17 weeks of orientation = 4 lessons learned

When you run an orientation program that lasts for 17 weeks you tend to learn a lot about yourself, program design, and program facilitation. Here are the 4 biggest takeaways from running over 75 sessions this summer:

1. Presenting vs. Preaching

You either present your material or you preach it. Presenting is no different than a server reading off the daily specials. Here is the information I need to make you aware of, please listen and let me know if you have any questions. You can get fancy if you like with slides, demonstrations, and even singing but you are still presenting information. Preaching is not presenting. Preaching takes effort. Preaching is exhausting. Preaching is you fully believing in what you are saying to the point that you find your heels leaving the ground as you make a point. Preaching isn’t sharing knowledge, it is creating it. Preaching is what gets people to nod, to clap, to laugh, to shout out “AMEN!”. Preaching creates knowledge as the audience feels attached to the words, sayings and research being shared.

Don’t present your material, your idea, or your training. Preach it.

2. Autopilot Blinders

When you are doing the same presentation for 17 weeks, you tend to go on autopilot with a routine. Print this, click that, set this up, e-mail that. Lather, rinse, repeat. While that may seem great for efficiency and effectiveness it really does the opposite. In the process of setting up processes and routines at the beginning, I didn’t leave time for reassessment of those policies at any point. Thankfully, student volunteers and colleagues chimed in halfway through and suggested some tweaks to the process. Those tweaks would have never been noticed by me because it would have been like reassessing menu options in the middle of a dinner rush with food on the tables already. Getting comfortable with routines and processes could make you ignorant to other possibilities.

3. Know Your Numbers

I checked my orientation numbers every day. Attendance rates, registration rates, number of reservations for the upcoming week. More often than not, if I was stopped in the hallway and asked how orientation was going I would throw out the numbers. While this isn’t a great assessment of how it truly is going for the students, it is a great assessment on production. While I am big on storytelling and narratives, most of senior management will want to know the bottom line to be able to mention it quick in a meeting. Knowing your numbers means you will know your trends. With a quick glimpse at my numbers, I could tell you which day, time, and month was the most popular for orientation. That means I can now look at what has happened and use that to attempt to predict what will happen. If you aren’t already doing this, start now.

4. Week 1 = Week 17

The only thing that changes from when I present in week 1 and when I present in week 17 is timing and tone. After presenting the same thing close to 100 times, you begin to notice how much impact timing and tone has on an audience. My presentation is usually getting refined and tweaked until around week 3 (about 12 sessions in) when it comes to timing and tone. The challenge is to never get bored. Which means, the energy and excitement you had in week 1 needs to be there in week 17. The jokes need to be delivered with the same enthusiasm and the serious points need to be brought with the same weight. This is easy as long as you do not get bored with your material. Like I tell anyone in a customer-service oriented position, the person asking you a question you’ve heard twenty times already is still asking you for the first time. You may have given the presentation 5, 10, 100 times but for your audience it their first time, act accordingly.

Reflect: Not something only a mirror can do.

Do you practice reflection? The art of stopping and smelling the roses? The action of not doing anything else in a moment but living in that moment?

When’s the last time you walked outside in the midst of Orientation/Welcome Week and just observed the madness behind the method of starting up the school year?

Watching that Mother try to sneak the tissue our of her purse to wipe away a tear before her student sees it.

The Dad eying the other males in the building up and down as he puts the massive pink hamper and pink comforter on his daughter’s bed.

The siblings holding a folder that announces who they belong to, shouting out, “Hurry up! This thing says you have to meet the President in 5 minutes at the Auditorium!”

The Orientation Leaders smiling and running around on minimal hours of sleep and not wanting it any other way.

The Residence Life staff handing out keys, answering questions, and responding to roommate conflicts exactly 40 minutes into the operation.

The campus custodial staff, quietly, and unnoticed, emptying trashes, and maintaining a bright and shiny veneer of campus on day 1. They go along with the campus grounds staff who sit in the shade and watch their perfectly manicured lawns, mulch, and walk ways get trampled by the egress of 400 anxious teenagers heading to their next session.

And then there is you. The master of your domain whether it be handing out keys, hot dogs, t-shirts, lanyards, folders, name tags, hugs, or handshakes. You own your responsibility, you watch others do take charge of theirs. Whether you are a cog in the machine, or the operator of the machine take a step back and watch the production that you get to play a part in.

Realize the act of the welcoming hundreds to thousands of new members of your community. Reflect on how you may become part of their story while they are learning at your institution.

Orientation/Welcome week is a busy time in student affairs. Don’t let it pass you by without having a moment in the middle of the madness to realize the value in what is it that you do, and are doing in that moment.

I ask again…

Do you practice reflection? The art of stopping and smelling the roses? The action of not doing anything else in a moment but living in that moment?

Try it right now. It doesn’t take long. In fact, it can be as short or as long as an experience that you want.

Take a deep breath. Shut your monitor off. Go outside. Walk outside and don’t look at your watch, phone, or the ground. Look up. Listen to the birds (or the stampede of new students heading your way). Feel the wind and the sun. Realize what it is you do that will make an impact on your campus community and those within it.

That’s my idea for the day – and I say it CAN happen.

Rock on,
Joe