Taking the Pomp out of Pomp and Ceremony

How a digital makeover turned a formal ceremony into a community celebration that brought hundreds of people together.

Author: Barbara Palmer       

digital event

A Houston-based event designer helped a new judge celebrate her appointment by greeting friends, family, and constituents during an online celebration that was emceed by a seven-year-old.

Houston-based event designer Bianca Ferrer wasn’t familiar with the term that describes the formal ceremony where an incoming judge takes the oath of office — a judicial investiture — until a client asked her to design a digital one.

Pre-pandemic, an investiture typically would have taken place in a courthouse behind closed doors, Ferrer said, with about 20 VIPs in attendance. It would have been the kind of event “where if there was anybody of stature in the room, you had to give them a mic and let them talk for who cares how long,” she said.

Bianca Ferrer

Bianca Ferrer

But her client, an up-and-coming young judge appointed during the pandemic, wanted to do something different — to use the power and reach of digital to “share pieces of herself with her constituents,” Ferrer said. Working with her creative partner at B + L Creative, video producer Luke McKibben, Ferrer designed the event as a curated mix of live and prerecorded segments, a multimedia presentation that would “demystify this formal occasion for a wide audience.”

The event began with the judge’s entire family who came onscreen via Zoom, “just to say hello to everybody,” Ferrer said. Holding the ceremony online also allowed the judge to invite speakers from all over the country, who represented different aspects of her life, Ferrer said. The event was emceed by a seven-year-old, a choice that was made in order to add a dash of the unexpected and a breath of fresh air into the proceedings, Ferrer said. “She had been memorizing the script that we gave her for the past two or three nights with her mom and dad,” Ferrer said, “And she just shows up and she is ready to go, not intimidated by the camera, not intimidated by the teleprompter.” Her delivery was like what you would expect from a second-grader, Ferrer said, not perfectly punctuated but utterly charming. “She grounded us and took us away from the talking head format that people expect to encounter online.”

The ceremony ended with a video which showed the judge as part of an Aztec drumming group, which was filmed one afternoon at a community center. “It was a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon, and we spent about an hour shooting their performance and blessings,” to get footage that was condensed to a five-minute video, Ferrer said, and which infused “texture, sound, color, and light” into the event.

Ferrer had estimated that approximately 70 people would show up for event, scheduled late on a Friday afternoon. “Who’s going to make time for a broadcast at 4 p.m. on a Friday?” Hundreds of people, it turned out: More than 400 people came online and interacted with the judge during the broadcast. The night before the event, “I was kind of shaking in my boots because we were delivering a high-touch experience for every single guest who attended,” Ferrer said. The judge and her team “just blew it out of the water,” including at a virtual meet-and-greet after the ceremony, where 90 participants were divided into “rooms,” with the judge stopping in to speak in each one.

Despite it being late Friday afternoon, the meet-and-greet ran over its scheduled time, because the groups, who were randomly selected, had so much to say to one another, Ferrer said. “There might have been a sheriff in the middle of a room with [the judge’s] grandma and her nieces and nephews, along with local activists or a city council member,” Ferrer said. “We took a lot of risks,” she said — and they paid off.

Learn more about the judicial investiture event at B + L Creative’s blog.

Barbara Palmer is deputy editor at Convene.

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