Can you plan for every contingency in event planning?

Can you plan for every contingency in event planning?

Can you plan for every contingency in event planning?  Yes, and no.  Last week, I gave out most if not all of the information to my groups in HT 351 for their scenarios.  They should now have all the information they need to complete the project for the most part.  The only aspect left is for them to visit with me, which is required, to hash out any finer details.  Details.  That is important in event planning.

It is all about project management.  As I have said before, it is about managing time.

Yet, those fresh, young faces before me, cringe when I discuss ‘curve balls’.  They dread having to deal with potential problems.  But they will have to deal with it.  Deal with potential realities.

What do I say to them?  They are looking for me to guide them on how to tackle this part of the project.

Innate in all of us is the ability to plan.   Don’t forget that.  We just have to get it down on paper what we need to do and execute the steps.

Yes, hard.  Focus, drive and discipline will see those action steps to fruition.  Not every one of us has that focus or drive or discipline.

I can raise my hand to that effect.  I have earned that tee-shirt more than once.  I’m stuck in a rut right now, my focus wavering from professional and personal projects.  It’s hard, but life isn’t about easy.  Life is about challenges.

I’m letting life challenge me at the moment.  Whereas I should be challenging life.

So, what do I say to motivate them to address their curve balls.  Where to begin?  Since there are more than one curve ball, tackling more than one at a time, can be frustrating, stressful and tiring.  Especially, if you have never been in this position before.  Now, there are moments in a professional career where you will have to decide off the ‘cuff’ what will need to be done.  You will be put in a position where a decision will have to be made at that precise point in time.  And I will address this after, I guide you through planning for those curve balls.

Yes, planning is coming back into the picture.

To prepare yourself for any event or scenario, you have to think about your job.  You have to think about all the contact points where potential problems can occur.  Map them out, and get into the habit of walking around your property, your place of employment and look at it from the vantage point of problems.  Don’t wait for the signs, envision them.  Use your imagination and ‘see’.  Ask your self of plethora of questions. As a writer who likes to develop stories, I utilize the “What if” exercise.  What if this happens here?  What could happen here?  What if this happened during an event?  What would I do?  Every time I see or read about an incident on TV, like Las Vegas, my mind goes into scenario mode.  I visualize what is happening at that time.  I ask myself a host of questions, and run through the gambit of potential.  I ask myself, “What if I was the event planner at this event?  What would I have done?  What should be in place already to aid me in this event?”

No, you don’t know how you would react.  No, you don’t know what you would do sometimes during panic situations.  But the preparation for the likely event comes with training and training the mind to think this way.  And then running mock drills on you, your employees, and even now, including guest in that equation.  I can remember when we used guests in our scenarios at one hotel I worked at.  We asked if they would be a part of our preparation training.  We sent out a message to the community that we were having training and asked if any person would like to role play victims.  Is this wrong?  Why?  Why not?  Shouldn’t we all be prepared?  Shouldn’t we all help each other in times of need?  The more you know as a manager, as a guest, the better you are all prepared for scenarios.

NBC-Emergency
NBC-Emergency
Visit to Disney World, 1977
From left to right, Mom, sister, me and brother at Walt Disney World, 1977

I know this to be true because I have lived through it.  I have lived through training situations and real life situations.  Growing up we had some great shows on TV.  I can vaguely remember Adam 12.  The one show I do remember from my early teens was Emergency!.  It was about the organization of the first ever EMTs in LA.  It had me consider at one time being one.  Taking up the profession of firefighter and EMT.  At school, both high school and college, I took and read about advanced first aid procedures.  I took advance first aid and life saving at Penn State for my Health Ed course.  I can recall playing the victim in a faux car accident and the other students extracting me from that car on a cold autumn day.  I loved the water module in the pool.  When I was out industry, I volunteered to be on first aid responder teams at the hotels.  I obtained and renewed my CPR certification.  I guess I obtained that information from my Mom.  She taught the Red Cross classes in high school.  She was always willing to help.  Heck, in my family we are known to be teachers, police officers or doctors.  I guess its in the DNA.  But I digress.

