Posts Categorized In Creative Writing:

Confessions Of A Blogger In Hiding: Lessons In Losing Your Creativity

Posted March 14, 2013

My name is Howard Givner.
I’m a blogger.
It’s been 13 months since my last blog post.  (This is where you all say in unison, “Hi Howard”).

As I write this, I feel like I’m at the podium at an AA meeting, pressed to explain why I haven’t posted in over a year.  In thinking about it, I can break it down into a 3 step process.

  1. Short Term: Too Busy.  At first I needed to put blogging on hold for a month as things with the Event Leadership Institute heated up.  I suspect many bloggers fall into this category as they land a big new project, or have their personal or work schedules suddenly become very busy.  It’s an easy decision to put off blogging for a period of time, since no one is putting a gun to your head to blog on a regular basis.
  2. Intermediate Term: Expectations Become Too High.  One month became two, then three.  As time ticked on, I kept raising the expectation for myself.  If I haven’t blogged in three months, I thought, my next post better be really great.  Eventually this thinking can cast an intimidating shadow.
  3. Long Term: Creativity Dried Up.  When I would sit down to write, a funny (OK, not so funny, really) thing happened: I had nothing.  It turns out that creativity is not something that can suddenly be turned on like a switch.  The creative muscles in your brain begin to atrophy due to lack of exercise, and it can take a while to work them back into shape.

Paradoxically, it was coming to that realization that brought me back from the abyss.  The fact that it was so much harder than I’d anticipated to jump start my creative blogging juices was an insight that finally warranted sharing.

Observations In Creative Capacity

  1. creativityUse It Or Lose It.  Anyone who’s in a creative line of work should know that it’s a skill you can’t take for granted.  It’s not riding a bike.  The more you use it, the easier it comes, and vice versa.  Organizations that seek to foster creativity among their employees thrive when they build it into their DNA, when it infuses the layout and design of their offices, their work policies, the kinds of people they hire and nurture.
  2. Practice Makes Perfect.  During this past year, conversely, I’ve given a ton of presentations, both in person at conferences and events, as well as online with webinars.  And the more of those I did, the faster and better I got at doing them.
  3. The Limits of Brain Focus Capacity.  Combining those two observations convinces me that we all have a limit to the number of things our brain can focus on at any given time.  I’ve read articles that true multi-tasking is a myth, that you can’t really do two things equally well at the same time without your proficiency at one of them diminishing, even if only slightly.

For example, over the past few years as I’ve gotten better at doing the NY Times crossword puzzles, I’ve simultaneously started having more (premature) senior moments, where I forget random things I know I know. I remember that a five letter word for “shoelace tip” is an “aglet”, but forget why I walked over to a colleague’s desk.  Of course, I feel silly forgetting what I wanted to discuss with her, but on the flip side, it’s pretty cool to know what an aglet is.

“Everyone Has A Plan Until They Get Punched In The Mouth”

Posted January 30, 2012

Reporter:  “I hear your opponent has a clever plan for defensing your left hook.  How do you respond?”

(Heavyweight boxing champ) Mike Tyson:  “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

Iron Mike Tyson

How great is that quote?  Tyson, of course, was known far more for his fierce punching power, intimidating stare, and occasional biting of an ear, than his gift of philosophy.  Yet the purity of his comment makes it a perfect analogy to the business world.

The premise is this: planning is done when it’s calm and quiet, but, like a boxing match, the business world is anything but calm.  It throws you unexpected curve balls that have the capacity to demolish your business.  It also tees up great opportunities, if you know how and when to seize them.

The point is, how well will your plan stand up if, and when, your business get punched in the mouth?  In his prime Tyson hit you so hard, you were lucky if you could even remember what your plan was, let alone execute it.  The worst thing you can do is assume you will have clear sailing the whole year.  Assuming that you WILL get that punch in the mouth at some point, SHOULD be part of your plan in the first place.

Let’s say, for example, you want to grow your business from five clients to eight clients in 2012.  Just build a sales plan to add three new clients, right?  Wrong.  The smart planning would assume you may lose one of your five core clients, and build a sales plan to add four new ones.  Even if your work product is great and your client relationships are awesome, things happen.  Events get cancelled, clients leave jobs, etc.

The list of random, unanticipated “punches in the mouth” that can impact your business is massive.  If I told you 20 years ago that the biggest unforeseen events to have dramatic impact on our industry would include bird flu, ash from a volcano in Iceland, the near collapse of the US financial system, and commercial airliners crashing into the World Trade Center, you’d think I was nuts.

On the micro level, what do you do if your key producer or account executive quits, or if your biggest client cuts their event spend in half?  I know several owners in our field whose businesses took a beating the years their mothers became seriously ill over a protracted period of time.  Not only could they not spend enough time on their companies, but when they could it was hard for them to focus.

So if you’re launching a new website, hiring more staff, or embarking on any other growth initiative, assume there will be some disruption to your business at some point, and plan around that.  Build in a cash cushion, allocate more time to accomplish things, etc.

It’s also important to retain some flexibility.  If business conditions don’t respond to your game plan, you may need to change tactics.  When the US financial crisis hit in 2008, the Treasury Department’s initial plan was to buy toxic assets from the banks.  When that didn’t work, they shifted to injecting capital directly into the banks, which ultimately pulled us back from the precipice.  If your business fails, you don’t get any points for having stuck with your plan.

Don’t get me wrong, planning is very important.  If you don’t make a business plan for hitting your goals this year, you won’t get there.  But to make a plan that relies on perfect business conditions is naive.  Think through scenarios that would result in a body blow to your company, and start formulating responses to them in advance.  And build as much fluidity as possible, giving you the maximum amount of flexibility to adapt.

When the punches come, let your competitors be the ones caught off guard.

