By P V Sreenath (PGP 1990)
The PGP Batch of 1988-90 organized its 30th Batch Reunion as a completely Online Reunion on Dec 12/13, 2020. It was a grand success with nearly 80% of the batch participating in the Reunion from across the globe. Planning and organizing an Online Reunion can be daunting, since we will need to consider various factors which may not be relevant in a Physical Reunion on campus or elsewhere. So, how did we go about it, what are the issues to consider and what have been our learnings?
WHEN TO HAVE THE REUNION
Time of the Year: Given that most batches would have batchmates spread across the world, deciding on a date suitable to all is difficult. Having said that, it is still important to recognize that dates around a holiday season are best avoided (even in Covid times!), as people may have other plans with their near & dear ones for that time. It is best to avoid the periods around Dussehra & Diwali in India, as also Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year in the Western World. While that does limit the window of opportunity, it is also easier to work with a limited set of dates and try to finalize, rather than try to work out a batch consensus with open date options. We decided that the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas works best.
Set the Dates: Once the time of the year is fixed, work out a suitable weekend. In our case, we decided the dates for Dec 2020 well in advance, in Jan 2020 itself. This was done with a view to allow people to plan their holiday & travel schedules well ahead. When Covid-19 happened, we initially decided to wait it out to see if it would pass; but, sometime in the 1st week of Oct 2020, we felt it was time to take a call. Not wanting to cancel or postpone our 30th Reunion, given people were looking forward to the event, we took the call to do it as an Online Reunion.
Timezone Planning: The challenge in an Online Reunion is to manage the Reunion Timings such that a) all get to participate in at least some parts of the Reunion and b) most get to participate in most parts of the Reunion. All should feel included and an Online Reunion based on just one geography’s timezone preferences (e.g. India) will be a challenge to sell to the batch. Based on this criteria alone, the traditional way of a Reunion on IIMA campus (over 2 full days) needed a rethink, when we started planning our Reunion.
Duration and Timings of the Reunion: A reunion held on campus typically stretches from a Friday evening to Sunday evening, with everyone on campus and able to interact at the same location. In an Online Reunion, without physical interactions, keeping people engaged for the full day can be a challenge. So, we decided, fairly on in the planning process, that we will split each day of the 30th Reunion into 2 sessions each, one in the morning IST and one in the evening IST, of approximately 3 – 4 hours each session … with a total of 4 such sessions across 2 days …. for a Reunion comprising a total of 14 hours or so over 2 days. This was most appropriate for us as a batch, given we had around >50% of the batch in India, 20-25% or so in the US, 10-12% in Singapore and the rest spread out across various parts of the world
Constitution of Reunion Planning/Organizing Team: Getting the right team together is possibly the most crucial task. Getting a team which is passionate about the Reunion and is able to work cohesively is key. Also, you need to ensure that people with different talents come together. This is what made our Online Reunion so successful.
Gender Balance: While we all know the gender balance at IIMA has improved a lot, it was not so during our time, when we had fewer than 15 ladies in the batch. The thinking that lady/ies can bring to a planning team are invaluable and, I can say, with confidence, that the Reunion shaped up the way it did in great measure on account of the ladies on the team.
Geographical Diversity: Make sure that various geographies are represented in the planning process, so that unique aspects of each geography are factored in
Organizational Capabilities: you need people who can plan and execute … hence, a team with a combination of people with ideas and execution capabilities
Event Management: All of us are busy with our own lives … while it is definitely possible to organize a Reunion independently, an Event Management Agency adds a lot of value and takes burden off the shoulders of the organizing team. For an Online Reunion, we looked for an agency which had prior experience with Online Events, even if not specific experience with Online Reunions. Platforms like Zoom have gained in popularity these days, especially in Covid times … however, there are limitations in all these platforms to accommodate an experience as close to a Physical Reunion on campus as possible. The Event Agency brought a platform for such online events as used in the corporate world, which we decided to adapt to the Reunion format … and it was a major success. I would strongly urge organizers of a Reunion to use a proper online event hosting platform for a truly memorable experience.
