recited en masse.  This is not a factor of lax focus on the importance of the event, but the contrary.  Certainly there are tweaks made to the fringes of the presentation each year to align with the times.  However, the central messages remain solid and well crafted, pointed and enriching.  As some colleagues around me smirk at the now familiar metaphors and central statements as though they have become trite, we can easily forget to look around.  The graduates and their parents have not stood in this foyer before, and will likely not again.  For them, these words are fresh and new, neatly hooking and tugging at the heartstrings of emotion around this momentous occasion for themselves or a loved one.

Every communicator needs to step back from the grind of the work and attempt to look at the audience and the message without the blinders of time or repetition.  We must remember how it feels to be in the magnified light of a triumphant life event to which we might have become jaded.  In doing so, we can more appropriately sift through the messages of the past and keep those that resonate most deeply with a transient audience like our new graduates, and avoid changing things up simply because we have become bored with the words.

In the case of the reception address, it delivers the bow on our last gift to students;  a bow that does not have to change annually in form or function to complete the package.