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The fire extinguisher

wdwtdwyguThese days, my son’s going nuts for any truck that has a horn and a flash light. If there’s one within 500 meters around, he’ll spot it and I’ll hear him mimic the sound for a good minute.

This morning, as I was dropping him off to day care, we noticed a fire truck that was parked nearby. We stopped and we watched the truck as it was leaving the area with its lights on. My son was mesmerized. As we were standing there, a fireman in the truck noticed us. He then waved at us, and gave us a full-teeth smile.

My son was overjoyed of course, but at that point I realized that the happiest person in the situation was actually the fireman; How awesome can it be to get up every morning and do a job that inspires admiration and respect in the eyes of the children of the world?

So it made me realize that I too, was somehow seeking this feeling as a meeting planner… I like to see the recognition in my client’s eyes as I deliver the final debrief. I like to be the savior of the day when the client tells me the presentation that’s supposed to be projected in 5 minutes has been updated and is being sent to me by email as we speak.

I may not have a fancy outfit, but do I extinguish fires every day!


Written by Sophie Deville, Project Manager, Legend Conference Planning
www.legendconferences.com

The Locust Invasion

Grasshopper

We’re event professionals. We love what we do, we don’t do this solely on a pay-the-rent-job approach. We’re committed and we put a lot of ourselves in delivering a service that matches our highest standards. So what do we do when Murphy’s law takes control and the task is to limit the catastrophe? Here is a tale about an event that went wrong, why, and how it could have been avoided.

This happened years ago, to a global firm who’d been hired to run registration and housing for an event of 2000+ attendees in a large facility with 3 different hotels. That event was later remembered as “the event where everything went wrong” – and the simple mention of the client’s name still sends chills down to the spine of those who’ve been on that team.

Mistake number one: Too much pressure – self-inflicted.

The event was for a new client, big gun, corporate, with huge opportunity for future business. There was a lot of pressure to succeed, and impress the client. And this lead to overcommitment. For the future, remember that 1. Any client deserves full motivation and dedication, and 2. Committing to landing on the moon without the proper rocket is like shooting yourself in the foot. Just don’t, for a thousand obvious reasons.

Mistake number two: Hoping for the best without planning for the worst.

Best practices included using a new and shiny event management software, which had just been implemented but was still in the beta test mode. Its potential was humongous, but some features were still in the development phase 3 days prior the show… including rooming list reporting and badge printing. 3 days to come up with a rooming list system for 7’000 room nights and printing of 2000 badges through mail merge is like learning you’ll be asked to tie the knots of your parachute before jumping – you just know you have to be quick and that there is no room for failure. So when you fail at Plan B, you’d better have a solid Plan C.

Mistake number three: Overconfidence in your skills

You assume that if plan A doesn’t work out you’ll succeed at plan B. ENHHH! (Sound of the wrong answer buzzer). Any person who’s used Word mail merge in the past knows what kind of nightmare it can become to print badges because of an inch of margin… and can lead to printing badges until 4am in the morning.  Lesson learned for sure.

Mistake number four: Sacrificing yourself

One of the client’s requirements was to have the badges (once they were printed properly of course eh!) distributed by the hotels to the attendees upon check in. The team’s decision was to split the badge distribution based on daily arrivals to ease the hotels’ task, even if it wasn’t required. Why they had decided to shoot themselves in the foot the story doesn’t say but with all of the last minute changes in hotel and registration, keeping track of re-prints, distribution dates and locations made it a bad decision all around.

Mistake number five: Expanding the area of responsibility

Badges were personally delivered to hotel staff by the team for distribution upon check in. However about 500 badges in their badge holders got “misplaced” by one of the hotels. How that happened no one will ever know, still, this got added that to the “Catastrophe List” – and resulted in the re-print of 500 badges.