Back on point.

So, where to begin.  This year was different after a failure from last fall.  I had to approach teaching this aspect of management development from a different perspective.  Some how connections were not being made.  I forgot that research has shown that this generation may or may not have the imaginative skills my generation has.  They grew up with computers and technology.   Some if not all, might not have been outside playing as we did as kids.  Being pirates for a day out in the woods, creating our own little worlds.  Yes, that play time set up my generation for problem solving.  We saw something we wanted to do and figure out a way to accomplish it. The students in my class may have been immersed in a computer generated world that didn’t stretch the mind enough.  That didn’t place them in hair-raising situation where you had to think.  (Laughing at the image now in my mind.  Cue back to that pirate scenario on a lazy summer’s day.  I would give you more, but I don’t want to put any ideas into young heads.  Mother just patched me up.  I’m still here.)  Let’s just say there is a host of divergence between my generation and today’s young students in terms of critical thinking skills.

So, given what happened, I realized this year, I needed to not only reinforce the visualization technique I have done since I was a young adult, but also guide them on how to make connections.  I had to explain how to accomplish this goal and get in the habit of visualization.  So this year, I told the students to draw from all of their classes on customer service and operations management.  To utilize their own personal experience to aid them in understanding the curve ball.  Write down the curve ball on a 4 x 6 index card and then as a group, brainstorm.  Ask yourself those exact questions.  What is happening here?  What is going on?  How are people reacting?  Why are they reacting?  Where has it happened?  When did it happen?  What should we do?  What could happen if we don’t do something?  What could happen?  A host of questions and then brainstorm answers.  Research.  Google.  This is always about customer service.  No, it isn’t all about the bottom line, not always.  It is how we get to that bottom line and back up that counts.

Curve ball scenario
Curve ball scenario

This was one of my curve balls from one of my scenarios.  An executive board meeting was taking place in St. Louis, MO.  The members were leaders of a Fortune 500 company.  They were the elite of the elite.  One activity that they were participating in outside of their normal duties was a visit to the local Budweiser Clydesdale farm.  On the return, one of the members has left their wallet on the bus.  Needless to say I wasn’t happy with the results of the group planning in terms of this curve ball.  Two possibilities could have occurred.  One, they had only one group member handle curve balls and that group member was tired by the time they got to this incident.  Or two, they waited till the last-minute to address these scenarios.  It very well could have been something different.  But in the end it was poor project planning.

They forgot to utilize their experience as customer.  How would you react as a customer if this happened to you?  What would be your priority if this personally happened to you?  What are you panicking about?  Who is this person?  They forgot who their target market was and is.  What is in that wallet?  What help are they looking for?  Part of event planning is to know your target audience.  If you know them, then you can best address their needs and wants.  Our industry is all about customer service and we need to don that hat  more than once to understand reaction.  We need to walk a mile in their shoes to know how this impacts their lives and the lives of others that this would affect.

They forgot their roles and responsibility as event planners.  What they need to do to aid the customer?  What they need to do to make this a memorable experience?  How do they help and aid their clients?  They didn’t tease out the situation.  They didn’t map out the cause and effect.  The action-reaction-results loop.  If this one incident happened in real life, consequences of not doing something can be detrimental not only to your customer but to your reputation and your business.  Even our industry.

So, why do I give them curve balls. Because this is reality.  This is what happens out there when they are in real life situations.  Accomplishing this exercise, helps develop a proactive mindset.  That they can almost see things happen before they do, and act.  If this little kernel of information is in their minds, then they could plan a to do list for themselves during each event to cover any contingency.

Everything in life is negotiable…

Everything in life is negotiable…

Everything in life is negotiable…

Not necessarily.

Negotiation or the act of negotiation is an art form.  Some would argue that life is nothing but black and white.  I would then ask that person, when was the last time you noticed the range of colors around you.

Colorful pens
I love my pens

Spring break is upon us, and the week will be spending time catching up and reading several new books on event management that just crossed my desk, trying to organize the event management curriculum.  After break, we start in on the financial side of international meeting planning and then, negotiation.

