The Angle

Patio Admiration Sparks New Event

Last month during one of our weekly staff meetings, a team member commented on how beautiful McNamara’s patio was–the trees and grass were lush and green with the water feature, newly scrubbed, gurgling nearby.  Not only do we enjoy the patio for our spring and summer staff meetings, but access to the patio is a lovely perk for couples booking University Hall in the spring–its floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the landscaped patio. Together these two spaces make up our University Hall wedding package. “It’s too bad we don’t have a spring open house to showcase it,” another team member replied. That got me thinking. Could we plan an open house in 2-3 weeks and promote it to engaged couples using only social media and McNamara’s online wedding listings? I challenged our millennial team members Liz and Bekah to take this on. Challenge accepted.

Planning quickly began–a floorplan was drafted, cake and punch were ordered from our partner D’Amico Catering. Our graphic designer created an open house graphic modified for different online size requirements. McNamara’s website and 5-6 online wedding listings were updated with the event details front and center. Facebook and Twitter posts quickly generated interest as people circulated our posts. The only money spent on advertising was $94.21 through Facebook Ads which reached 9,835 people and generated 108 clicks. Now we wait…

On the morning of Saturday, June 3 the sun was shining and the patio and adjacent University Hall were set and ready for visitors. We did not have to wait long for guests to arrive–by 11 a.m. (the event’s start), three couples had arrived! Sari and Amy of the sales team stayed busy giving tours for the full two hours. By the event’s conclusion, eight groups had toured and two couples booked!

So what did we learn? We learned that social media is a great resource for last minute promotions, reaching a large amount of people in a short amount of time. We learned that we didn’t need an elaborate event with specialty linens and decor to showcase McNamara’s already lovely patio. Lastly, we learned that our customers–eight engaged couples anyway–do not need a lot of lead time in making weekend plans. Two bookings for less than $100 of expenses? Challenge perfected.

So Small but So Effective

I love smart ideas. As McNamara gears up for a busy May full of conferences, I am reminded of a terrific conference I attended last year and its nifty name badges. Upon registration attendees were given a pocket lanyard to wear around their neck. On the front side was the attendee’s name–nice and big. On the backside was a summary of the 40 sessions offered throughout the 2 days and their locations. This compact schedule was printed UPSIDE DOWN so that attendees could easily refer to it RIGHT SIDE UP. Brilliant!

By the way, the conference was called Digital Summit Minneapolis. It’s for marketers and this summer will be held August 14-15 at the Guthrie Theater. The sessions are insightful and inspiring. I plan to be there. How about you?

McNamara Wins Best University Venue

Last Friday, April 7, our McNamara events team joined 300 Twin Cities event professionals at Minnesota Meetings & Events magazine annual Best Of award celebration. McNamara received the 2016 Editor’s Pick award for “Best University Venue.” Editor Bobby Hart created this award for McNamara based on “his own personal experience at McNamara and feedback from the MME board and staff.” McNamara’s onsite caterer D’Amico Catering won “Best Caterer” for another year-yay! As the leader of our event team for all 17 years that the alumni center has been open, I like to say that our team is McNamara’s most distinguishing characteristic. I receive an average of 150 applications for our jobs which allows me to hire the best of the best. I have high standards and hire only those who enjoy delivering superior customer service to clients. In 2016 our small team of 7 people facilitated 860 events and received an average customer service rating of 4.92 out of 5.0. I am very proud of that fact. Kudos to our team!


I Witness

Our 7-member events team begins its weekly staff meeting by telling stories. Not just any stories. 15 laminated cards, each with one word or phrase on it, are spread in the center of the table. Team members are invited to choose a card and share a brief story of a moment that week when he or she witnessed that “word”. For example, last meeting one staff member chose the card EMPATHY and told the story of how she had overheard a phone call taken by our sales manager regarding room availability for a memorial and she had been impressed by her teammates’ empathy and patience. Another team member chose two cards KINDNESS and ABOVE AND BEYOND then told the story of how she had witnessed a teammate assist a sight-impaired event guest whose walking stick had been run over by a biker outside. The last card chosen was FLEXIBILITY which prompted that staff member to thank everyone for staffing her events while she was on vacation. This simple, 5-minute exercise is a really fun way to start a staff meeting. It gets team members to stop and reflect on the week. It provides opportunities for giving compliments to or thanking team members. Most importantly it reminds us that at the core of great customer service is how we make people feel. How do your words or behavior affect how your clients and coworkers feel?

A Great Example of Why Events Are Important

Every year around this time I can expect to cry. Medical School Match Day is an event celebrated every March across the U.S by graduating medical students. It is a rite of passage where these students find out where they will spend the next 3-7 years in a residency program getting hands-on experience in a specific discipline. Since 1952 a mathematical algorithm matches some 30,000 medical students in the US with hospitals across the country. Match Day for the University of Minnesota Medical School has been taking place at McNamara Alumni Center for 13 years, all of which I have witnessed from the back of the room. Today, March 17, is Match Day 2017. Here at McNamara, students along with family members, friends and mentors gathered at 10 a.m. for a brief program leading up to the dramatic moment at 11 am where they tore open their letters received earlier in the ceremony. At that same moment medical students around the country did the very same thing. Every year I mark my calendar and stand in the back of the room, with tears in my eyes, where I witness joy, pride, disappointment, shock, sadness, humor, surprise, and maybe even envy.