Steve Jobs, Calligraphy & Crowd-Sourcing

Posted October 6, 2011

You know that game where you fantasize about whom you’d invite to a dinner party?  Well, Steve Jobs was always high on my list.  (Along with Winston Churchill).  When I heard that he died, I felt a tremendous sense of sadness and loss.  Jobs was someone who saw a better way to do things, a future none of us could envision, and fought like hell to take us there.

But though I’ve never met him, I sense he wouldn’t want us to wax rhapsodic on his passing, but rather to learn and be inspired from his life.  In that spirit, here are 3 lessons we can take away from his life and the impact he’s had on us all.

1) Inspiration Comes in Unusual Places In an industry whose products are brutally cost-competitive almost to the point of being commoditized, Apple’s products have always cost more than their competitors.  They got away with that by marrying superior technology to stylish industrial design.   And where did Jobs get his inspiration for Apple’s graceful minimalist aesthetic?  Calligraphy.

Jobs dropped out of Reed College after one semester, but returned later to audit a class in calligraphy, which he says influenced Apple’s sleek, polished, understated design.  Are you grasping the irony here?  Calligraphy is a slow, deliberate, old-school art form that on the surface seems the antithesis of modern technology.

Takeaway:              To truly tap your creative potential, expose yourself to areas completely outside your normal frame of reference.

2) Second Chances. If you’re under 25 years old, you probably don’t realize that in 1986 Jobs was actually fired from the company he founded.  Apple meandered through mediocrity for the next ten years.  It wasn’t until Jobs was given a second chance to run the company that he truly took Apple to the next level and transformed so many aspects of our every day lives.  Jobs later said that being fired was one of the best things that ever happened to him.

Bill Belichick, widely considered the smartest coach in football, has a similar story.  After being a brilliant defensive coordinator for the New York Giants, he was given his chance as a head coach of the Cleveland Browns where he failed miserably, compiling only one winning season in five years.  It was on his second chance, as head coach of the Patriots, that he truly made his mark, winning 3 Super Bowls.

Takeaway:              Sometimes failure is the missing ingredient to genius.

3) Crowd Sourcing is for Sissies.  Apple never held focus groups.  According to Jobs, “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

That’s worth noting in today’s era of user-generated, crowd-sourced agendas, event locations, menus, themes, etc.  Crowd-sourcing has its uses, but it’s not the be-all-and-end-all.  The next time someone pushes you to incorporate it into your event and you want a reason to say no, just say, “Apple never holds focus groups.”  There’s really no response to that, except perhaps, “well, we’re not even going to pretend to be innovative.”

Takeaway:            Shackle innovation to group consensus at your own risk.

The list of incredible product innovations brought to us by Steve Jobs is long indeed.  But perhaps it is the life lessons we can glean from him that are even more impactful.

If the Events Industry Disappeared Tomorrow, Would It Matter?

Posted September 11, 2011

What we do in the events industry doesn’t matter in the world.  Well, not much anyway.  If you’re waiting for my typical sarcastic follow up line, it’s not coming.  Sorry.

That’s what the ten year anniversary of 9/11, or any truly sobering moment, does to me.  It makes me realize how little what we do truly matters in the world.  I get the same feeling when I hear someone I know has died, been diagnosed with a terrible illness, lost their job, etc.  In those moments of reflection, if someone came up to me and asked what I did for a living, I terribly wished I could have said something more useful to society than event planning.  Doctor, teacher, CIA counter-terrorist analyst, etc.

Make no mistake, we are not alone.  Probably 80% of the jobs people have in the world provide little benefit to society.  A hedge fund analyst trying to guess which way some random stock is going.  A marketing expert coming up with a zippy campaign to sell more hand lotion.  The person who designed the pleated drapes that hang in my living room which I hate.  If these jobs disappeared tomorrow, would society be much worse off?

I vividly remember one TV broadcaster reporting from ground zero shortly after the towers fell.  She was holding up a ream of paper she’d picked up from the debris, spread sheets with analysis on them.  “How important did this seem just hours ago?,” she said.  The camera zoomed in to see an endless parade of tiny numbers stacked in neat little columns.  It then pulled back for a wide angle shot of thousands of such dust-strewn papers blowing around all over the place.  A sea of detritus that seemed to mock us for having focused so intently on such minutiae.

Depressed?  Climb in back off the ledge of your building.  It gets better.

Andrea Michaels, owner of Extraordinary Events in LA, one of the most award-winning companies in the world, is one of the icons of our industry.  She was also born in a concentration camp during World War II.  This is one of the more touching revelations she shared with me in a video interview we conducted for the Event Leadership Institute’s Maverick Series.  She uses this experience to ground her, to put everything we do as planners in proper perspective.

Interview with Andrea Michaels, Extraordinary Events
Chapter 9 of 14: “On Being Born in a Concentration Camp
Running time: 02:56

To watch the full interview click here

And that, ultimately, is what I take away from these somber moments in life.  Perspective.  Because, my fellow planners, we can ALL, use a bit more perspective in our world.  To quote from Andrea, “A hurricane forces you to evacuate 300 multi millionaires, do I stress out? Do I care about a wilted flower?  If the drummer is 15 minutes late do I think the world changes?  Absolutely not.” These are all important to our events, to be sure, but they don’t quite measure up to removing the wrong kidney from a transplant patient, or misreading the water level during a shift at a nuclear plant.

    You get we’re I’m going with this?  I’m not saying what we do doesn’t matter.  It does.  Events inspire, educate, inform, recognize and celebrate so many facets of our personal and professional lives.  Whenever we come across a milestone occasion, we create an event to mark it in a special way.  Yes, we matter.  Just not in a life-or-death way.  And that recognition can empower us, liberate us, to give our work the perspective it needs, to help us focus on our craft without getting sidetracked by unnecessary anxiety over the little things.

    Socrates said “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” I take that to mean that when we get too busy, it’s easy for the truly important things in our life to get lost in the shuffle, and for us to lose our proper perspective.  On this tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, let us pull back and inject some perspective back into our lives.