Negotiation starts with research.  You need to know the person, the company, or the destination that you are dealing with.  You can’t go blindly into the negotiation room without understanding all the nuances and laws.  You can’t design an event without knowing all of the stakeholders and their needs, their wants.  Or you need to have the right team behind you to accomplish the goal.

Know yourself and your limitations.  You can’t be an expert at everything.

Construct an extensive profile of your stakeholders, the country in which you will operate in order to ask the right questions.

Do not think that what you did in your home country in terms of negotiation will work in other countries.  Keep an open mind, and do your research into the cultural norms of your host country.

Test those people you hire to aid you in the process.  Don’t blindly trust any liaison and think that they are the right person for the job.  Do background checks.  Ask for past clients to gain testimonials.

Especially overseas.  The legal maze is just as complicated, if not more so than at home.  Again, know thy self and your limitations.

So I am considering bringing ethics into the debate as well as cultural intelligence.

There are ten ethical considerations in hospitality/tourism managers (from Jaszay and Dunk (2006) Ethical Decision Making in the Hospitality Industry, p2-3):

  1. Honesty:  Hospitality managers are honest and truthful.  They do not mislead or deceive others by misrepresentations.
  2. Integrity:  Hospitality managers demonstrate the courage of their convictions by doing what they know is right even when there is pressure to do otherwise
  3. Trustworthiness:  Hospitality managers are trustworthy and candid in applying information and in correcting misapprehensions of fact.  They do not create justifications for escaping their promises and commitments.
  4. Loyalty:  Hospitality managers demonstrate loyalty to their companies in devotion to duty, and loyalty to colleagues by friendship in adversity.  They avoid conflicts of interest; don not use or disclose confidential information; and should they accept other employment they respect the proprietary information of their former employer.
  5. Fairness:  Hospitality managers are fair and equitable in all dealings; they do not arbitrarily abuse power; nor take undue advantage of another’s mistakes or difficulties.  They treat all individuals with equality, with tolerance and acceptance of diversity, and with an open mind.
  6. Concern and respect for others: Hospit­ality managers are concerned, respec­tful, compas­sio­nate, and kind. They are sensitive to the personal concerns of their colleagues and live the Golden Rule. They respect the rights and interests of all those who have a stake in their decisions.
  7. Commitment to Excellence: Hospit­ality managers pursue excellence in performing their duties and are willing to put more into their job than they can get out of it.
  8. Leadership: Hospit­ality managers are conscious of the respon­sib­ility and opport­unities of their position of leader­ship. They realize that the best way to instill ethical principles and ethical awareness in their organi­zations is by example. They walk their talk!
  9. Reputation and Morale: Hospit­ality managers seek to protect and build the company’s reputation and the morale of its employees by engaging in conduct that builds respect. They also take whatever actions are necessary to correct or prevent inappr­opriate conduct of others.
  10. Accountability:  Hospit­ality managers are personally accoun­table for the
    ethical quality of their decisions, as well as those of their subord­inates.

The question is how these 10 principles can be a launching pad for successful negotiations.  Students need a foundation on which to start.  Therefore, they will need an extensive understanding of their own self, and where they stand within these boundaries to effectively work with others.  If there is commitment to these principles, then those students can progress successfully through the negotiation process.

Our department has designed five core values that complement and mirror these ten principles (Dictionary.com)

  • Respect:  a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.
  • Diversity: the state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organization
  • Servant Leadership: Caring for people
  • Integrity:  the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness
  • Innovate: the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods

The last innovate extends those initial principles.  That we must go further and farther in our efforts to understand.  To gain a greater awareness about the whole process, and not just one aspect, one point.  To gain a greater awareness of the world in which we operate in.  You can’t develop a plan of action; be aware of potential problems without opening yourself up to learn, to broaden current skill set.  To ask the right questions.  Don’t make assumptions, especially when working in an international arena.  You’ll fall short.

