Thursday, May 26, 2011

Reunion Cruises to Nowhere (or Somewhere)

Some of the members in our Linkedin.com Group "Reunion Planners (High School, College, Family, Corporate)" have mentioned that short reunion cruises are wonderful alternatives to land-based reunions if you're near a major port city. Cheryl I. Austin of Simply Splendid Vacations, http://www.gosplendid.com/ and Linda Hilson of Cruise Planners, www.allpointsbeyondtravel tell me that there are several options.

First, there are dinner cruises like those provided by World Yacht, http://www.worldyacht.com/, which circles Manhattan. You depart at a certain time and return 4 or 5 hours later, having had the time of your life. But that's it. No down time together to relax. Strict in and out times, etc.

Then there are two-day cruises to nowhere. Imagine going out to sea for two overnights, all meals included. It's a party on a beautiful ship where your reunion group can take part in festivities all weekend long.

According to Cheryl, this type of cruise departs only a few times a year out of major cities and may not coincide with your reunion plans, but the good news is that it's not much more expensive than a reunion banquet and a two-night stay in mid-price hotel over a weekend.

Then there are four-seven day destination cruises. A typical four-day cruise might run from Thursday to Monday with three days at sea and one day at a port of call. That leaves plenty of time for reunion activities and getting reacquainted with old friends

Linda tells us that, 3-7 days cruises include all meals and snacks, and nightly entertainment. Private functions, like a cocktail party or banquet for your group, can be scheduled and private rooms for these functions can be reserved free of charge.

Imagine a floating resort for you and your fellow classmates to catch up on all the years gone by. What could be more relaxing - and fun? Any thoughts on this idea?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Celebrate Your Classmates' Collective Birthdays in Between Reunions

Looking for a good excuse to get a mini-reunion going? Celebrate your classmates' collective birthdays! This is not something to do every year, but rather try it the year you all have a significant birthday: 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 years old. Don't wait for a major reunion, choose a location that will hold about 10% of your class. In my case, from a class of 600, I expect 60 to show up.

No formal hotel facilities are necessary. Just book a nice restaurant with a room big enough to hold all of you and serve a nice buffet with a cash bar. If you have a smaller class than mine, then just meet at a favorite pub.

The class before ours had great success meeting in the summer at a lakeside restaurant. The sounds of lapping water and reflections of moonlight make for a magical setting that requires nothing but the company of friends. Don't fuss with decorations, djs, a photographer, or videographer - unless you want to. People will shoot with their phones and upload them to Facebook. That's all you need.

Send multiple e-mail blasts to all your classmates to remind them to come and make an announcement about the party in your website and on your school's Facebook page. Someone should be the point person to accept checks by mail in advance or set up a PayPal link for payments.

Other than that, keep it simple and have a good time. Just don't forget the birthday cake!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Plan Mini-Reunions All Year Long

Why wait 5 or 10 years before you get together for another class reunion? You should encourage classmates to put together mini-reunions any time or anywhere.

Using the internet and Facebook an informal mini-reunion can spring up orchestrated by anyone who wants to reach out and say: "Hey I'll be here on this date and at this time. Meet me there."

One of my friends, Vicki, has become the class ambassador. She travels a lot, and when she's in a major metropolitan area, she makes an announcement to her friends on Facebook that she'll be there and voila a party happens around her at a local restaurant or bar. It's truly amazing.

Another friend, Barbara, knows she's planning a vacation in Fort Lauderdale in the Spring, so she has organized a mini-reunion welcoming other classmates to join her there for a weekend Luau. In this case she has 6 months lead time to generate enthusiasm and get commitments from the class.

Steve has a band, (Steve and Steve), that plays around the NJ/PA area. Once or twice a year he plays near our hometown, and classmates always make a point of supporting him at the local pub. It's always a fun night of music and auld lang syne.

Louie and Ken (the year before ours) always plan an annual dinner at a lakeside restaurant owned by a friend. They get favorable rates and a crowd of about 45 always show up to have a great time.

These little reunions are always fun and require minimal planning and expense. They range from about 8-50 people, and the excitement surrounding these little parties generates more energy for the big events when we have them.

Be creative. Form your own little minis and see what you come up with. And, if you do, be sure to share your ideas with us.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Selling Your Reunion Video

I always recommend that no one should produce/direct/or shoot their own reunion videos. You've waited all these years, why work at your party? Let someone else do the schelping and the interviewing. You should be free to enjoy yourself and not be chained to a camera all night.

Consider having a professional video production company that specializes in party videos shoot and edit your program. Try to make a deal that if they shoot and edit it for free, they can "sell" the dvds to classmates after the fact and keep the profits. This only works if you have a fairly large class, but it does work.

For example for our recent reunion, the production company is selling the dvds for $25.00 plus $5.00 shipping and handling. The dvd is a good value because not only is the party on it, but also all the party videos that we rolled in during the night's festivities. These included multiple shorts featuring scenes around town, the best tv shows, Time magazine covers, and 1960s montages, etc.

People who were at the event just love seeing themselves in the party video. And people who couldn't attend get to see what they missed. They're selling like hotcakes.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Check-In Table at the Reunion

Don't forget to properly manage the reunion check-in table. It is very easy to overlook this important aspect. It is also very easy to understaff it, and the reason is simple. Nobody wants to "work" at the reunion. Who can blame them? They've waited all these years to see everyone, and don't want to be stuck at the table.