    Failing Up: The Blessing of Mistakes

    Posted August 23, 2011

    Mistakes are part of the human condition.  By nature we are utterly imperfect beings.  Eventually, we screw up in everything we do: relationships, finances, business, you name it.  We can’t help it.

    What we can help, however, is how we react to these mistakes.  We can blame them on others, on circumstance, on getting a raw deal.  Or we can own up to them, and learn from them.  Few things in life are as powerful as the epiphany that comes from truly learning from a good mistake.

    Over the 20 years I ran my event firm, I made every mistake in the book, both in terms of event management, and in business management.  I was pretty determined, however, to not make the same mistake twice.  (OK, sometimes I made it twice, but definitely not three times.)

    Running events, by definition, entails glitches, things that don’t go according to plan. I used to tell prospective clients that anyone who tells you they’ll produce a flawless event is full of crap.  Events become fluid, moving things and take on a life of their own.  At some point, you simply have to pray to the event gods, regardless of how much planning you’ve done.

    What separates the men from the mice, so to speak, is how we react to these glitches.  Whether it’s your event, your business or your personal life, it can be incredibly liberating to own the reaction and response to whatever comes your way.  The jerk on the highway who cut you off didn’t make you mad; you made yourself mad.  You can’t control the highway jerk, but you CAN control how you react to him.

    Tavis Smiley, a talk show host on NPR, wrote a book with the absolutely coolest name, “Fail Up: 20 Lessons On Business Success From Failure”. The premise is to enlighten us on how useful and instructive failures can be.  Thomas Edison is famous for pointing out about the numerous failed attempts at creating the light bulb: I have not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

    George Santayana

    Stellar service-driven organizations in our industry are know for how they respond to problems.  Years ago I stayed at the Four Seasons hotel in Bali, and the final night of my stay, some genius in banquet sales decided to book a beach party for a pharmaceutical sales team, that ran into the wee hours of the night.  Needless to say I got no sleep, and my calls to the front desk were of limited utility.  The next morning, ready to storm the castle, I asked to speak to the manager.  He had a full write-up of the previous night’s problem, and began by apologizing profusely, and said, “Would you allow me to please comp your stay last night.”  This far exceeded anything I’d expected, and to this day I walked away raving about the hotel’s response, instead of their screw up.

    When the philosopher George Santayana said, Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” clearly he’s referring to past mistakes.  Hitler invading Russia in the winter, and failing to learn the lessons of Napoleon’s blunder doing the same thing over a century earlier.  That kind of thing.

    The world is imperfect, and we are imperfect.  Yet every imperfection, every mistake, has an opportunity buried inside it.  It lies there, waiting for us to seize it.  Will you grasp it, use it, and grow from it?  Or will you be blinded by the mistake itself, and let it slip away?

    The Day-Of Planning Dilemma

    Posted July 14, 2011

    Here’s an advance peek at my next In Business column for Event Solutions magazine.

    “I think I can plan the event myself.  I just want to hire you to be there the day of the event.  You know, just to make sure everything goes smoothly.”

    If I had a dollar every time an event planner was told this by a potential client, I’d be sipping cocktails on a beach in the Caribbean.  Forever.  Because I’d be able to own the island.  (Tell me I’m wrong).

    The Planner Wanna-Be

    For better or worse, this is reality, and complaining about it is like trying to hold back the tide.  These are the facts:

    1. There are lots of clients who are planner wanna-be’s,  That’s good, because it means we have cool jobs that people want to emulate.
    2. The wanna-be’s know that their event is too important to do it completely on their own, and know they need some level of professional support (even if it’s just day-of).  So let’s say there’s this final 15% of the planning process where they perceive enough value in what we do that they’re willing to pay for it.  That’s also good.
    3. But the wanna-be’s don’t perceive enough value in the other 85%.  And that’s not good.
    4. There will always be SOMEONE who’ll take a few bucks to show up ‘day of’ and try to be some kind of security blanket to the client.  That’s neither good nor bad; it just is.

    [One way to look at these wanna-be’s is not so much as full paying clients who now want to just pay for day of, and instead think of them as an entirely new market sector who never would have hired anyone at all.  The market for planner services has grown, and this kind of thing is an inevitable step.]

    That said, the biggest challenge planners face in showing up the ‘day of’ is that you’re literally walking into an event planning s**t storm.  It’s like being given a Stop sign, a whistle and a pair of white gloves and being asked to direct traffic at the roller derby.

    Option 1: Educate the Client on the Value of Full-Service Planning

    Odds are this is the crux of the problem.  Look, if you got arrested, you’d never think of saying to your attorney, “I think I can handle my defense myself (I was on the Debate Team, you know), but I’d like to hire you to just sit next to me the day of the trial.  To make sure things go smoothly.”

    Can an attorney provide SOME value showing up the day of the trial?  Yeah, but given what’s on the line, wouldn’t you prefer he look at the case files in advance?  Of course you would, because you’re smart enough to know that you don’t know law.  So your job here, is to educate the client on all that goes into the planning process to insure a successful event.

    Space constraints prohibit me from doing so here, but here’s a suggestion to help you out:  start keeping a journal and jot down all the things you do that a typical wanna-be doesn’t realize you do.  The list will grow quickly.

    This is part of the value you bring to the table, along with your experience, creativity, vendor relationships, etc.  Getting to the point where you realize the full value you offer, and being able to communicate that to a client and stand behind it, is the holy grail of running an event planning business.  It’s the key to everything.

    Option 2: Re-Think ‘Day-Of’ as ‘Planning Lite’

    Clients came up with the whole day-of idea, but that doesn’t mean we have to stick with it.  What they really want is very limited planning; that last 15%, as some kind of insurance policy against an event disaster.  So how about you re-frame your service offerings as ‘Planning Lite’, and give the client 8 hours the day of the event, plus let’s say 6 hours in advance, broken down into 1 hour calls or meetings with the client every month for the 6 months prior to the event.

