Archive : December 2010

The Case Against New Year’s Resolutions

Posted December 30, 2010

From Thanksgiving through Christmas we’re sucked into a whirlwind of gorging on humongous family feasts, blowing our budget on holiday gifts, and partaking in revelry at lots of holiday parties. Everything builds to the dramatic crescendo of New Year’s Eve, when we stay up later and party harder than any other night.

It’s no surprise that against this backdrop of massive overindulgence everyone is guilted into making a sweeping series of resolutions for better behavior in the new year.  We’ll eat better, exercise more, watch our finances more carefully, etc.

I used to make a bunch of resolutions every year, and even write them down.  When I invariably failed to achieve them all, I’d schedule quarterly reminders.  Like that helped.  And its no fun being confronted with your under-achieving self at such a festive time as New Year’s Eve.

The problem is that resolutions are extra credit, stuff above and beyond what we’re already doing.  Nobody makes a resolution to stay at their current weight, for example, which is probably a challenge as it is.  And because we’ve got a whole year to complete our resolutions, we tend to aim high.  You’re not going to lose a pound or two, you’re going to drop five or ten.  On the business front, you’re not going to survive or grow by 5%, you want to grow by 30%. So unfortunately, the whole resolution business is doomed to failure.  It’s like betting against the house in Vegas: you may get lucky once in a while, but in the long run you have no chance.  The only difference is that you have a lot of fun in Vegas.

And just in case you’re pretty happy with where you are personally, or with your business, there’s a non-stop torrent of self-help books, business blogs, and the like telling you what to do better. All excellent fodder for the Resolution Express.

Another problem with resolutions is that in today’s society, in order to lead a good, fulfilling life, the media gives us such an impossibly long and agonizingly detailed regimen to follow, that practically everyone walks around feeling some angst when they invariably come up short.  Next year, we kid ourselves, we’ll pick up the slack.

Take health for example.  When I go for my annual physical, my doctor asks me how many servings of fruits and vegetables I get a day.  I tell him two, if I’m lucky.  He counters that I should have five.  I remind him there are only three meals in a day, but the math doesn’t throw him.  “You really should have five”, he says with a straight face.  “Try to snack on an apple or a bag of carrots.”  Uh huh.

If you want to feel inadequate at event planning, subscribe to Jeff Hurt’s blog, MidCourse Corrections.  Every time I look at my laptop it seems there’s a new post by Jeff, listing 10 trends in conference planning I need to know about, or 5 things speakers do wrong at meetings, or 7 reasons attendees are falling asleep at our programs.  It’s all good stuff, and Jeff’s one of our industry’s great minds, but let me tell ya, you have no chance of implementing everything he recommends; it’s just too much. You’re lucky if you integrate 10% of his ideas, and the truth is he’d probably say that’s just fine.  But of course you look at the 90% you can’t get to and see the flashing neon “Under-Achiever” sign in your mind.

Overwhelming isn’t it?  With all these standards that we fall short of, it’s a miracle we actually make it through the year at all.  But instead of giving ourselves a pat on the back for those things we did get right, we make a list of all the things we neglected to do and come up with resolutions for next year.

So here’s my suggestion. Get out of the resolutions racket altogether.  Simply be happy you made it through another year.  If you absolutely have to make a New Year’s resolution, it better be a real life-altering one, though I would argue that if you need to wait until New Year’s to put it on your to do list, you’re not off to a good start.

So, on the personal side, if you’re a heroin addict, getting yourself into detox is a worthy resolution.  But if your goal is to cut back on those orders of Buffalo wings, don’t even bother.  Just try to appreciate your friends and family as much as possible.  And on the business front, just take super-good care of your best clients and employees; in the end you can’t go wrong by doing that.

Waldorf Astoria Bumps 100+ Guests for Saudi King’s Entourage: What Would You Do If This Were Your Event?

Posted December 16, 2010

On Dec 13, 2010, The New York Times ran a story with the following headline: “The Room Is Booked, Until the Hotel Says It Isn’t”

When I ran my event company we used to do this thing before our big events called “What If” sessions.  Basically, the lead producer would brief the whole office on the event, and we’d all then pepper him or her with “what if . . .” scenarios.

What if the power goes out.  What if someone throws up while at the podium.  What if the guy in the back of the police car for stealing an auction item is your client’s assistant.  What if your keynote speaker is denied entrance to the country by the State Department the day before he’s supposed to fly in.  (All things that have happened to me).

The idea was two-fold: to address scenarios the producer may have missed, and to teach everyone to understand that shit happens at every event and build their confidence to respond to any scenario.

In all the years of anyone in the industry doing this, I guarantee nobody’s ever said, “What if the King of Saudi Arabia shows up unannounced with his entourage and cleans out 100 of the best rooms and suites of our host hotel, bumping our attendees, speakers, executives, mother of the bride, etc.”