There are a few remedies for this - all of them must be managed by one responsible person on your team. Find a person who would be happy to build a team of classmates who will greet people at the door and sign them in. This person must also establish and supervise the check-in process for at least the first hour and collect the money from people who pay at the door.

Believe it or not, this job is very important. The check-in table, it is the first impression that your reunion guests will have and if the first impression is total chaos. That is not a good thing.

Depending on how many guests there are, I've recommended two long tables for numbers over 100. A-L at one table. M-Z at another. Make sure you make signs in advance to mark each table clearly.

The morning of the reunion, the keeper of the database should print out two copies of the database, three if over 200 people are coming. Print the names of ALL found classmates in alphabetical order by last name. If you are using Microsoft Excel for your database, you need only print out the columns for Last Name/Maiden Name, First Name, Number attending, and amount paid.

Separate the Last names A -L into one binder. M-Z into another binder.
Repeat for the second set of printouts and repeat again for a third set if you have a big group.
You should now have two binders A-L and two M-Z = 4 binders total for 4 people at the tables.
For groups over 200 people, I recommend 6 binders and 6 people manning the check-in tables.

People who have prepaid should receive a check mark next to their names.
People who are paying at the door should have name, email address, address and phone number along with the amount filled in the database by hand.

Once they are checked in, people should be instructed to go to another set of tables appropriate to the traffic flow to get their name tags. Three people can distribute the name tags individually. Or you can simply lay out the name tags in alpabetical order, so people can pick them up.

People who have paid at the door should have blank nametags available and Sharpies to write their own.

Then everyone should be encouraged to move into the main party areas so the flow of people moves freely.

Now the question remains WHO will volunteer to man the tables?
Consider asking the following:
1. Spouses who want to meet people easily
2. People who feel most comfortable sitting in one place for a while (maybe those who have disabilities)
3. Anyone who wants a fast introduction to everyone. It's the ultimate overview to see who is coming and who has arrived.

And this is the way to "sell" the check-in job to anybody. It's fun. It's a great way to say hello to everybody. It's only for the first hour. These people who volunteer must come to the check-in tables at least 30 minutes before the party starts to get trained and greet the early-birds.

But don't wait until the reunion to recruit this team of people. Do it long in advance and send reminders that they are expected to be at the check-in location early.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ten Tips When Designing Reunion Floor Plans

Another detail you'll want to review with your venue event manager is the floor plan. It's a mundane but essential part of making a successful party. The smooth flow of traffic is essential to keep a somewhat inebriated herd content.

Here are ten floorplan "must-haves" to keep things running well:

1. two sign-in tables -usually in the foyer outside the main room for people to check in or pay if they haven't already. Consider splitting up the alphabet by last name - half at one table, half at the other.

2. name tag table - for people to pick up their pre-printed name tags or write their own if they paid at the door.

3. table for seating cards - if you have pre-assigned seating for your reunion (I don't recommend this), but if you do, people will need to pick up their table numbers outside the main room. Arrange the cards in alphabetical order by last name.

4. bar(s) -to avoid bottlenecks. Some places recommend 1 bartender per 100 people. Keep them away from doorways and give people space to move away from the bar once they get their drinks.

5. buffet tables for the food- with plenty of room for a long line to form. For large groups consider two setups mirroring each other so you can accommodate two shorter lines.

6. dining tables - that are nicely spaced apart and not crammed too closely together. I like rounds that seat 8-10 people with linens to the floor. Ask about colors that match your school colors or go with a classic white or ivory.

7. freestanding decorations. Find a safe place that is visible, but out of the way for large supporting structures that will hold posters or large banners. These should be strategically placed so they won't impede the flow of traffic or get tripped over.

8. dance floor - While younger groups may want to dance, I've found that loud music doesn't cut it at a reunion. People want to talk. A dance floor has minimal use, so if you need the space for something else go ahead and use it.

9. stage - The DJ and sound system will need a stage with room for people to make speeches and announcements. Put it in a central place for everyone to see.

10. screen and video projector - Can be moved into place when needed and removed afterward if they are in the way.

11. restrooms - should be prominently marked, as they will be in a nice facility or banquet hall. But if you're slumming it for this party, make sure you have plenty of "facilities."

Did I forget anything? Please let me know.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Audio/Video Equipment for your Reunion

The party's set, the food is on the tables, the guests have all arrived and then you push "play" on the DVD player... and guess what?

Nothing happens.

Avoid an encounter with the technology gremlins. About a month before your reunion, you should have a talk with your event manager and ask about equipment needed the night of your party. He/she may put you in touch with their audio/visual coordinator or may handle the discussion him/herself.

VIDEO
For DVD or PowerPoint playback you'll want to discuss:
1. A playback source for DVDs or CDs

a. If you have a Standard Definition (SD) DVD, you'll need a (SD) or Blu-Ray Player (either a DVD player or a computer with a DVD player).

b. If it's a Blu-Ray DVD you're playing, only a Blu-Ray Player will work.

c. If it's a CD for a slide show, a laptop with a DVD player will work.

Make sure you test your media on the actual player you are going to use BEFORE THE PARTY.

2. Projection system. The intensity of the bulb is measured in lumens. Our projector happens to have 3,500 lumens, and the darker the room, the clearer and brighter the picture will be. If you are celebrating outside or in a room that is all glass and daylight, you are at a disadvantage no matter what projection system you are using, but the more lumens the better.