    This accomplishes two things.  (1) It prevents you from walking in totally blind, and (2) More importantly, it gives you a chance to up-sell the client and convert them into Full-Service Planning along the way.  Each of these 1 hour planning discussions is an opportunity for you to show your stuff, and invariably the client will start to see all the important things you should be doing on their behalf, but can’t, given the limitations of Planning Lite.

    If you do go this route, be up front with the client about the limits of what you can accomplish with Planning Lite, and be sure to advise them you can’t be responsible for the event’s success, but you’ll do your best  to make things go as smoothly as you can.

    One benefit to this kind of service, is it really forces you to track your time.  When I teach my class on Planner Pricing, regardless of the pricing model people choose, I tell them it’s critical to know how many jobs you can do in a given year, which requires time tracking.

    When to Fire Someone: Toxic Employees & The Curse of Mediocrity

    Posted May 18, 2011

    [Author’s Note: Yes, I know it’s been almost two months since my last blog post.  Where have I been, you ask?  OK, I’ll just come right out with it: I’ve been sleeping with another audience.  There, I said it.  Don’t get me wrong, you’ve been great; I just needed something . . . new.  Actually, as many of you know, I’ve been buried in event training and education land, working to get the Event Leadership Institute ready for prime time.  If you haven’t been yet, take a peek; the site is live, though the official launch is coming soon.]

    Below is an advance peek at my next In Business Column for Event Solutions Magazine.

    In my last column I talked about becoming a boss and hiring your first employee, and outlined the process for effectively training and ramping up new hires.  Alas, not all employees work out.  One challenge small business owners face is the hassle of replacing underperforming workers.  Larger firms with dedicated HR departments can, and do, manage this process more efficiently.

    But with a small business, the owner typically has to do it all: fire the person and find his or her replacement.  Most people dread both tasks, the first because it’s wickedly uncomfortable; the second because it’s a huge, time-consuming pain in the ass.  So they end up ignoring the problem, rationalizing that the person’s performance is not THAT bad.

    The damage a problem employee can have to your company can range from moderate to catastrophic, but in any case it is usually far greater than you think.  Let’s look at two scenarios.

    The Toxic Employee

    This is the person (let’s call her Toxie) who is unhappy about something (their compensation, their boss, etc.) and develops a chip on their shoulder.  But Toxie isn’t content with keeping her irritation to herself; she’s got to share her misery with others.  She whispers in the ears of her co-workers, firing them up.  “Can you believe they want us to work on a weekend without paying us overtime!?”, or, “We shouldn’t be expected to do this task; let the interns do it!”

    Toxie’s frustrations aren’t validated until she gets others to join her cause and storm the castle.  She wants to bring others’ morale down to her level, and pretty soon her drama starts consuming more and more of everyone’s time. When that happens, she’s got to go.

    Toxic employees by definition spread their malcontent around the office, like a cancer.   And like a cancer, they need to be removed before the damage gets worse and more healthy employees get infected.  In sports we see examples all the time of athletes that “infect the locker room” and become a bad influence on others; rarely are those teams successful, no matter how good that athlete may be.

    The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations

    Sometimes you’ve got a mediocre employee, however, with a great attitude.  Unlike Toxie, this person will be the first to admit when they fall short in their performance.  They don’t blame anyone but themselves, and they have the support and sympathy of their co-workers, and you, their boss.  This is the mediocre/low performer, so let’s call her Melo.

    Now, you might think, what’s the harm in keeping Melo around?  There’s no collateral damage to others like you’d have with Toxie, right?  Wrong.  The risk here is that by keeping Melo around, your A players might be tempted to measure themselves against her, and start settling for A- and B+ performance.  Worse, they may lose respect for you by continuing to allow someone to stay on who clearly is not meeting the job requirements.  Either way, they become a drag on your company’s mojo.

    In some ways, Melo is a much harder situation, because she’s likely to stick around longer.  Eventually Toxie wears out her welcome and pushes you to take action.  Firing Melo is like giving away a pet that you like but refuses to be house trained.  But if you want to grow a strong business instead of a half-way house, you know what you need to do.

    Firing Someone

    In my 20 years of running an event company I’ve probably fired 8 people, and the only thing worse than firing someone is firing someone who doesn’t see it coming.  That’s a sign that you haven’t clearly explained what you expect of the employee and/or given them proper feedback.  It’s a miserable feeling on both ends of the table.

    To avoid this, make sure you lay out, in writing, your job expectations, and give frequent and specific feedback at regular intervals.  If the performance problem doesn’t improve, be very clear about the consequences that will ensue if it’s not corrected.  If you do this right, nobody should be surprised when they get fired.

    Once you’ve bitten the bullet and terminated an under-performer, you’ll be amazed at the ancillary impact it has on everyone else’s performance.  It sends a message that not getting the job done will not be tolerated, and the other employees will begin stepping things up.  Plus, the replacement worker usually brings fresh energy and drive to the office and you’ll notice everyone’s productivity will receive a boost.

    These tangential benefits, however, are lost on your business if instead the problem worker quits before you fire them.  Please understand, I would never advocate taking away someone’s livelihood just to boost office productivity.  What I am saying is, if you’ve determined that a worker is no longer a good fit for your company and cannot turn things around, you’re better off taking the bull by the horns and proactively dealing with the issue directly.  It demonstrates strong leadership and your commitment to high standards for everyone you hire.

    Confessions of A First Class Wannabe

    Posted March 20, 2011

    Many people who cannot normally afford to fly first class, like myself, sometimes get an opportunity to do so, courtesy of those great frequent flyer miles or the occasional corporate perk.  However, while I relish those rare occasions when I do fly first, it’s now virtually impossible to tolerate having to fly coach the rest of the time.  I’ve tasted the good life and I don’t want to go back.  I am a first class wanna-be.