Mementos and Logistics of Shipping Mementos: In our earlier 20th & 25th Reunions, we had given Sweatshirts/T-Shirts to batchmates. An Online Reunion would require shipment of mementos to batchmates – costs of which are quite exorbitant for shipments abroad. After some debate, we concluded that the nostalgia associated with mementos was quite strong, so we decided to go ahead with them …. but in a way such that we wouldn’t have to deal with challenges like exchange/returns of items …. so, items of clothing were ruled out. To cut costs, we also took steps to do bulk shipping to countries with significant number of batchmates, with local shipping thereafter in those countries.
Involve as many batchmates as possible: This is possibly a no-brainer but nonetheless important to state in the context of an Online Reunion. Nothing like involvement for a sense of belonging.
Involve families: An Online Reunion provides the flexibility to involve batchmates families actively as performers, something which would be more difficult to do in a Physical Reunion. If you look around the batch, talent will be in abundance. We leveraged this aspect – with spouses and kids performing songs, among other things. However, post-Reunion, we realized there are many more talented spouses and kids – so, while we did male an effort to tap talents of families for this Reunion, we could have done more.
Reduce Live Events and over-dependence on the Internet: Ironical as it may sound in the context of an Online Reunion, try to reduce over-dependence on the Internet! Stability of Internet connections and bandwidth availability is still an issue in many parts, so be judicious in planning for Live Events. Also, some performers, especially non-professional batch performers, may prefer to do rehearsals and recordings and then use the one which in their opinion is the best. We planned a number of events as recordings, which were played at the Reunion. In fact, this allowed for editing etc. which gave a more professional feel to the proceedings. Doing it this way does require prior planning & greater efforts but it is worth the time and effort for a smooth Reunion.
Create a Theme/Tagline for the Reunion: Something which people can associate with and which gets associated with the Reunion.
Connect with the Institute and take support from the Dean of Alumni & External Relations and the Alumni Office: The Dean of Alumni & External Relations and the Alumni Office serve as the nodal point for any support that we as alumni need and did a phenomenal job in ensuring we received all the support required for the successful conduct of our 30th Reunion; they also actively participated in our Reunion. Engage fairly early.
Finding Sponsors: The scale at which you wish to do a Reunion depends a great deal on the financial resources available. Also, you want to ensure that you have an idea of the budget to work with fairly early in the planning process, as a lot of planning decisions will hinge around this aspect. With most batchmates doing well in life, it is but natural to expect that all with contribute their fair share to a Reunion …. good in theory but fraught with challenges. So, in possibly the 1st meeting of the Planning Team, we took a decision that we will find Sponsors for the Reunion …. more specifically, find Sponsors within our batch itself. We agreed that a Batch Reunion had nothing specific to offer to an External Sponsor and also did not want to be burdened with dealing with the demands of any such sponsors. So, we quickly identified potential sponsors in our batch itself and each one of them responded with unprecedented generosity. We hence started off on a sound footing in terms of knowing that financials would be the least of our worries and that the onus was now on us, the Planning Team, to put together a Reunion befitting the generosity of our fellow batch sponsors.
Contributions by Participating Batchmates: Given we were covered by Sponsors, there was really no need to ask all participating batchmates to contribute. However, we needed the know the numbers of participating batchmates to plan for mementos for all – so, we felt that a nominal contribution amount covering the cost of the mementos being planned would be taken from all participating batchmates. This move helped in planning for numbers of mementos required to be procured.
Keeping track of costs: Exuberance is high while planning for a Reunion and there will be occasions when random thoughts get floated around … so, there is a need to take care that exuberance doesn’t get the better of prudence & practicality!
PLANNING FOR EVENTS – WHAT KIND OF EVENTS TO HAVE?
Creating an engaging agenda of events that would keep the batch together over the duration of the Reunion is always a challenge and more so in an Online Reunion, where people are participating from their homes. Some thoughts on what we did to make it a success are as follows:
Batchmates as Performers. Music is a great binding force and you need to leverage it for a successful Online Reunion. People connect a lot better and enjoy performances by those whom they consider their own i.e. fellow batchmates. Every batch is bound to have passionate music buffs – you need to get a passionate music buff onboard to plan and create the musical segment of the Reunion. Also, there are bound to be batchmates or families with unique talents that can be leveraged. We have a batch spouse who is a Professional Stage Director and she gladly agreed to do an Online Play for us, with batchmates as performers. The point here is to create something innovative based on talents and skills available in the batch and families.