3. The Screen. A large movie screen 10x10 or 12x12 or a 108 inch plasma will work for a large crowd. Small TVs won't have the same impact.

4. Sound Reinforcement. You'll need a sound system with amplification and speakers, as well as a microphone for speeches (unless your DJ supplies one). If more than one person is going to speak, you'll need multiple microphones, and then you'll need a mixer as well.

5. Technician. And don't forget you'll need someone to run everything. The last thing you'll want to be messing with the equipment when you should be enjoying the reunion.

6. Costs. The hotel will be happy to charge you a pretty penny to rent all this and offer someone to run it. It could cost well over $800-1,000. If your video company can help you out with a favor in regards to any of this, count it a blessing. If not, and you have the money, this is something worth spending the big bucks for IF YOU HAVE THE CONTENT TO MERIT IT. But think about it. If it's just a slide show for 5 minutes, save the money. You can always put it up on your website.

At our reunion, we're planning to maximize the use of our projection system. We'll have a 6 minute party launch video, and then silent slide shows of classmates, memorabilia, and trivia throughout the night as video "wallpaper."
So it's your call as to whether video playback is worth having.

But remember, if you do decide to have playback, test everything on the system you are going to use BEFORE the day of the reunion. You don't want any surprises.

Any thoughts from you?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Part 2 In Memoriam: Remembering Classmates at the Reunion

One of the hardest things about being a reunion planner is keeping the list of classmates who have passed on. You know they are gone, but you see them as they were - vibrant teenagers with their whole lives ahead of them.

You are not alone in this thought. You share the zeitgeist of the entire class - the collective spirit of your alma mater. Together you mourn the loss of even one classmate. And as you get older the numbers rise, and it gets more surreal. Therefore, it is very appropriate for you to create a tribute to those who have "moved on."

1. a special page on your website or class directory dedicated to their memory is appropriate.
2. a video montage or slide show on the website is appropriate.
3. if you have an online yearbook with the ability to write blog messages on the yearbook page, encourage classmates to write their memories of those who died in the blog.

I would not, however, suggest a video or slide show tribute DURING the reunion because it may irrevocably change the tone of party. Keep in mind, the reunion is a celebration of life and connection. "To every thing there is a season, a time to mourn" and a time to celebrate. Let your reunion be the latter.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

In Memoriam: Remembering Classmates at the Reunion

I'll never forget the story of my girlfriend's brother,John. He was three years younger than us and had always lived life on the edge. Sex, drugs and heavier drugs.

Therefore at the twentieth high school reunion, many of his classmates were not surprised to see his name listed among the "dearly departed" in their printed directory. "Too bad about John. He was a great guy, but I didn't really think he'd live this long," were typical comments.

There was, however, one person who was very surprised to read about John in the memorial pages- and that was John. He could say as did Mark Twain, "The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated." Indeed John was alive and well.

How did this happen? Well the reporter in this case, didn't check his/her sources.

Whenever I hear about the passing of a classmate, I always try to get three people to corroborate the story and then verify it with a search in the Social Security Administration's Death Index (SSDI) which is available to the public through a couple sites. I like one genealogy site: http://www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/ssdi/?kbid=9064&m=9

This is nicely arranged so you can search on name, last known place of residence, birth date/year, and several other parameters. A match will confirm birth and death dates, age at death, full name, social security number, etc.

If you find your classmate there, only then can you report their passing with certainty.
Avoid making the mistake John's classmate did, for your "not quite dearly departed" may not have a sense of humor about it.

Any other stories out there?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Do You Know Where Your High School Yearbook Is?

Ryan Hutchins, writer for the Star-Ledger, recently wrote an article for the newspaper about a 16 year old high school sophomore named Joyce Holly who lost her yearbook. That was June, 1979. She left it in a Somerset (NJ) County Park after a North Brunswick High School marching band picnic.

Flash forward, 30 years later and the yearbook has been recovered thanks to Somerset County Sheriff, Captain Jeffry Thompson. It appears that Sheriff Thompson was retiring after 28 years and wanted to clear out his office, and the book was on his shelf. "I just held on to it because I said: 'You know what? That means something to somebody.'"

The book was found by park police 30 years ago, but Holly couldn't be found. Even with Google, Facebook and other online search engines, Holly's whereabouts remained a mystery because she started using the name "Jaye" as her first name and she moved out of New Jersey. But with retiring approaching, the Sheriff got serious and enlisted the help of Detective Michael DiGuillo who was able to access law enrforcement search software to track her down.

Needless to say, Holly "Jaye" is delighted to have her yearbook back. "It's such a blessed gift to be offered this piece of my personal history" says Holly.

A happy ending. And it makes me ask: Do You Know Where Your Yearbook Is?

Tell us where.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Do I Need a Professional Photographer for My Reunion?

Should you enlist the services of a professional photographer? The answer is a resounding yes and no.

Yes, you should bring aboard a photographer:
1. if it's free
2. if prints or downloads can be made available at a reasonable price
3. if you'd like a group shot of the whole gang
4. if you want formal table shots of each table

If you publish your class reunion on public sites like http://www.reunionannouncements.com/
you will undoubtedly be contacted by several vendors selling services. One of them will be a photographer who will come and shoot your reunion at no charge, in exchange for being able to sell prints after the reunion. This is a win/win situation, particularly if you answered "yes" to any of the above.

But read on there may be a reason to avoid having a professional photographer.

