“A short pencil is better than a long memory,” quips Robert Ramsey. An adjunct professor of meeting and event planning at the University of Virginia’s Richmond branch of the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, Ramsey knows the value of writing things down. “It’s the ‘Hit by a Truck Theory,’” he adds. “If I plan my daughter’s wedding and organize the budget, the food and so on in a binder with tabs, then everything is in one location and printed out. So if I walk to the event and get hit by a truck, someone should be able to pick it up and run my event.”
Ramsey passes on pearls of wisdom like this one (affectionately dubbed “Ramsey-isms” by his students) to the adult learners who consistently pack his 12-week evening course. From business managers hoping to improve the quality of their meetings to recent graduates looking to enter the event planning industry, they all share one thing in common: a desire to learn from Ramsey’s experience. His 35-year career in hospitality and trade association management, including a stint as CEO of the Virginia Hotel & Motel Association, ensures that he has plenty to share.
In the late 1980s, Virginia Commonwealth University started a course in meeting and event planning, and Ramsey began an 18-year teaching career at VCU. A few years ago, UVA wanted to add the course to its Richmond-based curriculum and, once again, Ramsey was tapped.
“When UVA was thinking about offering the course, I told them ‘If you offer it, they will come.’” Ramsey’s overcapacity enrollment confirms his prediction.
Most students are working adults, and Ramsey treats them as such. There is no grade for the class; rather, those who put in the work and meet attendance requirements graduate with a certificate. The course is set up so that by the end each student has organized a binder full of learning materials, not unlike the binder in Ramsey’s “Hit by a Truck Theory.”
In it, students record a range of planning principles, from time-management skills to the best place to stand in a crowded conference room. Ramsey draws many lessons from his years of career experience, including a particular instance when a hotel had forgotten to label the decaf pots of coffee it set out for a convention. A minor detail for some, but it was enough to cause a stir among this particular group of attendees, whose event Ramsey was managing.
“I teach how to get things done quickly. If you go to the phone and call somebody like they tell you to, nothing will happen. Instead, you walk back into the [kitchen]. First of all, they’ll notice that you’re back there and you’re not supposed to be, so somebody will stop you. Then you say, ‘I need to find out who’s doing the coffee,’ and immediately somebody is right there.”
In a class designed to teach real-world skills, students devour the real-world examples Ramsey is able to provide. He now has more than 20 years of teaching experience under his belt and shows no signs of slowing down.
“When you’re growing up, you have a few teachers who really impact your life. I want to be on that list.”