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.

“What Now?” Moment…

“What Now?” Moment…
Time
Don’t let time be the enemy

As I have explained in the post Developing Managers, meeting planning is all about project management.  It doesn’t matter how the sales lead is generated, how you come by the business, it comes down to managing time.  It can be your breaking point. Therefore, preparation is vital.  Success hinges on lining up those ducks in their right positions, and having enough flexibility for problems.

Today, marks the middle of the second week of classes, and for the next six weeks my students will be given information about their scenarios.  I enjoy this time, creating this reality of challenges.  This journey isn’t easy.  Life isn’t always a bed of roses.  They will have to think, use their respective brain power to sort out the twists and bumps.  And this morning, I barked a laugh at my latest creation.  One group will not be happy.  Welcome, to real life.  I hope they have listened to me over the course of their time here.  I hope they remember that I just don’t sit in my office during office hours and at other times for nothing.  I hope they have that epiphany.

[Knocks on the glass] “Hello, anyone out there!  Any of my students?  Hello?”  Questions.  It comes down to asking questions.  Don’t assume anything.  One lesson you must learn as an event planner is don’t assume you know what the clients want.  You don’t.  You may think you do, but in all reality, you don’t!

Get off your respective posterior and come and talk to me.  One requirement of my meeting planning class is they have to meet with me eight times over the course of the sixteen weeks to discuss their projects.  Everyone has to be there unless their team leader and I approve the excuse.

Hopefully, by now they have identified their roles and responsibilities.  There has to be a team leader, one that will be responsible for getting the job done–the broader goal.  The others will be accomplishing the objectives or individual tasks to get to that broader goal.

How they start is up to them.  Have they researched the craft of meetings?  Have they cruised around their books, the Internet or other sources to understand the process?  Are they waiting to be told?  I hope not.

Floppy Disks
Floppy Disks

My time in event planning and sales was during an era when paper ruled the desktop.  I started out as a sales coordinator.  A glorified personal assistant to the other sales managers and ran an office.  Thank the good Lord, I have been a gadget girl all my life. Old school floppy disks! I worked part-time at an office supply store to supplement and pay for my schooling. I sold the first renditions of IBM and Dell computers. On my desk at the hotel was a 286 processor with probably 50 k of memory. Five and quarter-inch flimsy disks were my life saver.  The convention calendar was this behemoth book that had its own desk.  For a small hotel, we had two or three major file cabinets full of client files.  Some as thick as the city phone book (four inches or more).

Personal planners crammed full of written notes.  Notebooks full of third-party information.  Day-to-day was all about pushing paper and making phone calls, pounding the pavement and finding leads as well as execution of various events or tour group arrivals.  Forget cell phones.  Landlines with a complex web of office numbers and only ten speed dial buttons (if that).  Back-up wasn’t an option.  Lose your personal planner–deep, heart stopping, whole-body anxiety attack until you found it.  Total disappearance meant frantic hours of combing through all that paper to recreate your day-to-day work life.  And if you didn’t keep meticulous notes, (I just laughed), you were on a bar stool later that night crying into your drink, casting curses and prayers simultaneously to the air and powers that be that you did what you had to do or your other associates had your back (another little snicker).  What did I say about life being fair, it isn’t.

Cue JoePa:

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

Time management has various dimensions.  One of those critical dimensions is communication which is basically the sharing of information.  An exchange process.  If you aren’t prepared for the encounter, it will show.  If you don’t value other points of reality, a host will lose value.  The process is stymied by the narrow-mindedness of others.  Basically, don’t be myopic.  Try to see the whole picture.  See beyond that picture.  Your developed skill level and capabilities at this point in time may not be as developed as others.  Do not discount experience, even those with just an ounce.  You do not know the complete picture.  You don’t know what that experience was and the depth of impact or how they handled it.  Get that through your mind.  Open your mind, open your heart, open your soul to receive.  The only way you can work together, and that doesn’t mean you can’t lead, but the only way you will all succeed is if you listen and contemplate.

So I guess that comes full circle to that leadership role.

But before we get into that, I wanted to over up a reminder.

I believe that there are four points to successful meeting planning from a customer standpoint:

  • Know your client–that means asking open-ended questions, and some closed ended questions
  • Know the product you sell–and it is more than you really think it is…
  • Know the community in which you are embedded and operate
  • Know yourself

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

What will the leader of these projects do?  What do event planners do out in the real world?

I can tell you a fraction of what you should or shouldn’t do from my own experience.  To learn more about leadership, you need to study.  Study those that are successful in a variety of fields.  Read trade magazines and look for case studies.  Visualize the problem and look for plausible solutions.

  1.  Be receptive to ideas.
  2. Don’t over hash things that nothing gets done.  Make a decision.  You can revisit it, but it shouldn’t rule your lives.
  3. Listen to your gut.  Know the difference between right and wrong.
  4. Know standard operating procedures.  If there aren’t any, create them.
  5. Events means experience.  Someone has their heart on having a wonderful experience.  Own it for them.  Make it happen.
  6. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
  7. More than one person is affected/effected by the choices you make, especially financial ones.
  8. Time means one thing to you, and something different to another.
  9. Be inquisitive.  Study from experts.  Find a mentor.  Ask questions.
  10. Research the craft.
  11. Keep a reflective journal
  12. Be respectful, responsible, accountable.  Take responsibility for your actions.  Respect yourself and others.  Doesn’t mean you have to like them, but respect means more than what you think.
  13. Listen, just shut up and listen.  And listen with your mind and heart.
  14. Demonstrate empathy, sympathy.  But don’t let anyone run you over.  There is an art to negotiations, learn it.  Compromise is key.
  15. I know I’m going to get in trouble for this.  The customer may not always be right in every situation.  Sometimes you have to take the lead and help them realize reality.  You don’t always want to be their friend.
  16. At the end of the day, there are a host of people counting on you.  Some for a pay check.
  17. Tough decisions are painful, but manageable.  Tough love is the hardest.
  18. Be proactive rather than reactive.  Damn tough sometimes to recover in service execution.  (And if my PPC students are reading this, service is a broad term.)
  19. Study ethics.  Again, every single person is governed by a set of core values and not.  Some don’t have core values.

    Core Values
    Core Values

But what do they mean?  Do you understand them?

20.  Be cognizant of your environment.  Don’t live in a vacuum.  Be aware.  Be open to change.  Change is hard.  Embrace it.  Look for it.

So those are just twenty odd observations to consider, digest and reflect upon.

A good leader knows when to lead, knows when to walk beside and help, and sometimes remain behind and let you on your own.