You may decide you don't need a professional photographer for your reunion:
1. because everyone with a digital camera or phone is a photographer and that's good enough
2. everyone can upload stills to your class website or online "share" sites such as http://www.shutterfly.com/ or http://www.picasa.com/
3. you really don't want your party interrupted with the logistics of staging a group shot
4. it's your 10th or 20th reunion and you could care less about photos (just wait until your 40th you'll probably feel differently)

Whatever you decide is fine. Keep in mind that sometimes the video production company (if you're having someone document the party) will offer photography services as well. Just make sure there's no charge to the reunion committee and that you give them the database information necessary for them to make post-reunion sales of the photos.

Any other opinions out there?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Budgeting for your Class Reunion or How Much Should a Ticket Cost?

About a ten months before the reunion you should decide on where to have the reunion.

Once that's decided, you'll need to figure out how much to charge for a reunion ticket so you can start selling tickets immediately.

You will make the decision based on a number of factors:
Basic Charges
1. Price per person for food.
2. Open bar vs. Cash bar
3. Tax and service charges
_____________________________________

Say food is $50.00
cash bar is 0.00
Tax in NJ is 7% 3.50
Service Charge at our hotel is 21% = 10.50
____________________________________
Price per person is: $64.00
So is that the amount you charge your classmates?
NO!!!!!

Because you have to take in account all the other costs involved in reunion planning


Ancillary charges (try to get as much for free here as you can)
4. Extra charges for bar tenders and cashiers if it's a cash bar $475.00
5. Audio Visual services supplied by the hotel - projectors/screen 875.00
6. Video production costs 00.00 see posting on: To Video or Not to Video
7. Party favors 450.00
8. Entertainment 350.00
9. Printing costs for Class Directory (expense best to skip) 00.00
10. Decorations 200.00
11. Class Superlative gag gifts 75.00
12.. Software expense to run surveys 20.00
13. Website hosting costs 2 yrs. 240.00
14. Name Tags. 40.00
15. Paypal service charges (if 50% use Paypal to pay)
(you charge $85.00, they keep $2.77.) 173.00
16. Discounts for early birds 1250.00
17. Scanning charges - 100.00
18. Website 00.00
19. Office expenses, postage, shipping 125.00
___________
Total Ancillary Expenses $4373.00

$4373 divided by 125 our minimum number of people required by the hotel = 34.98 per person

If the price for food per person is $60.00
And Ancillary Expenses per person is $35.00
_________
Your ticket price should be $95.00 per person


You see there really are a lot of costs beyond the price of food. Some you can't control. Some you can. As a result, you may decide, as we did, that a cash bar is the only way to go. Alcohol makes the price of dinner skyrocket. We wanted to keep the costs down and keep the tickets under $100. per person.

As for how much ancillary things cost, it all depends on what part of the country you're in. Do you best to beg, borrow and steal. I mean get classmates to do your favors whenever possible. Everything marked $00.00 we got as a favor. We suggest you do the same.

Don't spend over your budget number unless you have a slush fund from previous reunions. Any number of people that come beyond your minimum 125 will allow you to collect contingency money, or it can be put toward you your next reunion's slush fund or "scholarships" for needy classmates. (see the posting for Helping People Defer Some of the Expenses of a Reunion.)

Running a reunion requires good financial management. Budget things out. Ask classmates for favors. Make the numbers work.

Planning your Reunion Menu

About a month before the reunion, you'll want to check in with the banquet manager and review the details of the menu, the layout of the room, the location of the bars, the check in tables and any special needs you may have like multi-media playback. Hotels will provide projection systems and screens for a price, (and not cheaply, I might add.)

The specifics of the menu can change up to about a week before (double check this with your banquet manager,) but you'll want to make the initial choices a month before.

Things to consider:
1.Long before you've planned the menu, you've decided on whether to have a Cash Bar vs. Open Bar or something in-between (maybe wine and beer only.) This is because the price you charge for reunion tickets a year before must reflect the cost of food and drinks, if you are not having a cash bar. Double check that soft drinks, juice and water are free.

That said, I believe a cash bar is the fairest way to deal with alcoholic drinks since not everyone drinks alcoholic beverages and the amount people drink varies. (Keep in mind also that as people get older they tend to drink a lot less.)

With an Open Bar, people only pay for what they use. It keeps the reunion price down. And if people are responsible for buying their own drinks, I like to think there won't be the temptation to over indulge, although there's always one...

2. You have to decide about appetizers. Will you choose butler passed h'ordeuvres? Or perhaps you'll be happy with crudite and bruchetta on spread out on a table for people to help themselves? Or maybe both?

3. Will you have a sit down dinner or a buffet? Often there is no difference in price. However, there is a lot of work determining seating logistics at a sit down dinner. So I would recommend a buffet with general open seating. The last thing you want to do is tell someone where they have to sit after waiting for ten years.

4. Food choices should be varied. Remember to include a meatless option (like a pasta primavera with vodka sauce) with some nice salads and grilled vegetables for your vegetarian friends. In general, chicken and salmon dishes are always popular. But beef is also an option.

Generally for a buffet, you'll have a choice of three main dishes (pasta, fish, and meat,) two salads, rice or potatoes and vegetables.

5. And of course dessert.

Mmmm. I'm getting hungry. But the fact remains that the food plays a minor role in the whole scheme of things. You need good food, but people won't remember it. What they will remember is the great time they had talking to people.

So there's no need to go crazy with the fanciest gourmet fare. If given a choice, people would rather keep the prices down.

