What’s So Funny About Meetings?

How often have you heard, “You’re a meeting planner? What a great job, how glamorous!” Well, yes,  it is a great job (most of the time), but glamorous? Being a professional meeting planner is definitely interesting, challenging and dynamic, but those glamorous moments can be few and far between. The successful meeting planner is often an unsung hero. Here are some observations with real-life examples culled from over 15 years of experience as a professional meeting attendee (speaker, that is), starting with the zero budget, rubber chicken circuit at local service club meetings in the private room at Denny’s, and graduation to Top-100 corporate clients at 5-star resorts and rubber squab en croute.

Today’s topic: Pleasing All the People All of the Time. Read on for a sure-fire way to guarantee that everyone involved in your next meeting is completely thrilled with everything you do. (Be sure to hum “The Impossible Dream” as you read). Okay, how about a few tried and true hints that can help you avoid some of the potential pitfalls and smooth over the rough spots that inevitably occur.

First consider all the opportunities there are for things to run amuck when planning a big event. There’s who gets a room, who gets a suite, and why no one seems to like the room they do get. “The draperies smell like smoke,” this from the non-smoking curtain-sniffer. “The darn ice machine’s right outside my door,” from one guy and “the darn ice machine’s 200 yards away,” from the one who likes his mouthwash on the rocks. And be sure to determine the exact size of the hotel room block and number of participants in every breakout session long before anyone has actually registered!

Then there are name badges. Wouldn’t it be great if just once you could list people’s titles in your own, oh-so-accurate words? John Doe – VIP Wannabe, Mary Smith – Whining Toady, Bob Brown – Groveling Lackey, Pat Jones – Vendor with a Vengence … you get the idea. It would sure make for more interesting introductions!

When it comes to seating arrangements, King Arthur surely had the right idea. Just one great big round table, no head table, no hierarchy, everybody equal and everybody happy. Certainly the hotel could  accommodate that. No? Oh well, ultimately it didn’t work for Arthur either.

There are plenty of other areas where you’re likely to be dealing with unhappy campers, either corporate brass, association execs and elects, board members, disgruntled attendees, that last-minute vendor you really worked to include who’s mad about being in a less-than-ideal location. If you’re lucky, it won’t be all of the above at once!

We’re all too familiar with the accuracy of Murphy’s Law (whatever can go wrong will go wrong) as it applies to meeting planning. As an adjunct to that, consider Pelley’s Prediction: No matter what you do, someone will be unreasonable! That leads to Pelley’s Precept: You must do your best and then decide what’s reasonable. If you can interject some gentle humor into the situation, so much the better. It can often break the tension and build a sense of solving the problem together rather than being opponents.

The folks at Southwest Airlines are masters at the effective use of humor to diffuse tension and irritation. I was on one of their typically well-packed planes, when we were subject to repeated “15-minute” delays. The flight attendants had been reassuring but nonspecific. Then the captain’s voice drawled, “This is your captain. There’s been a small mechanical problem, ladies and gentlemen, but not with the plane. The machine that smashes your suitcases has broken down and we’re having to smash them all by hand. We should be ready to take off shortly. Thanks for your patience.” Who can to stay mad in a situation like that?

It can help if you develop a few stock phrases to keep on hand for difficult moments. “It’s days like this I wish I’d never joined that work-release program,” or “left the convent,” or whatever works for you. Do assure the oh-so-challenging persons you’re dealing with that you’ll do your best for them. No one can argue with that. Maybe the best way to make someone happy is to ask them directly “What would make you happy?” Often it doesn’t take as much as you’d think, once they know they’ve really been heard. (And this can even be a great way to begin planning ahead when you offer to compensate them with a discount on next year’s registration fee!)

Remember to keep the good news in mind no matter what. The good news is there’ll always be problems, that’s why they need YOU! Who but you could possibly pull it all together and make it turn out great?

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