    The first time I used miles to upgrade to first class was on a trip to Europe.  My wife and I got to the airport late, but it was no problem because first class passengers have their own check in line.  Mind you, there’s maybe 20 people in the whole section, which certainly did not justify a dedicated attendant.  But the airlines’ motto to first class passengers is ‘spoil ya rotten’ and that experience begins with check in.

    You also board the plane before anyone else, save perhaps small kids flying alone or people with wheelchairs.  We were given champagne and hot towels when we sat down.

    Then, in a clear fit of sadism, the airline attendants forced the coach passengers to board the plane by walking through the first class section.  I’ve done that walk, and it’s a cruel one.  It’s bad enough sitting in coach, merely knowing about the existence of a first class section.  But to have to walk through it, and see the Barca-loungers they sit in compared to the anatomically challenged seats in coach, that’s tough stuff.

    Here I experienced a brief identity crisis, for I used to be the one who resented the first class passengers.  But now I was on the other end, and, despite my humble coach roots, I was surprised at how easily I slipped into the mentality of a lifelong first classer.  I couldn’t wait for the endless parade of lowlifes to walk by so that the genteel calm of our section could return.

    And then there are those adorable little amenities kits they gave us.  Like giddy children we showed each other the razor with shaving cream in the handle, the blindfolds for sleeping, the mints, the moisturizer.  We glanced around and realized we were dead giveaways for upgraders.  The real first class passengers, the ones who pay for their tickets and fly first all the time, looked over at us with disdain.  We were given a free pass into an exclusive club, their club, and we had to get with the program.

    I won’t go into the vastly improved passenger-to-bathroom and passenger-to-flight attendant ratios, or the fact that the flight attendants in first are much nicer because they have fewer passengers to serve.  Or the wines offered with dinner.  We all know the night and day differences.  But whereas ‘upgraders’ marvel at every little pleasantry, true denizens of first class seem to barely notice them.  And that’s how you must behave if you want to pass yourself off as someone who truly belongs in first class.

    For starters, you must accept all the privileges of first class as though you are entitled to them, and under no circumstances can you widen your eyes in astonishment when your meal comes with real cutlery.  When, for example, the attendant takes the liberty of giving your drink a refill without your having asked for it, you may nod thanks, but should not look up from your newspaper.

    When the periodic brave passenger from coach boldly slinks through the curtain to use the first class bathroom, you must feel indignation.  You show the flight attendant a puzzled look, then glance back at the coach section.  Is somebody not manning their post?  Invariably the attendant will go back and firmly close the curtain as soon as the person returns to her seat, sending a message to all other would-be bathroom poachers: you are not welcome here.  Stay in your section; two toilets for the three hundred of you should be just fine

    When you sporadically stand to stretch your legs and can catch a peak into coach, you can come to no other conclusion than that it looks so . . . so . . . crowded!  And you realize that next time it could be you.  You could be the one without enough miles, the one in the cattle car.

    And therein lies the root of the problem: relativity.  Coach would be fine if there were no first class to compare it to.  In fact, if the people in coach only had a curtain behind them, a section even worse, even more cramped, in which passengers had to stand and hold onto railings like in a subway car, then they’d think coach was pretty darned good!  But alas, we know there’s nothing worse, and we also know that there’s a select few living the good life up front.

    By the same token, I was once inside a private corporate jet, not as a passenger mind you, but to pick up a client at the airport.  (Not the same airport the rest of us fly out of; they have their own airports, which you don’t know about).  And if you think first class is impressive, this was like a living room with wings.  Fortunately, there’s pretty much no chance in hell I’ll ever travel on one, so I don’t have to worry about comparing it to first class.  But there’s definitely a group of people who normally fly this way who view first class as steerage.

    The truth is, those few passengers paying exorbitant fees to fly first class pretty much underwrite the cost of coach for the rest of us; we just don’t realize it.  If the whole plane were coach, the cost of a ticket would at least double in price.  So what the airlines should do is simply offer passengers a choice.  You can fly coach from NY to LA for $900 on a plane with no first class section at all, or you can fly virtually the same flight for $450, but there’s going to be a small section of the plane in which people will be treated better than you.

    Far, far better than you.

    The Meeting Attendee’s Bill of Rights

    Posted March 5, 2011

    At the end of my last post I said I’d start putting together a Meeting Attendee’s Bill of Rights.  Having just finished speaking at several conferences, a handful of thoughts are fresh in my head.  Here are my first 5 Rights.  I invite you to submit your ideas to me as we compile this long overdue list.

    You, the meeting attendee, have the right to:

    1.    Blurt out “let’s move on” if one person in the audience engages the speaker in a back and forth discussion following their question.  The question asker is allowed only one rebuttal comment after the speaker answers their question, after which the speaker may add their final reply.  Yes, the speaker gets the last word, because that’s who the audience came to hear.  That’s just the way it goes.


    QUESTION ASKER:    “I disagree with your point because I don’t get it.  And besides, I don’t care if I learn anything here, I just like to hear myself talk in front of everyone.”

    SPEAKER:   “I’m sorry you don’t get what I’m saying.  Let me try again to explain it, but this time I’ll use smaller words.”

    QUESTION ASKER:   “Thanks for using smaller words, but I still don’t get it.  Plus, I’m enjoying this little time we’re having together at the expense of the rest of the audience.”

    SPEAKER:   “Hey, if you had it all figured out you’d be giving this class.  But you’re not, are you?  See this thing I’m standing on?  That’s called the stage.”

    GOOD SAMARITAN:   “Let’s move on.”

    2.    Hear an Overview of the session at the beginning, so you’ll know what will be covered when, and won’t ask a question that the speaker will get to eventually.