Any thoughts you have on the subject? Please share with us.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Helping People Defer Some of the Expenses of a Reunion

Even before this economy became unstable, some people were thinking that $95.00 for a ticket to their class reunion was steep. I've explained how it's not just the meal and banquet hall that costs so much. It's the entertainment, the party favors, decorations, cost of mailings, monthly survey and e-mail blasting services, video transfers, website hosting costs, office supplies etc. that really impact the final cost.

For our reunion, I know $95.00 is the right price point. But I also know that some people would be more likely to come if it were somewhat less.

How how do we help them?

  • At the beginning of ticket sales (about 10 months prior to the event) offer a discount -$10.00 off the price. This is an important incentive to get people to sign on early, so you can meet the minimum that the hotel requires. It also helps them out financially - win/win.
  • Another idea centers around what I call "scholarships." One month before the reunion, offer $20 off the ticket price for classmates who have been out of work 5 months or longer. No questions asked. All they have to do is call the reunion planner. You can put a cap on the number of people you help based on how much you budget for this discount.
Now you may be wondering where does the money come from for these generous offerings?

  • Well there are very generous people out there. If you ask, you will find that there are classmates who can afford to sponsor other classmates and do. These generous souls will kick in $40-100.00 just so other classmates can come and can remain anonymous to make everyone remain comfortable. Put the suggestion out there as early as you can. You will be surprised at the number of well-heeled people who will offer to lend a financial hand to their classmates.

  • Another source of reveune is leftover funds from the previous reunion. Hopefully you have a slush fund from the previous reunion. (First reunion? You need to start a slush fund with any leftover cash from your first event. Deposit it in an interest bearing account in the name of the Class - not you personally).

  • And don't forget fundraisers. You've got an email list. You know how to use it. During the years in between reunions find "something" that will sell well to your classmates and put the proceeds in a kitty for the next reunion. It's a great source of "scholarship" money.

Be creative. The only thing better than having a little extra cash, is being able to use it to help people afford the reunion. Remember this is not about making money. It's about helping people get there.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

What to Wear to Your Reunion

As the checks come pouring in, you'll find notes accompanying them. Many of them ask the question: What's the dress code?


As planner for the reunion, you are setting the tone of the party and people believe you have a "vision" of what it should look like. And maybe you do. Essentially the "place" seems to dictate the level of formality when it comes to dress code.

But there is no question that everyone wants to look their best. For the banquet hall reunion that I am planning cocktail dresses and jackets and ties would be appropriate. But my advice is: don't overdo it, and make sure you look like yourself. You don't want to put people off.

For casual reunions at the poolside, lakeside, at picnic groves, or in someone's back yard, tee shirts, shorts and bathing suits may be the order of the day. Or not. You'll want to wear what works for you, particularly as you launch into your 40th and 50th reunions. Just wear what you feel good in.

I tell people to dress comfortably, look fabulous and be prepared to have fun. I've seen men come in fabulous hawaiian shirts and women in leggings and tunic tops. I've seen tuxes and strapless cocktail dresses. It doesn't matter as long as people feel free to be themselves.

Anyone else have thoughts on the subject?

Friday, August 7, 2009

More on "People Finding" - The Most Popular Search Engines

Back in June, I wrote a little bit about about "people finding" websites in How Do I Find My Classmates?

There are several to choose from if you Google "people search" as a subject. the differences between the are subtle, but each offers value to your search.

1. http://www.whitepages.com/ is a good basic "name," "address," "state," "phone number" tool which offers basic and advanced searching, but there is not a great deal of difference between the two search modes, and it very quickly wants to hand you off to a helpful, but paid service called www.USSearch.com. (Note USSearch promises to give you a free search for your first 24 hours. So if you can work long and hard, you may get a lot accomplished for free here).

2. www.zabasearch.com/advanced.php is the advanced mode of http://www.zabasearch.com/. The advanced mode allows you to search also by middle name, and approximate birth year, as well as the usual "name," "address" "state" and "phone number." The birth year feature is a boon because you can exclude a huge number of people that way.

3. http://www.people.yahoo.com/ reveals people's email addresses as well as basic contact info like phone and address. This is a plus that I haven't found on other sites without to first having to personally subscribe.

4. http://www.peoplesearch.com/ is interesting because it will tell you names of possible relatives of the person you are looking for. All good clues to tell you if this is the right John Smith you are looking for.

It's possible as you draw nearer to the reunion, you may start feeling a little desperate and may want to consider paying money to find people. I've heard about the paid resources available to lawyers to find people. Ask an attorney in your class if they have access to this kind of service.

If anyone has experience with paid people finding services, please let us know. We'd be glad to hear from you.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

To Video or Not to Video

That is the question.
Actually it's more than one question - because videos can serve several different purposes.

You can create:
1. videos to entertain at your party
2. videos to document your party and/or
3. videos to inform classmates on your website or Facebook page

First rule of video production: ask someone else to do it, if you are the class reunion planner. Canvas your classmates and see if anyone wants to handle it. Reunion planners like us have enough to do.

Entertainment
Think about starting your party with a video.
Nothing is more exciting than launching the party with a great video with a rocking soundtrack.
Consider editing the following elements together to make a short and sweet, 2-3 minute party tape:
contemporary footage and old photos of your favorite haunts around town, pop culture and news footage from your decade, headlines from the town paper from the year you graduated, photos of classmates horsing around. Combine fast-paced cutting with favorite anthems from your time and build to a crescendo with maybe your high school as the final picture.