Excellent article on 6 Steps to a Successful International Meeting

 

Developing managers…

Developing managers…

In my convention and meeting planning class, I have them do a lengthy scenario based project. They are broken into teams, and given a type of meeting or event. Over the course of the 16 weeks, they are given information, and curve balls to develop the scenario.  The purpose of the project is to develop their research, analytical, and problem-solving skills.  It’s 500 points and I’ve had success with the project in the past as well as seen some students not take it seriously.  Former students have commented on the project and agreed that it was a worthwhile exercise. Jenna Blandi-Jurgil was one of my first students in my meeting planning course that I created at Eastern Illinois University.  It was one of the first renditions of the project that has since seen several adjustments.  When asked about the project this past week, when she spoke to my current students, she had this to say:

Jenna Blandi-Jurgil
Jenna Blandi-Jurgil Meeting Planner at American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons

“Everything I did in that notebook, I do now in my real job as an event planner.”  ~Jenna Blandi-Jurgil

Today, I had one of the group leaders in asking questions. She was the only representative from their group for the meeting, and I had an opportunity to talk about their project and what she needs to do as their leader. Over the course of the conversation, I reminded her about the purpose, and talked about the ‘curve balls’ I gave them.  I revisited the process of event planning and roles, responsibilities of an event planner.  Event planning is all about project management from the inception of idea, through the planning and execution of the event or meeting, and finally the post event or meeting stages.  That planning remains a central element of the whole process.

Jenna reinforced several key points that I constantly articulate in class.  That if you are prepared, that your planning is thorough, the attendees won’t ‘see’ the interworking of a meeting or the flaws.  They won’t see any problems.  They can enjoy their experience and network without interference.

I love using examples when I try to explain concepts.  The concept I wanted to talk about because I was aware of some potential difficulty with the group that would need to be addressed was leadership.  I try to use simple visuals that would aid them.  I asked the person if they played any sports.  They told me that they played basketball and volleyball.  Bingo.  I could talk about volleyball.

I played volleyball since I was about four years old because my Mom was a former coach and referee.  She actively took me to games and included me in practices.  My earliest memory is of attending a game at my father’s place of work, his high school, and watching the game, chasing after the volleyballs, and listening to my Mom.  My next memory is of the volleyball players that she coached coming to my hospital room and visiting when I had my adenoids removed.  They brought me orange cream Popsicle to ease my sore throat.  There was a camaraderie about them that I didn’t understand at an early age, but would later on.  Something vital for success.

I really started playing seriously in seventh grade.  I played through high school always earning a spot on the team and playing every match.  I played club ball at Penn State (yes I tried out for the team, but I decided not to continue.  That it wasn’t what I wanted.)  I played Division I in Scotland, but hardly saw playing time due to certain politics and favoritism on the team.  I can’t blame them, those ladies had been playing a long time.  I was a backup but still gave it my heart.  That is another point I stress with any project.  Give 115% and you will succeed.

My brother and I
My brother and I wrestling.  I have my team jersey on from Penn State Club
Lounging in the dorms
Me in Penn State’s West Hall’s Thompson Hall after volleyball practice

I was a back line specialist and setter.  I was in part the quarterback and leader on the court, but also a team member to others that would lead.  I wasn’t the captain, but still had a leadership role.  There has to be a certain cohesion between group members.  There has to be a dialogue on and off the court.  There has to be an ease of conversation in order to achieve a goal.

In high school, we made it to regionals.  Unfortunately, I had injured my ankle and wasn’t able to play.  It was my senior year and played two sports.  Regionals fell during softball season and I was their primary catcher.  During a game, I suffered a high ankle sprain that ended the season for both volleyball and softball.  But I still went to the regional game, and watched us make it through to the final match against our rival.  I supported them from the bench, even begging the coach to tape up my ankle and let me play.  Memories still linger of that year, and I recall the first match of the season against that same rival, and utilized it for explaining leadership.

We are all part of team, don’t get me wrong.  But in such sports, there is more to consider.  That year we were hitting on all cylinders, making a connection that could see us go all the way to State if injuries hadn’t plagued us near the end.  We had this groove, this underlying current that others could recognize.