    3.    If the speaker is being ridiculously self-promotional about their company, stand up and say, “I’m concerned you won’t have enough sales brochures for the whole audience.  I hope we won’t have to share.”  Hey, if we don’t stand up to this, pretty soon all exit doors of meeting rooms will lead through the gift shop.

    4.    Walk out if you are not enjoying the session.  However, if you think the session is good, but have to leave for other reasons (to catch a flight, run to an appointment, donate a kidney, etc.) put your phone to your ear as you’re getting up, and put a finger in your other ear, as if to muffle the noise, the better to hear your fictitious call.  Speakers assume everyone who walks out of their class is doing so because they don’t like the session, so your fake phone call tells the speaker he/she is doing great, but you’ve got an urgent call.

    5.   Some kind of free gift if you registered for the conference before the Early Bird cutoff date, only to find that date suddenly extended two weeks.

    There you go, the first 5 of the Meeting Attendee’s Bill of Rights.  Pass around, share, and send me your best additions.

    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.

    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.

    “Beware the Daring of A Cautious Man”: The danger of a half-hearted RFP response.

    Posted November 8, 2010

    You’re sitting at your desk staring at an RFP you just received for a nice big job.  It’s big bucks if you get it, and a high profile client to boot.  The kind of event you sit around hoping lands on your desk.

    You’re so excited that after scanning the RFP you call the client up to thank them for the opportunity, and to ask the usual qualifying questions.  The answers wipe the smile off your face pretty fast.

    “How many other event companies have you sent this to?”
    “I see you’ve done this event before.  Is the incumbent firm being asked to bid?”

    “If you don’t mind me asking, were you happy with their work?”

    “Yes, very happy.”
    “Why are you seeking so many other bids then?”

    “We want to see what other ideas are out there.”

    Not exactly the greatest signs.  You furrow your brow in frustration and briefly try to use your special powers to make the client’s head explode through the phone line, then politely thank them for the opportunity again and tell them you can’t wait to show them what you’ve got.

    Yes, of course it’s not professional to ask twelve companies to create detailed proposals, but that’s a whole other discussion, and at the end of the day, nobody is forcing you to bid.  Do you have a chance to win the business?  Yes, but with an incumbent agency in the picture, it’s not great.

    Now, there’s two types of “not great” situations like this.  The first is where the client is forced by their Procurement Dept. to bid the work out.  Generally, they have every intention of re-hiring the incumbent vendor, but need to satisfy their internal process.  In this case, they normally don’t get more than 3 of 4 bids.   They want to get the minimum number needed to satisfy procurement.

    The second situation is the one described at the beginning of this post, where a client really does want to see what else is out there.  That’s why they’ve bid it out to so many people, which is really annoying.  On the flip side, you can bet they will look at your proposal.

    So what do you do?  You can either acknowledge the time commitment in creating a winning proposal, factor in the long odds of winning it, and pass.  Or you can roll the dice, show them your best, and keep your fingers crossed.

    The one thing I encourage you NOT to do is phone it in with a quick proposal that’s not your best work.  In the twenty years I ran

    NY Times Columnist William Safire

    my event company, I often had account executives want to do this, saying, “I’ll just throw a quick proposal together.  Don’t worry, I won’t spend too much time on it.”  To which I usually responded, “if we bid, we bid to win.  Otherwise forget it.”

    ‘Go big or go home’ is another expression that conveys this principle.  But perhaps my favorite is ‘Beware the daring of a cautious man,’ by former New York Times columnist William Safire.  He wrote this after the failed attempt during the Carter presidency to rescue the hostages in Iran.  (Yes, I am that old and I did read the newspaper in high school.  Sometimes.)  Apparently Carter sent in a small team of helicopters, and when two of them had mechanical trouble the whole mission had to abort.

    I don’t know why, but that quote has always stuck with me.  What I take away from it is that it’s ok to be daring, and it’s ok to be cautious, but you don’t want to be cautiously daring.

    In this case, there are worse things than actually not getting the job.  If you do a half-assed proposal, you probably won’t get the job, AND the client will be so under-whelmed by your work they will not ask you to bid on future projects where the odds are better.  Worse still, they will spread their mediocre opinion of your company among their friends and colleagues when asked.

    Far better to politely pass on the opportunity.  Say you don’t bid under these circumstance, or say you’re simply too busy.  Or pull out all the stops and go for it.  Yes, the odds are against you, but if you wow them they’re far more likely to use you in the future, and they will spread a very positive word about you.

    Let the Big Dog Eat. (What golf can teach business owners about selling.)

    Posted October 26, 2010

    Costner in Tin Cup

    I’m sitting in the conference room of a mid-sized event company talking to the owner.  He’s lamenting that he can’t seem to get his company ‘to the next level’ and wants my help.  When I press him, he seems to think he knows what’s holding him back.

    “We need more sales,” he says.  “I need to hire a kick-ass salesperson.”

    I tell him what kick-ass sales people go for these days, if you can get them, and then ask him how much time he personally spends developing new business.

    “I really don’t have the time,” he answers, and proceeds to rattle off all the things that prevent him from doing so.

    “These are all operational tasks,” I reply.  “If push comes to shove, they can be delegated.  But nobody can sell your company the way you can.  It’s time to let the big dog eat.”

    I love using that line, which I picked up from Kevin Costner in Tin Cup.  Costner plays a wise but washed up golf pro giving advice to Rene Russo.  The ‘big dog’ is the driver, the biggest club in the bag, which she’s afraid to use.  Sometimes, he’s saying, the big dog needs to be let out.

    “You’re the big dog in this analogy,” I say, driving the point home.  “The company needs you to be out there selling more.”

    He starts with the “yeah, but . . .” face, but then nods his head sheepishly when he realizes I won’t take his bullshit.

    Part of the problem with entrepreneurs is that there’s usually nobody around to challenge them, to push them to do what’s best for their company, even if that might force them out of their comfort zone.   So they gravitate to the areas they like, areas they feel safe in.  And they create a nice little cozy cocoon for themselves within their business.