Professionally, I'm a corporate and documentary video producer, http://www.timesteps.com/,
but I chose to work with a video company who is a specialist in parties: (D-Vision out of Succasunna, NJ - http://www.dvisionvideo.com/ ) to put it together for us. Managing the whole reunion is enough responsibility, so I supplied all the elements to them and then let their editor work his magic.


Some people show a video in the middle of the reunion. I don't really recommend stopping your party in the middle for a video. You can do it, but keep them short. I've seen 15-20 minute documentary style videos that were good quality deflate a party. Best to leave the long format tapes for distribution after the party, if you feel compelled to make one. Maybe you'll want to give them away as party favors. Or sell them on the web afterward to classmates.

Documentation: Document your party with a video. Wouldn't it be nice to capture all the fun moments of the class reunion and share them with those who couldn't come?

You can and it will cost your reunion committee nothing. If you promote your reunion openly as a special interest group on Facebook.com, you will no doubt be contacted by companies who want you to use their service or buy their product. One who contacted me was a reunion video production company from Oregon who has shooters all around the country. They will shoot the reunion free of charge in exchange for the right to sell the tape for around $30.00 to anyone who wishes to buy it.

You have to be willing to share your database with them, including snail mail addresses, because they send out their order forms by mail. They also will advertise the tapes using the email list as well.

The good news is, they have shot thousands of class reunions and have a formula for doing so, and it costs you nothing. They do all the work on spec.


Information: Video clips on your website can build excitement about the up and coming reunion. When little mini-reunions spontaneously erupt, gather the gang of people and create a video message to encourage classmates to buy tickets. Post the video on your class website or on your special interest group page of Facebook. You can post clips of anything. Compress and post old home videos, sound bites from classmates, scenes from town. Anything you want to drum up interest in the reunon. Be creative. There's no limit to what you can do.

Please tell us your video ideas. Leave a comment for everyone.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Incentives to Motivate Fence Sitters

Sometimes people are funny. They don't want to be the first to sign up to buy a ticket and would rather hedge their bets to see who of their friends have committed first. We've solved that problem by offering incentives to our classmates and, believe me, they work.

1. Most successful is the "early-bird special." Assuming you have started a whole year in advance. Offer people a discount for those who sign up in the first three months.

We met our minimum number right off the bat and were breathing a whole lot easier. We promised the hotel a minimum of 125 people, and during the "early bird" phase we sold 124 tickets. Amazing how that worked. (This, of course presumes, that you have a margin of extra money to play with.)

2. Another phenomena that I didn't predict was the "free drink on me" incentive. Several classmates helped with the sign up drive by each offering to buy the next ten people who signed up a free drink at the reunion." (We're having a cash bar.) It surprised me that as many as 6 classmates offered to buy 10 drinks each to encourage 60 signups and it worked!

3. The generosity of your classmates may surprise you. We had at least two people send in $100. dollars each, even though they couldn't come. We used the money as "scholarships" for people who have been out of work for 5 months or more, lowering the price by $20.00 for each of them. It helped many people, who were feeling that the cost was high, make a decision to come.

4. Consider giving an incentive in the form of a prize for the 200th person to sign up. We offered a free night in the hotel. The idea is: no one knows who the lucky 200th person will be, so they sign up with their fingers crossed. (Note: that so far this is has proven to be the weakest of our incentives)

5. One that works better is offering something for free with a ticket, that they would have to buy at a later date. This could be a "free video" with a ticket, that would cost $15.00 after the reunion. Or it could be a "free cd" of period music that you've compiled. Or a free photo from the yearbook. Be creative. You know what will excite your classmates.

The idea is give back a little so the consumer feels he/she is getting better value for acting now.
It works for me. I was the very first one to buy my early bird ticket!
If you have any other ideas. Please feel free to share. We'd love to hear from you.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Custom Designing Your Website

There are many services out there that will offer templates for high school reunion websites. They are better than nothing, but if you want something a little less boilerplate, you'll have to make it yourself.

If you have a dedicated web designer in your class who will willing to volunteer his/her services, as we were fortunate enough to have, (thank you Jan Reisen of http://www.perfectisite.com/) you can custom design a site to meet your needs. Make sure your designer understands that this website will have a life long after the reunion and that he/she is an intrinsic part of the reunion committee forever and ever.

Jan understood this and has exceeded our expectations time and time again.

She designed our site based on a few basic components we felt we had to have.
1. A news page for updates about the reunion
2. An on-line yearbook (our directory) with blogs on each page to write messages to classmates and a in-memoriam page
3. A place to upload photos with instructions. We chose http://www.shutterfly.com/
4. A blog for general comments which we call the Graffitti page
5. The lost list, which is updated daily.
6. and a page to buy Tickets using Paypal.

We thought about a "paid" advertisements page, but never acted on it. Later on we may add a page to upload the reunion video. But for now these are the elements we have working under the KSS (Keep it Simple Stupid) motto. No need to make it too complex. Maintaining it is challenging enough.

Please let us know what's in your website. We'd love to hear about it.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Is Planning a Class Reunion Like Planning a Family Reunion?

A friend of this blog asked me today if planning a class reunion was similar to planning a family reunion.

"Well," I answered, "planning a class reunion is no picnic."

I believe school reunions are more challenging than family reunions.
And I believe family reunions, for the most part, are just that - "picnics."