My high school days playing volleyball
My high school days playing volleyball

Yet, I’m drifting away from my story.  Okay, first match.  Now living in a small town, you know everyone, and more than likely play sports with and against friends from rival schools.  I did.  I had a friend on our rival volleyball team and decided to focus in on her.  I was at service and she was straight down the line from me, with a rather tall hitter in front of her.  I had pretty good accuracy and knew I could place it at her, or on the line.  I waited, watching the other team and how they were lining up.  Watching, observing, examining the other team and your alignment is key to knowing where to place that first shot.  The front line of our opponent had set up to switch hitters, leaving my friend open for attack.  That means all of their hitters were congregated in the center to switch as the ball sailed over the net.  So first service, up and with some power, down the line at my friend.  My friend’s receiving of the ball was off, and it sailed into the stands to her left.  One point to us.

I went back to service and set up again.  Again our opponents lined up to switch hitters, leaving my friend vulnerable.  Second service like the first with even more power.  Let me put it to you this way, and gloating somewhat, but I am aware of what my strength was back then.  My service style was unpredictable.  Hard and fast, or with a soft touch that had people scrambling to get to it.  Yet, I could place it with some deftness at any point.  If I could have utilized a jump serve, and with that accuracy–oh, boy…they would have been even more difficult.  Second service went over the net and right at my friend.  This time, with a slight curve to my palm, I was able to put a curve on it, and she misjudged the line.  As it dropped rapidly, it curved to the left hard, drawing her off her position as well as the girl next to her.  She had remained flat on her feet and stumbled into the other player. The ball ricocheted off her uneven arms, and sailed right into the third person on the back line, bouncing off her thigh onto the floor.

New tactics were called in by our rival coaches and I watched as they made adjustments.  My own team knew me as I knew them.  All along we made subtle adjustments to what I was doing.  They knew what I was up to, my plan of attack.  They knew I would hammer away at one member of the opposing team to get them to shift, to change tactics.  My teammates knew to watch carefully and be prepared, especially our 6’4″ left hitter.  Our opponents stopped shifting players as I served.

Yet, I wasn’t done even with them changing tactics.  I had the confidence to continue my onslaught.  A third time saw the ball skim the back line as an ace.  And then it happened, then I saw what I had been hoping for.  My friend’s teammates started shifting dramatically to help her.  Well dramatically may be overstating the fact, but there was a clear adjustment to aid her.  The front line pulled back to the attack line, abandoning the attempt to shift hitters.  They returned to the classic formation, but with a left leaning.  Moving to shield my friend for another attack.  Beautiful holes opened up, ready to be exploited.

I remember relaxing before stepping to the line.  I remember taking a deep breath, concentrating on what I wanted to do.  I took my time, and focused.  This time with the softest touch, enough to get the ball over the net, I dunked it between the net and their attack line, to the farthest right corner.  I’m sure a collective gasp went up from the opposing teams spectators in the stands as the ball just dropped short, and their girls quickly scrambled to try to get the ball, to keep it in play, but their efforts weren’t enough.  Imagine six players surging forward towards the ball, hungry to get at it, to try to save it, keep it in play, at least to get it back over the net, and failing.  Crash, bam, nada.  One more point.

We lost that match after a furious battle.  Our only loss for the year.  But those moments still resonate with me and helps me to explain leadership.

A leader knows when to direct, when to stand back and trust the people they work with.  Knows when to take the lead and put their foot down to see things accomplished.  Preparation is key not only with you and your team, but also knowing the field of play in which you operate.  If you don’t, you are bound to fail.  I knew my team.  I knew when to take the lead, and direct.  I knew when to pull back and trust the process.  I knew when to be a team player, and let others take the reins.  I didn’t chastise, but encouraged.  I built confidence, not erode it away.  I asked the right questions when they needed to be asked as my teammates did the same.  There was a level of communication that successful teams possess that helps them reap rewards.  Wasn’t always perfect, but no team is.  Expectations were realistic, and goals, objectives obtainable.

