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Not Since World War II…

Marty Steiner • Features • April 30, 2020

“Before this year’s district conventions, we had not cancelled an in-person event of this size since World War II! We started these district conventions 40 years ago and have had snowstorms, hurricanes and historic figures passing, but never this level of disruption.” These comments by Kappa Kappa Psi (KKPsi) national president Marco A. Krcatovich II to SBO set the scene for what this national honorary band fraternity faced with its Spring schedule of six, back-to-back, District Conventions scheduled across the country in March and April.

The significant difference was that the fraternity nearly collapsed during WWII when most of its members (male) went off to serve their country. This time the student members and volunteer alumni became actively involved in the reformatting and rescue of their district conventions.

KKPsi, the honorary band fraternity, was started on Thanksgiving Day in 1919 at the University of Oklahoma (then the Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College) in Stillwater, Oklahoma. In 1946, this band honorary and service fraternity was joined by Tau Beta Sigma, a co-educational honorary band sorority that came into existence during WWII amid the absence of male band students.

As these organizations grew over the years, both groups developed a system of annual district conferences. Over the recent years, there are six such conferences each year, one for each of the geographic districts.

These conferences are usually spread across the weekends of March and early April. Marco described the usual planning process as usually being complete in the winter, January or February, months ahead of the district conventions. The planning team of national staff, volunteer district governors, and student leaders responsible for these conferences faced the three obvious approaches to this year’s coronavirus impact on their planned sessions: totally cancel the events, reschedule the event, or consider virtual meetings and sessions to provide responsible social distancing.

Cancellation would be easy and justified. Rescheduling would be more difficult with no firm end date to the restrictions and limitations already in place to hinter the spread of COVID-19. Rescheduling also would involve numerous contacts and contract re-negotiations. The third option would be to move KKPsi into its previously untested world of virtual meetings. This option still allowed for the rescheduling and its associated workload or holding to the current schedule. In either case, every presenter and session needed to be evaluated as to whether it could be easily accomplished in a virtual environment, if at all.

The planning team recognized that their district conventions have had three components: the business sessions, workshops, and the social/musical experience. Each component has different attributes that make them more or less adaptable to a virtual format. It was determined that the business sessions were most suited to an online format. The decision was made on March 12 to hold only the business sessions online on the original scheduled convention dates. There had been some discussion and initial contingency planning only a month earlier. That decision necessitated a wave of activity, including facilities cancellations, convention fee refunds, and the rescheduling of the workshops and social aspects of the convention.

The results of the decisions made were experienced on April 4 when the Southeast District Convention business sessions took place. Utilizing livestreams and Zoom, this was the “first ever Virtual Southeast District Convention.” This District had already held its District Leadership Conference (DLC) and its Membership Education Retreat at Mississippi State University in February, just prior to the widespread coronavirus safety restrictions.

What will all this activity with virtual meetings do to future conferences and conventions is not yet totally clear. While some forecast that many, perhaps most, sessions will move to a virtual environment, the KKPsi analysis suggests that some portions of meetings are just not suited to that approach.

Consider the comments of Libby Hennington, a current Georgia Tech student member of the Iota chapter of KKPsi. Hennington was the chapter’s delegate to the 2020 Southeast District Convention and also designated to chair the district nominations committee at that convention’s business session. “In terms of completing business, I’d say the virtual platform was more effective than my previous experience in person!” said Hennington. “At last year’s in-person convention, the business element always felt rushed and intense in committee. The virtual committee meeting this year allowed flexibility to spend more or less time in committee without compromising other necessary activities.”

Hennington added, “moving forward, I’d love to see more business done virtually and more virtual attendance opportunities. This would remove barriers to attendance for those students with less financial capability or lacking schedule flexibility. I am a serious advocate for greater accessibility and influence on district operations.

This year’s virtual convention proved successful with exceptionally high delegate attendance. What was obviously lost was the social and workshop element. Hopefully we can resume in-person conventions to regain the value of those elements!”

What can be learned from this KKPsi coronavirus meeting planning upheaval? The importance of involving the intended attendees in reworking any significant meeting event screams from this experience. Not only are their expectations brought into focus, but their energy and talent complement an already stretched meeting planning group. Whether the need is safety or financial, reworking events will be with us long after the immediate coronavirus situation.

With the KKPsi National Convention scheduled for July of 2021, lessons learned through this year’s trauma are already being incorporated.

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