Mistake number six: relying on (your) technology

Towards the end of a long day, as the team was working its way through onsite changes and updates, it suddenly became impossible to access the remote servers. Assuming it was an internet connection problem, the IT team was called back onsite to repair the network while they were at one of the social events. After spending 30 minutes testing the network, they realized that this was never an internet access problem. The team’s own office IT team, back in the headquarter office was actually doing a maintenance on the remote servers and hadn’t checked if a team was onsite first. If you were trying to install a cold war atmosphere between two office departments, this would be the way to go.

Mistake number seven: Not disclosing you’re in trouble

If you confess to your client that you’re not up to what they’re asking, this is like calling your own Time of Death. So when the client asks for reports that are technically impossible to run from the system, but means data has to be manually processed (2000 attendees, 30 sessions…), would you respond “we can’t do this”? Well those said “Sure we can”. Even if they were fully aware that it meant taking ages and leading to a mental breakdown.

So how to avoid this?

  • Acknowledge your limitations. I personally think this is a demonstration of maturity.
  • Test plans B. Because they may just be the only way to go.
  • Don’t try to complicate things – no one asks you to make it more complicated than it should be. Simple does not mean bad. It could really mean efficient.
  • Ask for help. When the planners struggle, it undeniably “infects” the show even though it’s not the intention. And you’d be surprised how understanding and helpful clients can be.
  • Take the time to think things through. Looking back, what this team mostly lacked was some quality time to review milestones. When you’re sinking, you try to cope with the emergencies without thinking ahead… but that quality time is necessary to avoid sinking even deeper and faster.
  • Communicate, communicate, and communicate. Make sure everyone is aware of what’s at stake, what’s they supposed to do and that they swim with their own buoy duck.

Looking back, this event could have been smoother if the team had taken the time to step back and re-think their contingency plan. But as they were struggling with badges at night, they were only wondering what catastrophe would happen next… a locust invasion maybe?


Written by Sophie Deville, Project Manager, Legend Conference Planning
www.legendconferences.com

Meeting Planners Resolution for 2013…Tips to a Successful Year!

Here we are sitting at our desks with all these New Year’s resolutions floating around… all best intentions ready to take on the new year. But maybe we believe that we are so organized that we don’t need to add new resolutions to our list for the office…?

do we?

Both professional and personal resolutions are an important element and the successful well rounded professional that we are, are no exception to the rule… so let’s start there: let’s choose our top 3 for each!

Personal
1. Balance your life – You need to “schedule” time for yourself, take a walk for 30 minutes, find an exercise program you can do and add healthy food choices to your daily meals. It adds the fuel you need to maximize your critical thinking, remember those finer details and keep your sanity when those tight deadlines are looming. Let’s start with doing this 3 days a week for the next 2 months… you can do it!
2013 Resolution Image
2. Disconnect from those electronics – Smartphone, tablet, computer whatever electronic device keeps you handcuffed to the global world…its time to turn them off. Uninterrupted quality time with your family and friends is important. Kids grow up too fast, the world is moving too quickly and you don’t want to lose those valuable moments with your loved ones. That goes for everyone…not just you! Let’s start with 1 or 2 days per week for the next month…see how it goes. You won’t believe how much more efficient you become and how expectations of others are modified. Let’s face it…less stress too…try it!

3. Pay it forward! Do something special for others. It’s good for your karma. During the Xmas season we see the generosity of others in many ways, through contributions to charities, complete strangers offering to pay for the next cars order in the drive thru or to volunteering at a shelter, gift exchange program or helping a neighbor. Do this year round, every month… why do we have to wait and do it only during the Holiday season. It’s the right thing to do and puts a smile on someone’s face and yours too!

Professional
1. De-clutter that desktop screen on your computer. Let’s face it, we use that “folder” much too often and leave final and valuable documents there. Then when its time to locate it, we don’t think to look there. Which brings us to Part B of this resolution; take this time to set up your folders under Documents for the new year. This allows you the time to organize yourself. New projects, this should be the first task you do to ensure an organized folder system. Get ready, it saves you a tremendous amount of time searching for that document when you hit save and don’t know where it went. A messy desktop will be a thing of the past!