Match Day is a perfect example of why events are important. Think about if Match Day did not exist as an event and if instead the students were emailed their letters. It’s possible that a medical student standing in line at Cub Foods with his bottle of laundry detergent received the email. Lucky him, he gets to share his great news with the cashier and the exasperated mom with the fussy baby behind him. Even if that student were to then text his girlfriend the good news she may respond with: “That’s great! Don’t forget the Tide.”


Days like today, with the sun pouring into Memorial Hall and the energy in the room off the charts, I am especially inspired to market the beautiful McNamara Alumni Center to event planners. I like to think that our McNamara team contributes in a small way to lifelong memories of McNamara event guests. In fact, repeat clients of ours often tell us “I remember my first time at McNamara when. . . ” So I ask you, will the event you’re planning be memorable like Match Day is for its attendees?  Take a few minutes today to brainstorm new programming ideas that create a lasting impression.

Match Day 2016 photo by Joe Vruno
Match Day 2016 photo by Joe Vruno
Match Day 2016 photo by Joe Vruno

The Restroom Factor

Once in a while when giving a tour to an event planner we get asked to show the planner our public restrooms. At first we thought this was an odd request but when we thought about it, we realized there are certain amenities about a bathroom that could be a factor in choosing a venue for a conference, gala, wedding or other special event.

Here at the McNamara Alumni Center, our public restrooms are conveniently on the same floor as our 10 meeting rooms –first floor–and are located right next to the elevators. Both men’s and women’s restrooms offer 11 stalls, two of which are handicapped accessible. We made sure our recently remodeled women’s restrooms included shelving at the sinks for a phone, clutch purse or conference packet. A large, full-length mirror is located near the exit—an appreciated bonus for career fair attendees, keynote speakers and brides. An additional two single private restrooms are located towards the back of the conference center which is convenient for when we host multiple events. Nursing mothers are offered a private restroom with a chair, sink and electrical outlet.

McNamara’s newly remodeled restrooms have been designed to complement the venue’s unique architecture and color palette and offer many conveniences for conferences, galas, weddings and other special events.

NEW: Touch-less faucets and soap dispensers with sink-side shelving
NEW: 11 stalls designed to complement MAC’s modern color palette and architecture


Unparalleled Expertise: 2016 Year End Stats

Welcome to the McNamara Alumni Center blog! We’re excited to begin sharing with event planners advice, observations and delights about the event industry from our unique perspective. We recently compiled McNamara’s 2016 year-end event statistics. Here’s why we think we have lots to talk about and share with planners:

  • In 2016, 860 meetings and events took place in our 10-room, 36,000 sq. ft conference center.
  • The top three kinds of events we facilitated were meetings (106), conferences (54), dinners (48).
  • 56 wedding receptions occurred here in 2016.
  • 94,000 guests attended events at McNamara.

Those on our team who love numbers produced some other interesting facts:

  • 3,200 hours were spent setting up and tearing down events by our 10-member student crew.
  • Nearly 40 hours of events are held each week outside of Monday through Friday 8 am to 5 pm—that’s the equivalent of a full-time job.
  • Finally, a fact we’re most proud of: Our 7-member team received an average 4.9 out of 5 in 277 customer satisfaction surveys.

These event stats have launched a new ad campaign for McNamara that we’re calling Unparalleled Expertise. Look for those ads starting to run in Minnesota Meetings & Events magazine and other industry resources. In the meantime, if you have an upcoming conference, gala or other special event, know that you can trust the event experts at McNamara Alumni Center.

Resume Tips: Be Specific

Almost monthly we receive a resume from someone interested in event planning. Quite frankly, the Twin Cities market is saturated with aspiring meeting and event planners. Having performed the hiring of all the event staff of the McNamara Alumni Center for the last 17 years, I have read literally thousands of event planners’ resumes. I have one general observation about resumes: most are not specific enough about the person’s responsibilities. For example, here is a common task I find written on a resume of a young professional:

  • Planned our sorority’s annual banquet

Look at the difference it makes to instead write:

  • Led monthly meetings of a 12-member planning committee; created agendas, facilitated discussions
  • Researched and selected venue and catering; negotiated contract terms
  • Made centerpieces that showcased award recipients
  • Wrote program copy, including award bios, and facilitated printing
  • Wrote and delivered the opening remarks to an audience of 250 people
  • Managed a budget of $7500, monitoring expenses and revenue

Which gives the hiring manager more of an idea of the person’s skills and leadership capabilities? Does your event planning resume tell an accurate story of what your responsibilities are? Would your resume stand out on a pile of other planners’ resumes? Spend 30 minutes tonight reviewing your resume. Make sure it tells your story well.

Alumni? Alumnus? Alumna?

Last year in 2016, the McNamara Alumni Center sales team gave 250 tours of our meeting rooms to event planners. It’s very common for someone on the tour to proudly exclaim, “I’m a University of Minnesota alumni!” This makes me cringe. Not because he or she went to the U of M but because he or she misused the word ‘alumni’. Here’s a quick grammar lesson:

  • ALUMNA: a woman who has attended or has graduated from a particular school, college, or university. The plural form is alumnae.
  • ALUMNUS: a man who has attended or has graduated from a particular school, college, or university. The plural form, including mixed men and women, is ALUMNI.

The McNamara Alumni Center is home to 466,000 living alumni from around the world. The University of Minnesota Alumni Association is located on the second floor of the McNamara Alumni Center and can help you stay involved with your alma mater. Introduce others to the University of Minnesota by suggesting your company’s next Board meeting, award celebration or other event be at the McNamara Alumni Center!