Professional Performers/Artistes: Given an Online Reunion format, professionals with skills in performing online was a challenge; also, the success of online performances was something untested by us. We chose the approach of having performers/artistes with a connect to what we were planning – either a connection to IIMA or a connection to our batch. This turned out to be one of the best decisions we made … as an example, the professional music artiste we had at the Inaugural Session was a batchmate’s son who performs professionally, with his performance truly being from the heart and it was one of the highlights of the Reunion.
Memorial Session to Departed Batchmates: Our batch has lost 10 good friends and we felt it was important to pay homage to them. An Online Reunion format allowed us to bring in families of some of these departed batchmates for them to share their thoughts at the Reunion – they were truly touched that we remembered their loved ones and were overwhelmed by the touching tributes paid. They also shared their thoughts and some said it was a cleansing session for them, being with the set of individuals with whom their loved son/daughter/spouse had spent a wonderful 2 years at IIMA. It was a cathartic & emotional session with plenty of tears flowing … and the online format probably ensured emotions could be hidden from public display! I would recommend this session strongly to any batch planning a Reunion – have a Memorial Session, get batchmates close to the departed ones to pay tribute/s and, if possible, invite the families to participate.
Faculty Felicitation & Tribute Session: This is one session where we felt grateful for doing an Online Reunion. 30 years since leaving IIMA and with most faculty retired & no more being on campus, many not even in Ahmedabad. An Online Reunion allowed us the pleasure of having a large number of faculty participate online – many of whom would have been unable to join a Physical Reunion. Also very gratifying and amusing was the fact that faculty who attended treated it like a mini Faculty Reunion amongst themselves. So, we were indeed honoured that our 30th Batch Reunion also served as a mini-Faculty Reunion … the bonhomie amongst the faculty was wonderful to see and the anecdotes some of them related were wonderful.
As a batch, we believe that the Faculty Felicitation Session, in particular, is best suited for an Online Format, given that many of our revered faculty who taught us are aged and may be unable to travel for a Reunion. An Alumni Reunion without an opportunity to thank them for making us what we are would be incomplete; hence, even in a Physical Reunion format, this session is possibly done in an Online Format for maximum faculty to participate.
Nostalgia Quiz: A Reunion is all about nostalgia and re-living student days with friends. A Nostalgia Quiz offers the opportunity to bring back memories of campus, professors, incidents, batchmates & even cases maybe.
Interactions amongst Batchmates: While a variety of programmes can be planned, a Reunion is ultimately about connecting with batchmates and interacting with them …. re-creating such interactions in an online environment can be challenging. This is the toughest component to plan in an Online Reunion and a lot of thought needs to go into planning for multiple slots during the Reunion where there can be free-flowing interactions amongst batchmates, either with or without themes. We did a combination of both – some free-flowing interactions with no theme and some with structured themes.
Plan events which are specifically amenable to an Online Format: While considering this aspect, we hit upon the idea of an Online Bridge Event, as Bridge is easily amenable to being played online. A Bridge Tournament, in the days leading up to the Reunion, brought together 12 batchmates who had a fun session over 2 days. Another such event we planned was a Yoga Session on one of the mornings of the Reunion, with one of very own batchmates, a Yoga pro, serving as Yoga Master – a session which resonated very well amongst all.
As indicated earlier, the Faculty Felicitation Session, for batches of our vintage, is best suited for an Online Format, given that many of the revered faculty who taught us are aged and may be unable to travel for a Reunion. An Alumni Reunion without an opportunity to thank them for making us what we are would be incomplete; hence, even in a Physical Reunion format, this session is possibly done in an Online Format for maximum faculty to participate. The way forward for Alumni Reunions is thus possibly a Hybrid Reunion Format, with some sessions being Online even in a Physical Reunion format.
The PGP’90 Batch would like to thank the Dean of Alumni & External Relations for the invitation to share the experience of organizing an Online Reunion.