1. Class reunions are much larger. My class, for example, was 620 people, and it's a huge management effort to coordinate communication, databases, bank accounts, ticket sales, teams of people, etc. Planning the class reunion is a big management gig.

2. Classmates are not connected by family ties and therefore are not easily found, especially when women marry and change their names. That, in itself, makes a huge difference.
Thankfully we have social networking tools - huge resources for finding classmates - like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Classmates.com, and Google to find people.

3. Once we found the right location, (in our case a hotel with a lovely banquet hall,) our efforts involved contract signing, hotel arrangements and a host of negotiations that aren't really necessary for a family reunion. Of course, I'm assuming that family reunions are at picnic groves, family members' homes, campgrounds, and the like - and don't require this kind of formal planning.

4. In my experience, class reunions require a significant outlay of cash for their venues like our hotel. We're paying $95.00 a person for the pleasure of gathering at our next event. While I know this is twice the amount of some reunions in other parts of the country, here in NJ, after you wind up paying for the hotel/food/tax and service charge, entertainment, decorations, video, party favors, postage and what-have-you, the money adds up. Family reunions are generally not this elaborate or expensive.


5. Another distinction is the variety and types of committees that school reunions require today. We have committees for: the website design and development, surveys, searching lost classmates, database input, video production, nametags, decorations, party favors and ticket sales. Somehow family reunions, at least the ones I've been to, haven't been so labor intensive.

Now I know I'm probably going to get 100 comments from family reunion planners, but I welcome them. I'd like to know if some families go "all out." So please let us know.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Party Favors, Por Favor?

Why agonize about party favors for a class reunion? There are many ideas to kick around if you want to give everyone a little memento of the occasion.

Make your decision based on the fact that a good percentage of them get left behind on the table. Why is that? It's mostly because people are milling around, saying a thousand good-byes at the end of the night. They are not at their tables, sitting like good little guests. They have long forgotten their goody bags or engraved mugs, and are probably too buzzed to care.

That said, let's talk about some sweet ideas that don't cost too much. Our class had a lot of talented musicians who rocked out at the Battle of the Bands and the school dances. Some did covers. Others wrote their own songs.

We are asking classmates to send music from their bands in any format to our engineering genius Larry. He's going to compress the music and put it out on a CD, and that will be our party favor, complete with a nice label. Again this requires Larry's dedication, expertise and commitment - but he's into it and we're delighted.

Other party favor ideas:
1. CDs of favorite music from the period. Maybe you'll want to take a survey of the top 20 favorite songs from the time. Or just check the Billboard Top Ten from the era.

2. Give out picture frames to hold a group photo that you can later email to your class, taken the night of the reunion.

3. If you are going to have a video to launch the party, you can give out DVDs of the video. We didn't opt for this as a party favor because, we're just going to post our video on the website. (A second video documenting the party will be sold separately).

4. It would be great to think of silly gifts that are inexpensive. For example, we had a huge rock that rival groups used to paint over and over again. Everyone knew "The Rock." Well, perhaps a miniature version of "the rock" as a keepsake would be nice. Find a bunch of rocks. Have your decorations team spray paint them in the school colors and write "LHS" or whatever your school initials were.
They would make a nice paperweight at the very least.

5. The class directory is a lovely party favor. Place one on each plate. I have to warn you, however, that a nice print directory (if you have a big class) is a relatively expensive party favor. After all the work of designing it, the cost of printing at Staples is high. And if it's color - it's a lot higher. We opted to skip the print directory this year since we have an online yearbook on our website.

6. Then of course, there is all the junk you can buy. When your imagination runs out, there are always - engraved glasses, mugs, pencils, pens, mousepads, etc. - This to me is a big waste of money, but if you like this sort of thing - by all means go for it.

I encourage you to brain storm some ideas with your decorating committee. Don't have one? Well what are you waiting for? Make a group. I'm sure they will spawn some wonderful ideas that will be perfect for your class.

Care to share any party favor ideas that you know about? Please a comment.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Social Networking VS Privacy

For the most part, people put themselves out there. They paste their pictures all over Facebook.com, share their family photos on Shutterfly.com, and put their entire resumes on LinkedIn.com. Twitter.com will tweet every last breath you take if you let it: "What are you doing now?" "I'm breathing."

It's all voluntary. It's all good fun, and it's a great way to let people know you're still alive and well. With the special interest groups, you can direct people's attention to favorite charities, important public events, (like the reunion) and track your favorite celebrity's page.

But there are some people who have no interest in social networking and prefer to remain private. They have not succumbed to the idea of Twittering their private thoughts in 50 characters or less. And some don't want to have anything to do with the reunion.

So be cautious about posting private information on the class website when you have control of it. Remember that you should ask permission before publishing anyone's email address, phone # or home address in an online yearbook or website. It's easy to ask permission right off the bat when you conduct your survey to collect information. Ask the question, Shall we list you in the Reunion directory: By name only? By name and email address? Full information?

If the answer is "name only" - then resist the temptation to publish anything else. You can keep it in your database to update them on what's going on by email or snail mail blasts if they are interested, but don't publish it if they don't want it published.

While we're on the subject of privacy, I have found that some people simply don't want to be found at all. So if you do happen to find them against all odds, don't consider their reluctance to participate a challenge that you must surmount. Simply make a note in your database that they should not be included in the mailings - AND LEAVE THEM ALONE.

Not everyone is as gung-ho about the reunion as you are. You'll just have to accept it.

Any one have any stories along these lines? Please share.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Who Needs a Reunion When We Have Facebook?