Well, that’s pretty much what happened last week at the Waldorf Astoria in NYC.  How crazy is that?  What do you do if that’s on your watch?  That’s pretty much hide-under-the-table time.  Event folks are used to rolling with the punches of unplanned glitches.  But how do you explain this to a client?

I could probably muscle through it if those rooms were needed by the President of the United States making a last minute visit to address the United Nations to avert a war.  Or if the Rolling Stones’ plane has to make an emergency landing and they need a place to stay; I’m pretty sure I could finagle a meet and greet for my client with Mick and company as compensation.  Anything short of that and I’d prefer the hotel simply lie and say they found asbestos on the whole floor.

King Abdullah

At least those are scenarios a client can tell their guests about with some semblance of dignity, and the guests would grumble, but understand.  But the King of Saudi Arabia?  At best, nobody cares about him.  At worst, people hate him for funding all those radical Madrassas that teach kids to hate America.  Either way you ain’t happy.

I don’t know what it is about this story that pisses me off, but it does.  We all have war stories from our events, which we share with each other at industry parties, an

d we wear our ability to weather those storms as a badge of pride.  We teach ourselves and o

ur staffs to fix the problem, deal with blame later, and find solutions.  We don’t get involved in the politics of the thing; we care only about the event and the client.  But this feels like the ugly under-belly of big business and international affairs intruding into our world.

The Waldorf is part of the Hilton family, which was purchased by the private equity firm The Blackstone Group a couple of years ago, and maybe this money-grubbing was

inevitable.  If it makes you feel better, the Waldorf is getting slammed with bad publicity, including high profile blog www.HotelChatter.com, which says the Waldorf did those guests a favor, saying their rooms are dank, dark and have bed bugs.  Yum.  Worse still for them, the Waldorf is no longer the singular NYC property we used to know, but has been spun into a whole line, with properties ranging from Berlin to Shanghai, so the bad press gets multiplied.

Would love to know your thoughts.  How would you have handled this if those 100 rooms were part of your event?

Challenge Your Planner/Vendor for More Creative Results

Posted December 13, 2010

Last Friday Jes Gordon was in the studio taping a class for the Event Leadership Institute

Jes Gordon

(launching next month) called BWWB, short for “Big Wow Within Budget”.  She covered a wide range of interesting tips for making your event more creative without breaking the bank, and covered areas such as food and beverage, lighting, flowers, venue, rentals, furnishings, entertainment, and more.  And, she shared her resources (websites, wholesale vendors, etc.) for where she gets all her good stuff.   But enough with the plugs.

In the prep call a few days earlier, the one area I asked her to add was to “challenge your planner and vendors” to stretch their creative minds for you, and she agreed wholeheartedly.   Looking back over decades of experience, we each agreed that the times our clients pushed us to really go that extra mile creatively were the events we were most proud of.

They were also the times we bitched and moaned and cursed our clients behind their backs because, hey, they were being a pain in the ass.  It was those tough clients who didn’t care if we complained, who didn’t settle for our first (or fourth) round of ideas, who often got the best work out of us.

This reminds me of a story about Henry Kissinger, the former Secretary of State.  (Is that not the segue of the year?  I’ll buy drinks for anyone who can point out another event industry article that cites Kissinger).  So rumor has it that he asked an aide to do a study on the troop strength of the Vietnamese army (or something).  The aide hands in a nice meaty paper.

The next day Kissinger sends the paper back with a note, “Good initial effort.  But I know you can do better.”  So the aide does deeper research, adds in some more charts and graphs and submits the revised version.

Henry Kissinger

Kissinger sends this one back too.  This time saying, “Great progress!  But still not your best work.  Stay with it, you’re almost there!”  The aide curses and grunts, but he goes back to his sources, finds some more insights and analysis, triple checks his work, and decides to personally hand in this version to his boss.

“Dr. Kissinger,” he says, “I have gone as far as I can with this assignment.  I’ve included more sources than I’ve ever used before and added stronger analysis than I ever thought possible.  This is as good as my paper will get.”

“OK,” Kissinger replies, “In that case, I guess I’ll read it now.”

If your first reaction is that Kissinger was a jerk (which I’m sure he was), you’re missing the bigger picture.  By not settling, he got his aide to produce far superior work than the aide was ready to do.  And he used repeated, positive encouragement that appealed to the aide’s pride in his own craft to dig deep and take his work to the next level.

Of all the people we work with in some capacity, we most appreciate that teacher, coach, boss, trainer, and yes, client, who doesn’t let us settle for mediocrity.  They may not always be liked along the way, but they are paying us the biggest possible compliment by reminding us of the heights we are capable of.

Challenge the people who work for you, whether they’re on your own team or work for outside suppliers.  Really push them to stretch their creative muscles.  They will complain, for sure.  But in the end they will likely thank you.   And they will certainly respect you for helping bring out their best work.