2. Back up – Back up – Back up. Recently a partner had her computer stolen onsite at an event… her 3-day old back-up saved her from an unthinkable situation, after all, the only harm was a missing piece of electronics… but you can’t afford to lose months of work in a snap (Ignore the pun!). By now you should know that Murphy’s Law’s your first attendee to any event/conference you plan.. so give him your best seat!

3. Invest on your internal organization. Create template documents and folder. Are you always more or less using the same folder filing system? Why not create a blank one you can copy paste and use at will? This way you’ll find documents faster, you know exactly where to look for you’ve had been using the same location in past project. You don’t want to waste your precious time by doing things you’ve done a thousand times before. Your staff can benefit from this too, create master documents where format is already defined and designed, this way no one loses time on details already taken care of.

Ok…Top 4 … its important!

4. Network! You wouldn’t put all of your trust in a complete stranger, would you? By now you should know that 99.9% of business comes mostly from connections and “I’ve heard they did a great job”… so go out there and connect! We live in a world where nothing falls from the sky … so get out there, set the example, take time to train and share, be generous… ROI (Return on Investment) the awards will be plentiful.

Many want to set goals to be met by the end of the year with the best intentions … but often we find we are too hard on ourselves and those goals are way too ambitious… the key here is to start with baby steps instead. Sometimes its easier to meet objectives when you start with some “easy” ones that you can accomplish in 1 to 2 months…is it sounding like a critical path/action plan to you yet?

So let’s put down some goals that are attainable for the next few months…we can always add more later…haven’t we done that before!

Please share your top 3 with us…no idea is a bad one!

Written by Laura Chajkowski, CMP CMM, Senior Project Manager, Legend Conference Planning
www.legendconferences.com

There’s “Service” in “Customer Service”

SThis is an open letter to Customer Services Call Centers (CSCC).
Let me start by stating that I am not making this a universal case; I am sure that there are some stellar CSCC out there, but just not the last two I had to use.

Dear Call Center Directors,

I will speak up for all the people “who don’t have time for this” and I’ll take the responsibility if you fire back. Please allow me to sacrifice myself on the Customer Without Service Altar if need be. I am addressing this letter today to share my experience with your people: your unfortunate and remote 1st level representatives answering the telephone all day, responding to questions from people like me, seeking answers.

Here are my 5 pleas when I call you:

1.    Please answer the phone
I am calling you, and that’s not because I want to share weather updates or family news. I am taking the time to call because I have a real question and I want you to take the time to give me a real answer.
As a reminder, I am paying for this service through my plan/purchase/whatever, and I am paying again through your very expensive call center phone number, which also requires me to spend 80% of my cell phone plan in waiting time. I don’t want to get stuck on the “all representatives are currently busy assisting other customers, your estimated waiting time is 6 minutes but we all know that you’ll have time to complete your IRS form” planet. Please pick-up as I’m finished with my IRS form now.

2.    Please understand I am unique
I am one of your xx-million customers, but I am not a sheep. Please don’t treat me like one, I do not like it. I chose you as my supplier so please recognize the honor by acknowledging me back. I’d like an answer that suits my needs/problem/crisis/internet-is-down-the-end-of-the-world-is-actually-happening-how-am-I-going-to-survive-situation? Please ask your representatives to use their common sense when I ask a question. Their priority should be set on understanding me and not on trying to find “a” box” to put me in from a complex scenario based on common issues. Again I am not just anyone, I am your customer.

3.    Don’t shoot yourself in the foot
Please ask your newbies, or anyone I speak with to update the history of my file so that I don’t have to explain my problem all over again the third time I’m calling. Not that I love you that much, I have a life and I’d rather do something else right now; but you said you would call me back and you didn’t, so I am calling you again. And this third person I am speaking to is unfortunately bearing for all the previous ones.
I will apologize to this person, I will tell that innocent soul that I understand it’s not his/her direct fault, unfortunately as the first line of defense,  I have to let my inner Darth Vader take over as my Luke Skywalker failed the last two times.