And then knowing the field of play in which you operate.  There was some dysfunction on my team, and I won’t go into the politics of it.  We had an uphill battle throughout the year, and yet, we understood our ultimate goal and objectives.  We were on the same page and adaptable to the current climate of play.  We also knew how important it was to know our opponents.  Their strengths, weakness, opportunity and threats.  We knew, even with odds stacked against us, we had a chance.  And we went for it, with the thought that nothing was or is impossible.

I knew those players.  I knew one really well.  I wasn’t intimidated by their presence, their past accomplishments (they were the best team in the state for a host of years and still are) or their ‘rhetoric’ on the court, and by their parents on the sidelines.  I heard them, I listened, and I understood.  I knew their goals and objectives, and what they wanted.  But I had a job to accomplish and would adapt to their desires.  I knew myself and remained true to my convictions.  I read the signs they were projecting and exploited their egos.  Some would argue, since with that loss, I was the one with the ego.  Perhaps.  But I knew I had to ask the questions that needed to be asked.  Those questions were in my service and how I played, how I directed the team, and what I did on the court.  And how I utilized the strengths and weakness of the other team, manipulating them against them.  We beat them the second time around hands down, and earned a spot at regionals.

Joe Paterno
Joe Paterno

As Joe Paterno, who I admire, and not just because I’m a Penn State alum, but more, stated:

“The will to win is important, but the will to prepare is vital.”

Sometimes the best strategy for a leader is to do nothing at all.  Continue with your goal and objectives, and let the opponent fail at their own weaknesses.  This is readily apparent on the field of sports.  Trust yourself.  Trust the process.  You focus on the fundamentals, give 115% heart in their execution, and more than likely will triumph in the end.  You may not succeed at first, and I know, I have been in that position many times and must remember that a dose of failure is also a dose of success.  You learn about yourself and others.  You learn what you need to do for the next opportunity both as a leader and team member.

And so I asked my student, what did you take away from this story.  After teasing them with several questions, because it was probably too early on a Friday morning for the both of us, they came to the point I was trying to make.  Preparation.  Know yourself, know what you are capable of as well as your team members.  Make lists and other aids to help you accomplish your goal.  Know the field of play in which you operate, not just the class, and what the professor wants you to deliver, but also, be cognizant of your functionality as a team–your team, your playing field.  If you are going to lead, set the standard by which you will operate, and stick to those goals.  Be adaptable to the external forces swirling around you, and listen to those voices, observe how things shift, and change with the external forces acting against your desires and all those that are on that field of play.  Try to understand everyone’s internal conflict and make strategies that are both achievable and obtainable for everyone.  It is about moving forward with realistic success.

And remember how to act on that field.  How your actions reverberate around each player.  Act with a sense of morality and civility.  Don’t just assume, but articulate.  Walk the walk, and talk the talk.  Respect isn’t blindly given, it is earned and can be easily squandered away.  Which led in part to a talk about core values.

But that is another post for another day.

Weekend fun…

Weekend fun…

Visited Mall of America this weekend to shop and to see the new JW Marriott hotel attached to the Mall of America. Awesome property, and employees so welcoming. The design of the front desk caught my eye because I have been saying for years that eventually we will be getting rid of the front desk as we know it, especially with the advanced application of technology. We are tethered to our gadgets, but this Marriott is an example of how to integrate technology, function and design with luxury and style. Other hotels are doing the same, notably Hyatt and Hyatt Place. I’m looking forward to see what the concept will eventually manifest into.

Four Points to Successful Meeting Planning

Four Points to Successful Meeting Planning

Coca Cola

 

Four Points to Successful Meeting Planning 

  • Know you client–that means asking open ended questions, and some closed ended questions
  • Know the product you sell–and it is more than what you really think it is…(know the breadth and depth of the product offerings)
  • Know the community in which you are embedded and operate, as well as those feeder cities that might provide you with clients.
  • Know yourself

Recall you are selling the right product at the right time, for the right price, for the right place or location, having the right promotion, engaging the right people, utilizing efficient and effective processes, and using truthful physical evidence, that is stories and testimonials to engage with your customer…