    Unfortunately, the comfortable place is not always where the business needs them the most.  Show me a business owner with the discipline to allocate his or her time in areas that is best for their business, and I’ll show you a company that’s getting to that ‘next level’.

    Shaq may have grown up wanting to be a point guard, but at 7 feet tall, he had to play center for his teams to win.  Seems obvious when you look at it that way, right?

    But part of the problem here is this business owner just doesn’t think of himself as the ‘big dog’.  “Don’t underestimate the impact to a client or prospect of dealing directly with a company owner,” I tell him.  “You can hire someone to help with your research, outreach, etc., but you yourself must be part of the sales solution.”

    Before heading out I leave him a note, and tell him to tape it to his computer.  It reads: “If I want to get to the next level, I must let the big dog eat.  And I am the big dog.”

    Exit Stage Right

    Posted July 22, 2010

    Marjory Tivlin is furious.  She is livid that she did not get to speak on stage during the event, and it’s all your fault.  I’m the Director of Public Affairs, the Mayor’s right hand, she says, and it was embarrassing that I came all the way here to read a congratulatory letter and you wouldn’t let me speak!

    Never mind the fact that she’s nowhere near the Mayor’s right hand, more like his big toe, and the fact that the Mayor sent someone so low on the totem pole is a bit of an insult to the host organization.  Of course you can’t say that.  You just nod while she vents.

    When she finally comes up for air, you point out that you had no less than five event staffers scouring the floor to find her, that she was supposed to arrive at 8:30, and scheduled to speak at 9:15, but as of 9:10 she was nowhere to be found.  Your staff at the check-in desk was on full alert for her, but somehow she slipped in like the wind and bypassed the table.  We wish you would have checked in like we asked, you say, or sought out any of the many people on headset radios to let us know you were here, like the other speakers.

    How am I supposed to know who your people are, she bellows.  Well, they’re the only ones wearing radios on their heads, you say.  (Oops, that one slipped out.)  Don’t get snippy with me, she hollers back!  You fight hard to stifle the smile that always comes out when you hear the word ‘snippy’.  By 9:10 you had to assume she was a no-show and go to plan B, and notify the MC to instead read the Mayor’s congratulatory letter in her absence.

    Never mind all that, she says, I was here!  It’s your job to find me.  We didn’t know what you looked like, so that would have been challenging, you say.  How could you not know what I look like, she demands.  Because you’re the big toe, not the right hand, you want to say.

    It’s not as if things had gone smoothly otherwise.  The guest of honor, the chairman of a major corporation, had come in just before dinner to do a sound check, and you were all cued up for him.  Yet when he came to the podium at dinner, the goose-neck mic seemed to bother him, and he promptly pushed it away from him, messing up your audio sets.  For the first few words it’s impossible to hear him, so the audio tech jacks up the volume, which unfortunately means the mic picks up every possible sound up at the stage, including the jingling in his pocket he’s making with his spare change as a nervous tic.

    The event raised a cool half a million, way beyond expectations, so you know your client will be all smiles.  You close your eyes, take a deep breath, and focus on that double vodka waiting for you at the end of the night.  You pull out the event planner’s escape hatch, press the headset closer into your ear, straining to hear the voice that is not there.  Copy that, you say to no one.  I’m so sorry, Ms. Tivlin, you turn to her, I’m wanted back stage.  Perhaps we can continue this conversation later?  You gracefully slip away, and flush Marjory Tivlin from your memory by the time you reach the ballroom.

    False environmentalism, & other hotel pet peeves

    Posted July 12, 2010

    Most people who plan events for a living do a fair amount of traveling.  As I write this, I am sitting in my hotel room reflecting on a number of things that seem to annoy me in virtually every hotel I’ve stayed in.   Allow me to share them with you, and if they annoy you as well, let me hear a loud “amen” after each one.

    1.  False Environmentalism. I don’t know if that’s a real phrase or not, but to me it encapsulates companies who endorse a practice under the banner of being eco-friendly, when clearly that is not their motive.  Case in point: towel washing.

    How annoying are those little placards in the bathroom of hotel rooms that read, “Please help us save the earth by saving water.  We will only wash towels if you put them on the floor; otherwise we appreciate your efforts to reuse your towels.  And the environment appreciates it too!”

    Nice try.  What it really should say, is:  “Boy, do we save money by washing fewer towels.  You know what our union labor rate is?  We’d never have the balls to ask you to reuse your towels so we could save money until the whole green movement came along.”

    2.  Confusing Shower Mega-Knobs. OK, if this is just me, than I’m pretty embarrassed, but I have to tell you, I think you have to be in MENSA to figure out hotel shower knobs.  You know those single knob devices that control both the water pressure and the temperature?  Forget it.  I don’t even try to master them anymore.  I just turn or pull them until water comes out, then tweak what I’m doing in small increments, each time putting my hand under the water to gauge temperature, until I’m able to get into the shower without burning or freezing myself.   Maybe this is designed to encourage you to take fewer showers, and use less towels.  You know, to save the earth.

    Oompa Loompas3.  Shower Curtain Rod Expanders. So after staring down at the tub while I try to figure out the knob situation, I am led to believe the shower is a normal size.  Then, when I get in and close the curtain, (you know, that curved curtain that extends outward?) I am suddenly in a gigantically large shower!  Goodness, how did that happen?  The hotel is magical!  I can’t wait for the oompah loompahs to bring me room service!

    I’m sorry, I just don’t get the bow-shaped shower curtain rods.  I’d rather see the hotels put their money into, wait for it . . .

    4.  Toothpaste! This is up there with the riddle of the sphinx.  Why on earth won’t hotels give you toothpaste?  Every other amenity is provided, even a sewing kit.  A sewing kit!  Toothpaste we use every day; a sewing kit we use, um, NEVER.  That’s up there with the bible in the nightstand.  (When do they think we read these bibles, before or after we’ve ordered the porn on pay-per-view while drinking the bourbon from the mini-bar?)