4.    Man-Up! (Or Woman-Up accordingly!!)
Please face up to your responsibilities. Noticed how the Manager is never here when I ask for him/her? Do acknowledge there is a real problem for which you may be responsible for. Honestly, if you thought the success of a call center lies in a short response time, think again. If your customer service can’t provide solutions or proper help, it’s simply useless. Train your people so that they focus on problem solving. Allow them to take it to the next level when necessary and ask this next level to roll up their sleeves. I wish you had to use your own services to understand how regular customers feel when they want to speak with someone with decision-power.

5.    Don’t assume I am stupid.
Who am I to judge if your people are qualified or not? I would assume they are, I would think you hire and train professionals to provide me with educated answers. I may not be a specialist in your field/industry, but that does not me an ignorant. But wait a minute. what if I had more credentials than them??

* Call Center #1 – Internet Service Provider.

My box is dead following to a power outage. Plugging it does not turn any light on. I try to reboot, play Tetris with all kind of buttons, it remains lifeless and useless. RIP Internet Box, I’ll replace you with no hard feelings, you’ve served me well over the past 6 years but I have to move on. Farewell.
Easy diagnostic don’t you think? Yet regardless on my insisting to simply replace the device, the rep still spends 20 minutes running all kind of network tests (x3, see point #3 above), and tells me I have to test it in a store or at a friend’s (I swear he literally suggested that. Unbelievable). I am a meeting planner not a Network Engineer so what’s my clue? Well you’ll be happy to hear that my husband’s a System Engineer. Gotcha. I guess that makes him qualified enough to declare the device deceased doesn’t it? Believe it or not I still had to unleash Darth Vader to get a new box.

* Call Center #2 – Online Holiday Booking

While booking the next holidays online, I read that transportation specifics of my all-inclusive package indicate that flight details will be confirmed between one week and the day before departure. I am sorry, I am a meeting planner and I don’t do last-minute planning. Plus, I have a degree in Tourism, so I am qualified to work as a Travel Agent, I know how the system works. So please, Mr. Customer Representative, do not tell me regular airlines “don’t plan flights so far out” when departure’s in 5 weeks. I will become very angry at you if you try to question my intelligence.

Dear Call Center Director, I hope you’ll take my letter seriously. I wish I didn’t have to call you but I do. All I ask is that you consider me as important – if not more important – than a potential customer… did you know it takes less to retain than to recruit…? Please retain me, or I’ll give you my “It’s not me, it’s you” break-up line.

Written by Sophie Deville, Project Manager, Legend Conference Planning
www.legendconferences.com

There’s “Office” in Home Office

SWorking from home is becoming a real trend and those who experience it will go on and on about the benefits of it: productivity, flexibility, healthier life, more quality time… pretty much all agree. But now and then, when I discuss this topic with people working in a classic office environment, I hear the same recurring statement:  “You work from home? You must feel lonely!”

Come on. Please get rid of the idea that my days are filled in with crying in the corner of my office wrapped up in a fleece blanket while finishing a Ben & Jerry’s jar.  (If that was the situation I’d be choosing the Chocolate Fudge Brownie though).

I swear I don’t feel cast away. I am connected to the world and the world is connected to me. When it’s not an Outlook email popping up, it’s a Skype message, or the telephone ringing. And while waiting for the moderator of the conference call to join, the other team members and I get to socialize, no need to stand by the coffee machine to talk about [insert random coffee machine conversation topic here]. I am connected to other team members and oh! Do they know how to reach out when they have a question or need something done ASAP.

The good thing here is that I can answer any call in my slippers. Not that I actually do it, but my office is MY place. I am in a comfort zone, peaceful and quiet, no white noise in the back. And while I can only see their faces on-screen, I am pretty sure my co-workers do attend that conference call in slippers. I don’t have concrete evidence, but there’s no way you can be that productive if you’re wearing 4 inch heels at work.