I recently came across a New York Times blog called "Bits," written by a recent college grad, Jenna Wortham, who posed the question, "Who Needs a College Reunion? I've Got Facebook." http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/03/29/who-needs-a-college-reunion-ive-got-facebook/.


She was invited to her five year reunion and adamantly stated that she had no intention of going because Facebook kept her up to date on each and every classmate she cared about. She knew who married who, what their children looked like, what gainful employment they had, what community groups they supported, and so on. And there's no doubt that she was keeping tabs on everyone that was important to her.


But I have to extrapolate forward 10, 20, 30 years and wonder if she'll still feel the same way then? Somehow the passage of time, the frailty of the human body, and the growing nostalgia for days gone by takes its toll on our curiousity, and I believe she'll want to go back to see her friends and spend time together in a reunion setting.

What she doesn't know is how wonderful it will be to see all the graduates who weren't actual "friends" - people she hasn't stayed in touch with. She will marvel at how they changed. The class computer nerd is now Bill Gates. The kid with acne is now a world renown brain surgeon. The shrinking violet is now an AIDS activist.


I think that Facebook will reinforce the desire to attend class reunions BECAUSE it allows people to stay in touch and thereby makes the community stronger. Whether its a college class, a high school class, a family, or a company, the desire to reunite gets stronger with the years. That's why, in my experience, with every decade, more and more people come out for the reunions.

Our ten year reunion had about 85 people - 20th about 125 and 30th 175. Now for our 40th,
we could get more than 250! And why is that? Email, yes. Google, yes. Whitepages.com, yes. Classmates.com, yes. Twitter, yes. And FACEBOOK! Definitely yes!


More than any of them, Facebook has served to get people excited about our class reunion and has been the launching pad of many mini-reunions that have spontaneously combusted during the course of this year.


I agree with Dr. Ana Martínez-Alemán, a professor at Boston College and author of “Online Social Networking on Campus: Understanding What Matters in Student Culture.”
who speculates that "Facebook could be reinforcing collegiate culture and strengthening bonds that otherwise could have dissipated over the years. " You are correct Ana and happily, because of that, more and more people will be attending their class reunions.



Do you agree or disagree? Share your opinion.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Expand It! Events Surrounding the Party

Lou posted a comment after the article Should I Be the One to Organize the Reunion? about all the fun activities he planned for the entire reunion weekend I agree. Why limit the reunion to four hours on a Saturday night? Make an entire weekend of it, making it especially worthwhile for those who have traveled a great distance and may be staying in the hotel.

Here are some ideas to extend the festivities:

1. A Friday night pre-party bash. It could be simply drinks at the hotel lounge or a pot-luck picnic at a local picnic grove. Perhaps you'll want to get together at a local hangout of 'yore. Create a simple "pay as you go" experience for those who wish to attend. No reservations. No money collected in advance. Keep it simple and have fun.

2. Saturday morning. Be creative. Plan a golf outing, a hike, a basketball pickup game at the courts, a brunch, a trip to the zoo or a botanical garden. Small groups can assemble for inexpensive get-togethers. Find creative, inexpensive ways to share time together.

3. Saturday afternoon. Schedule a tour of your old high school. You'll need to make arrangements to have a tour guide - someone with a key and permission to get you in. This is a great way to reminisce.

4. Saturday night - the big event. We all know what that's about.

5. Sunday morning - a low key get-together. Consider a nice brunch in the hotel or a place nearby. That would be a nice way to compare notes about the big party before sending people off on their way till the next reunion.

I'm sure you'll have many other ideas to share. Please let us know.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

About Signing that Contract

A contract is a legally binding agreement between you and the venue, be it a hotel, a restaurant, a resort, a caterer or other organization that's providing services. You will be committing to pay for "x" number of people at "y" price.

If your contract specifies a minimum number of people that you guarantee, then you will be responsible to pay for that number. So if our minimum is 125 people and only 100 show up, the signer(s) of the contract is/are responsible for paying for those 25 people. At say, $50.00 a head, that would be $1250.00 you would still owe the venue. You don't have to pay tax for those 25 people, nor the tip (as much as 21%) on those 25 people. But you do have to come up with $1250.00

This is why negotiating to lower the minimum number of people to hold the room is very important.

Now suppose you have a reunion planned and a contract signed and for some unforeseeable reason you have to cancel it.

Well guess what? You are still responsible for paying cancellations fees according to the cancellation schedule in your contract. In our case if we cancel 180-90 days prior to the reunion, we are liable for 50% of the estimated food revenue. From 89-30 days prior, we owe 75% of the estimated food revenue. If we cancel from 29 days prior to the day of function, we owe 100% of the food revenue.

That worst case would be 125. x 50.00 per plate = $6250.00 that you, the contract signer(s) would owe. Now odds are this won't happen. Or if it does the prepayments you've collected will cover your costs.

But that said, my advice is: limit your exposure and ask some key people on your committee to share in signing the contract with you. There's no reason you should shoulder the responsibility alone. I asked 5 of my most active committee members to co-sign with me. You can ask 10 or even 15 to lessen the liability per person. Some may say "no," but most will say "yes." You just need to anticipate the degree of exposure and be up front about it. Cancellation is not your major concern, but having too few people show up to make the "minimum" is.

So share the risk and add some signature lines in your contract so more than one of you can sign.

Anyone have any nightmare stories about getting stuck with payments? Please share with us.