    I am really at a loss for words as to why they won’t give us toothpaste.  It certainly can’t be a cost factor, especially not for those hotels that pay to install a phone next to the toilet.  Truly, truly, truly, I have no idea.  Someone please tell me.

    Now, if you go to the front desk and ask for toothpaste, virtually every hotel will give you some; albeit in small sizes, but they do stock it.  So I encourage everyone to go to the front desk wherever they stay and ask for it.  Eventually they’ll find it more cost-effective to just stock the rooms with toothpaste in the first place.  hamster on wheel

    5.  Snail-Net. You pay the $9.95 per 24 hour period for internet access in your room, only to find out it’s literally the slowest possible connection in the universe.  It’s as if it’s being powered by a hamster on a treadmill in the basement somewhere.  Those of you that have broadband cards bypass this annoyance, but for the occasional traveler, you’re stuck with this injustice.

    There you have it.  My hotel pet peeves.  Love to hear yours.  And I’ll send you a $15 iTunes gift card if you can logically explain the toothpaste thing.

    The Glamorous Life: Warm Soda & 10 Seconds of Bliss

    Posted June 2, 2010

    The house lights have started to come up as the staff begins breaking down the room.  With the event officially over, it’s now safe to get a drink and toast a job well done.  You’re going to have to toast yourself or your event managers, though, because the client’s gone home, and she was too busy taking the bows in front of her boss to toast you anyway.  But no matter, you kicked butt, and you know it, and that’s what counts.

    None of this matters to the bartenders, who refuse to serve you.  Fifteen minutes ago, you were the one who told them to close the bars in the first place, but they don’t seem to recognize you with the lights on.  You think about that, and the fact that you paid their wages and you paid for the booze, as you watch them box everything up.

    If the catering manager were around, he’d order them to give you anything you wanted, but you have no idea where he is.  You try paging him on the walkie talkie, but there’s no response.  You see him on the balcony overseeing the breakdown of the VIP area, not wearing his headset.  Your well thought out communications system, which worked like a charm during the event, has now been reduced to something just below that of the carrier pigeon.  You make your way upstairs and he apologizes to you, and orders a nearby waiter to take care of you.  The guy brings over one of those midget bottles of Diet Coke.  Apparently there’s no clean ice and the unused glassware and liquor is already back on the truck.  You crack open the bottle and can’t believe how quickly these guys are breaking the room down.  Mmmmm.  Nothing like warm soda.

    You sit down at a nearby cocktail table and put your feet up on a chair. The minute your butt hits the seat you feel the searing pain from your feet.  Your feet are killing you.  You realize you’ve probably been standing for eight hours straight.  Who would imagine your feet could get so sore from planning a party.  You may be physically and mentally shot, but you’re also strangely wired, and it’ll be at least 2:00 am before you finally fall asleep.

    You check in with the few remaining vendors loading up their trucks, make arrangements with the venue’s night manager to pick up some boxes the next day, and then head outside to hail a cab.  While you’re waiting (the trendy loft in the middle of nowhere is starting to annoy you now) you realize you haven’t eaten anything all night, so you buy a five dollar pretzel and a bottle of water from a street vendor.  For the last three hours you were surrounded by an army of waiters peddling a vast array of delectable hors d’oeuvres, all of which you selected and paid for, and yet your nourishment for the evening is worse than prison rations.  Ah, the glamorous life of a party planner.

    To take your mind off the culinary irony, you decide to go through the event’s gift bag.  You’re checking to see that the key inserts are there: the new pineapple-flavored vodka sampler (they sponsored the bar), the logo’d flip-flops, the charity flyer, etc.  But you’re also looking to see what random junk found its way into the bag at the eleventh hour.  You know it’s quality, not quantity, but your client has a hard time saying no to free shit.  A demo CD from some random artist you never heard of – garbage.  A $300 off coupon at Cartier – garbage (your client failed to catch the “$2,000 minimum purchase” clause on the back).  A sample magazine that bears no relation whatsoever to the host organization – people may read it, but it confuses the event’s message and undermines the other items.  A mini-pack of Crest White Strips – ok, this is a keeper.   Totally unrelated to anything, but everyone will use them.

    You close your eyes and reflect back on the event, the planning for which began four months ago.  For the most part everything went smoothly.  You know how easy it is for all the planning to be derailed by the most unexpected glitch, and you acknowledge that this one will go down in the books as a success.

    Every event has a “tipping point”, a critical moment after which everyone can shift to cruise control.  Sometimes it’s after the last award is presented, or after the product is launched, or after the CEO leaves the party.  But the moment is clearly tangible and you can feel the tension ease.  It happens in the blink of an eye, and then you’re over the hump.  It’s strangely anti-climactic, sort of like climbing a mountain.  After a huge amount of preparation and effort, you reach the top, look around at the view for a few minutes, and then head back down.

    You’ve learned over the years to recognize the tipping point and savor the moment, however fleeting.  Teaching younger event managers to recognize the tipping point of an event may be the most valuable lesson you give them.  You see them busy grappling with a million details, carrying a production binder that could stop a bullet, and you gently point out that, at this moment, the event gods are smiling on them, that everything is in harmony and that they should take a deep breath and appreciate the fact that they made all this happen.  If they’re lucky that moment will last a whole ten seconds, but it’s among the coolest ten seconds of their careers.

    This is the dark side of event planning, the part you just can’t quite explain to the hordes of people who want to change jobs and move into your industry.  The people who think your job is looking important with a walkie talkie on your head and checking Brad Pitt’s name off a guest list.  They don’t know about the warm soda during breakdown or the stale pretzels in the cab.  Even if you tell them, they don’t hear you.