One Way To Minimize Conflict: Know Who You’re Working With

Everyone always talks about communication in those boring seminars you go to that seem to point out the obvious while giving you an excuse not to be at work.  Yes, we all need to communicate — write down details, follow through, tell people things — the basics.  Professionals know this and do it very well, yet there is always room for error.  No matter how good you are at planning an event, life wouldn’t be life without its little surprises.  You can’t prevent every mistake but you CAN do your best avoid them.  I could write a whole book about that topic but seeing as this is a blog I’ll keep it short and sweet by going over one of the most important aspects of an event: Know Who You’re Working With!

Duh, I know who I’m working with, what are you talking about?

That’s probably what you thought when I said that just now, didn’t you?  Well trust me you can never be too careful.  It’s surprising how quickly disorganization can occur when someone new shows up that you hadn’t heard about who sometimes bring along details you didn’t know about either. This can happen more easily it seems with 3rd party companies who have a few individuals working with their client who may include a few people while working with you and your staff.  This is where all the organization mentioned in the last post is very important.  This is also the point that defines a good planner and a great planner based on how you handle these situations. Part of it is personality and a big part is information.

If you are hosting the party make sure you know all of your point of contacts with every group involved.  Who’s your point of contact at the venue?  Who will be delivering food, flowers, linens, a/v, etc.?  Make sure you have names and approximated arrival times and check in to be sure they’ve arrived within that time frame– put a reminder on your calendar if know you’re going to be busy.  If you are not hosting the party but involved with the plans, ask your host those questions.  This is an area where my learning curve has grown and is still growing because sometimes people come up with things I would never thought of, and therefore didn’t think to ask about and for whatever reason they forgot to tell me.

Part of understanding your client is knowing the purpose for the event and what they require.  I deal mostly with business people bringing clients and/or having dinner meetings.  We still get the birthdays, bachelor(ette) parties, social celebrations & charity events.  At all of these types of events the people who call us have a plan: to entertain, to improve business, raise money or just have a good time with good service and good food.  So once I understand the purpose I get basic info — how many people, what time, any a/v, special requests, etc.  One thing I’m working on getting better at myself is solidifying the point guard — that person who covers every detail of the evening and whom I should be taking any additional requests from.  Clearing this beforehand, as I have come to learn, is very important though sometimes difficult to distinguish.  While John may have been the point of contact, maybe there’s another guy (or gal) who seems to be calling the shots or is pushing for something not discussed previously.  Knowing your point guard can even be more important at social events because when you deal with families and non-business groups who not only don’t have a corporate card covering the bill but based on their roles or interactions with the group, may feel more entitled to add to the evening whether or not they’ve orchestrated it or are even paying for it.

Example: The first wedding reception I organized.

I met with the bride — she was nice and lovely and I was really looking forward to helping her with one of the most important days of her life.  We’d been working many months and I remember how excited I was seeing her come up the stairs in her beautiful dress.  Everything went wonderfully until the next day.  She called upset about the bill.  According to the lead server family members insisted on having red wine upon arrival for all guests to toast for the bride and groom.  They insisted and persisted because they said this was their cultural tradition.  The bride & groom who were paying for the bill were upset saying they never wanted it and asked who authorized pouring all this wine?  What I didn’t think about?  The bride is never there to cover last-minute details at a reception beforehand.  What we didn’t have was a point guard.  So when the mother of the bride says she wants something, you’d think she’d be the best person to advise on the situation.  My guess is that part of the trouble was that they doubled what they were “anticipating” to spend once all the liquor and wines had been said & done.  There was probably a next-day aftershock that lead them combing over the bill.  And I certainly don’t blame them. While I worked with them to stay within their means as best as I could, we can’t guarantee their guests will do the same.  Any bridal planner probably would have slapped me in the face (and rightfully so) because knowing who can call the shots when the bride isn’t around is a kind of detail that make a big difference.  I was so disappointed in myself that I didn’t think of that.  Weddings are very different from corporate events and while it was my first one, it was something I really took to heart.  Since then I’ve gotten much better at ironing out that kind of information because in this industry there are a million personalities, demands and expectations but at the end of the day if there’s a mistake you have to do your best to correct it while answering to someone.

So take it from me and do what they taught you in kindergarten:  pick a buddy and stick with ’em!

Have a question about event planning?  Have a great tip, information or a story to share?  
Email me: thechicagoeventplanner@gmail.com


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