Professional dancers, physically conversant in pas de deux, graceful leaps and high-speed spins, still take an occasional workshop with a ballet master to perfect their art. Great writers are great readers of the classics, too. And, don’t you think Richard Gere, great actor that he is, still had to enroll in some singing and hoofing classes before his scenes in Chicago? No matter if you’re a plumber, teacher or computer programmer, keeping up with changes in your profession, and the world at large, are crucial to success. In turn, whether you’re a first-time reunion organizer or a veteran planner, attending a reunion workshop can be like nailing the new steps of an intricate dance.
“Attending a workshop (otherwise known as FAM, as in familiarization or Destination Review Tours) gives the reunion planner a first hand experience of the area,” explained Debby Rivera of Florida’s Kissimmee-St. Cloud Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). “It also accelerates the relationship building process. Hospitality industry representatives attend all events throughout the FAM. This familiarizes the planners and industry reps and develops relationships.” The CVB’s annual January FAM is dedicated to all reunion types: military, family, class, retiree associations and more. They conduct a “Specialty FAM” each June, encompassing the SMERF market – that can be you, believe it or not, – social, military, educational, religious and fraternal groups. Reunion and other meeting planners attend so you may be seated next to someone organizing a religious gathering, a club or hobby-oriented meeting, multi-cultural, educational or fraternal get-togethers.
The Kissimmee-St. Cloud CVB is like the ballet master, experienced and ready to pass knowledge onto his charges. The CVB has done the annual January Reunion Professional Seminars/FAMS since 1993. “I still have active relationships with reunion planners who attended the first FAM in 1993,” Rivera said. “They become like family. I learn about their families, life situations, illnesses and, unfortunately, their deaths.” Planners typically learn from keynote speakers and popular seminars such as the roundtable discussions. “We give each table two topics to discuss among themselves,” Rivera explained. Topics range from creative ideas, budgets, food and beverage, mailings, off-site options, finding people, to contracts and transportation. After each table makes a list of ideas, they share it with the group. Discussions allow planners to learn from each other.”
You need not have an army of reunion members either. “Since Kissimmee-St. Cloud has a variety of accommodations and meeting facilities ranging in price and size, we invite various planners,” Rivera states. “We have planners attend who plan reunions from 20 to 2000 people!”
Basic requirements ensure a top-notch workshop for everyone. “To attend, reunion planners must complete applications about reunion size, history, contact information and other needs. The only major requirement to attend is a serious interest in Kissimmee-St. Cloud as a reunion destination!” With Orlando’s innumerable attractions just next door, this may be a no-brainer. Workshop space is limited to 20 planners to address individual needs and be conducive to building relationships lasting longer than the workshop.
Rivera noted destinations offering FAMs/workshops mainly focus on area attractions. The Kissimmee-St. Cloud CVB FAM (or Destination Review Tour) does the same but also offers an educational component applicable to all reunion planning experience levels. For reunion workshop details, visit www.floridakiss.com or call 800-831-1844.
Southern hospitality reaches planners in DeKalb, Georgia‘s most culturally diverse county. The DeKalb CVB launched it’s reunion program in 1999. Robin A. Bennett, CVB Public Relations coordinator, explained workshops were held quarterly but by 2001 workshop popularity was soaring and they needed to host more. Can you believe the CVB now holds monthly reunion workshops February though November?
Bennett thinks seminars are a good idea and planners who don’t attend are at a serious disadvantage. “Most reunion planners have no professional event planning experience and can quickly get overwhelmed by details and demands on their time,” she explained. “Workshops help prioritize and give them plans, tips, guidelines and advice. A good workshop also teaches a planner to delegate and form committees to share the burden. At our workshops we allow attendees to share ideas and past experiences. We provide planners with a resource manual containing many ideas, important information and the crucial timeline needed to stay organized.”
The DeKalb CVB staff recently began featuring industry experts as part of the workshop. Dr. Ione Vargus, founder of the Family Reunion Institute at Temple University in Philadelphia, spoke in November 2003 and Edith Wagner, Reunions magazine editor, spoke in February 2004. The CVB recruits hotels and venues to host workshops so you can do immediate site inspections, if you’re interested in that property for your reunion. Experts on DeKalb’s staff believe the basic tools needed to plan a reunion are the same whether your group is large or small. Most planners expect between 100-200 attendees.
Okay, sounds great. What’s the catch? The only requirement to attend an info-packed workshop is to be planning a reunion in DeKalb County, Georgia. “We don’t charge a dime, it’s all free and it’s open to anyone who’s interested in reconnecting with family while enjoying DeKalb’s wonderful attractions and amenities,” Bennett explained.
In addition to the unique assistance of reunion workshops, the DeKalb CVB is proud of the stellar level of service they provide planners. “We are with them every step, from initial phone call to arrival we are on hand to assist them,” Bennett said. “We provide welcome bags, nametags, discounted tee-shirts, volunteers and anything needed along the way. CVB President and CEO, Jon Manns, makes many personal visits each year to meet and greet reunions and welcomes them to DeKalb. Essentially, we treat them as family and there is no end to our hospitality. Even when they’ve left DeKalb, we stay in touch. All services are provided gladly and free of charge.” Now that’s a dance we all should know.
For information about attending a DeKalb CVB Reunion Workshop, visit http://visitatlantasdekalbcounty.com/ and click on “Reunions.”