Second common statement I hear is: “I’d spend my day watching TV”. I am 100% positive that the person saying this has NEVER watched TV during the day. A little background here: My Home-Office is located in France where the Day TV program primarily consists in:

– 10th Rebroadcasts of German TV shows involving a cop and dog, first aired in the early 80’s given the type of houseboat car the cop’s driving and the fancy brown & orange wallpaper in the background
– Natural disasters movies involving a picture perfect family and lame special effects; where everyone ends up safe, happy and thankful for the avalanche/tsunami/meteorite crash (select all that apply) that brought them closer.
– Cooking TV-shows involving the death of a conger by a mean and dedicated lady, for a recipe that’s supposed to be completed in 5 hours and 12 minutes, although they were miraculously able to restrict it to the half-hour show – but who eats conger anyway?

Tempted to watch TV during the day? Checked. And here are some extra reasons not to:

1. When your client trusts you, you want to do everything that gives them good reason to do so.
2. You are hired to deliver. By demonstrating that you can, you will receive repeat business so roll up these sleeves!
3. When you are an employee, you report to someone. Reporting to the client directly is no different. You have to deliver and you’ll look bad if you don’t. And you’ll feel good when you do.

Of course I have more flexibility. But one of the key to success is to scrupulously stick to strict office hours. If I have to shorten them, I catch up on some other time. Not a problem, my office is literally a step away so I can hop in and hop out quickly if need be.
And that’s not a constraint because I have chosen to be an independent meeting planner, so I am betting on myself. Up to me to manage my tasks accordingly, when I get up in the morning I know I have to report to the ultimate boss… Me! And I’m telling you, you don’t want Me to mess with you!

And to those telling me about the temptations of the home chores: uh-uh again. When you consider something as a chore during your spare time, you can’t expect the light of the day to make it sexier. Oh no I will never be tempted to scratch that dried-out frying pan over anything else.

Of course the list of benefits of working from home extends over productivity and flexibility:
– Reduced costs – gas, insurance, meals…
– Reduced stress, no need to lean on that horn hoping the line will move!
– Learning curve… if you didn’t know how to do it, well that’s your opportunity to learn!
– You’re everyone: the CEO, the webmaster, the queen of copy machine and printers, the high qualified tech fixing that light bulb. So when you’re running an event, your skill range is an asset, and “yes, I know exactly what kind of plug you need sir, let me help you with that”
– You become a creative person. “It’s not working this way? Ok I’ll find another way, but I’ll make it work for sure!”
– When your client succeeds, that’s definitely thanks to you.  Talk about an ego booster!
– One of my favorite benefits: working with “grown-ups”. People who understand what’s at stake, what are the outcomes of commitment and hard work. Well ok you may not get along with everyone all the time but you usually find yourself working with other independent planners like you, who want to get the job done in the best possible way.  Good bye inefficient office gossips, hello “consider it done”.

I also have a couple of extra off-record benefits to list… but not sure you’ll find them on other articles though:
– I never queue for the coffee machine. And the coffee’s actually made of… real coffee.
– I still speak to real people: the day care ladies whom I brief and debrief with every day, with complete action plan and KPI’s reporting on my son’s daily activity. You’re an event planner or you’re not.
– When I bring cake to the office, I don’t share.
– These slippers are so comfy.
– I get to pick the music every time.
– There is no internal policy telling me that I can’t have beverages on my desk, although maybe I needed one that one time when gravity proved stronger than my will power and definitely more efficient than my yelling “noooooo!!!” at the coffee mug.
– My favorite pen will not go on a field trip on another person’s desk.
– There will always be staples in my stapler.
– I never miss any delivery. Or I get to legitimately complain to the delivery company pretending I wasn’t at home when they rang.
– Bad hair days are actually not that bad if no one sees them!

I could go on and on about other benefits but I think you caught my drift… I’m one of those who love working from home, and can only find benefits to it. And next time people look at me with doubtful eyes, I’ll ask if their co-workers curl up on their laps to keep them warm like my cat does.

Written by Sophie Deville, Project Manager, Legend Conference Planning
www.legendconferences.com

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