Avoiding the Bermuda Triangle Boat: Dealing with Clients and Vendors Professionally, No Matter What
Written by Brianne Benelli, Perfection Events
It was at least the 8th time I had corrected this one Certificate of Liability Insurance for this one vendor. Maybe only the 4th, actually, but it felt like the 8th. Helplessness settled around me; short of switching to another language, I could think of no other way to phrase the directions more clearly for this person. On the heels of that helplessness came anger; short of switching to another blasted language, I could think of no other blasted way to phrase the blasted directions more clearly for this blasted person! How did this person's company function successfully if this was acceptable? How were people like this allowed to operate in society without supervision? Did nobody see how dangerous, and irritating, that was?
This is Event Planning, our chimeric wonderland. Maddening constituents, hiccups, road-blocks, and complications litter through creativity and organization with a heap of satisfaction at the end. You have to love it. Sometimes you get the event planning unicorns: dream teams, where you, your client, and your vendors are all very compatible. When you have that, everything you suggest is a good idea, "thank you" abounds, meetings are swift and accomplish much, flexibility and a can-do attitude permeate the process, and in the end you have elated clients and an event that brings a proud tear to your eye. For the most part though, an event planner's circle is saturated with normal people that bring you 1AM phone calls and texts, all-nighters, guest-list travesties, 8 straight changes to the same paragraph in the same document, requests for the impossible for little more than pennies, and so much more.
Obviously telling those people exactly how appealing they are is out of the question unless you were hoping to lose something like 90% of your constituency. So how do you deal with them? Type out rant emails and delete them without sending? Put up a very secret dart board with offenders' names on it? Pray to your deity of choice that they smite your foe? Not long ago I thought I hit pay-dirt with the answer when I came up with the Bermuda Triangle Boat. Free tickets for people with sub-par intelligence who would board their dream vacation straight into the Bermuda Triangle-and I defy any unintelligent person to escape the Bermuda Triangle; it's mystically foolproof.
It has since been pointed out to me that the Bermuda Triangle Boat isn't cost-effective. I maintain that it is worth it but I seem to be the sole enthusiast and without backers it won't get off the ground, or into the ocean, as it were. (Also, deities are notoriously remiss with the smiting, the dart board is just offensive, and the damage that could be done with an accidentally sent rant email gives me shivers just to think about, so those solutions are also out.) In the meantime, there are other, more feasible, solutions.
Be foolproof. Even more foolproof than the Bermuda Triangle.
When everyone around you is making mistakes, you don't make any, right from the very beginning. One instance of misinformation in the beginning can foul things up all the way up to the event. Include explicit directions with every ounce of information you send to clients, vendors, staff, contractors, and everyone else. Make sure you spell everything out and phrase it all simply, clearly, and in a well-organized fashion so that there is no chance of confusion.
Refine your systems.
Just because you're most comfortable with Microsoft Word or Excel or what-have-you, doesn't mean it's always the most effective tool. If you have masses of contact information, it should be kept in Excel no matter what, where it can be manipulated easily and mail merged as necessary. If you need to send out forms, use a system that is meant for that process instead of hodgepodging something together. Your best bet is to use an online form service. They don't malfunction, they don't get lost in anyone's email abyss, they collect all of the information and present it in an organized fashion, they make sure that all the information you insist on is provided, and they keep responsibility in the corners it ought to be. Keep the link to the form in an easily accessed location so nobody can lose it, and let recipients do their part. If your systems are refined, you can let them do their job confident that there will be no surprises while you focus elsewhere.
Set a Schedule.
At the very beginning of any process, set a schedule and make sure everyone involved has access to it. The more your people know, the more secure they are and the less often they will contact you for confirmations and assurances. It will also serve as a reminder. Nobody remembers anything unless you tell them, especially if it's something they don't want to do. Make sure your schedule includes deadlines to crack the whip and don't be afraid to get on anybody with work to deliver by a date. Better to be a slave driver than to get to the end of your process and be missing pieces.
Trim the Fat
Remember what you're trying to accomplish with your event, and your strategy to make that happen. If you accept that you're not having a party for the sake of a party, then you must also accept that whatever aspects you put into your event must also have purpose and must contribute to that goal. It is tactical at times to leave things out of your event that are superfluous. Don't be afraid to tell your client that what they ask is against their best interests. The more you bog down the event with the unnecessary, the more time you will spend hashing over minutia with a client who has been distracted from the goal, and the less you are able to focus on the important things.
Roll With It
All the preparation in the world will not prevent a snag or two because people are people and they cannot be controlled. You can prevent 99% of problems by being prepared, but if that 1% makes you panic, you're in the wrong business. Cardinal Rule: The Client should NEVER know that there is a problem. Volunteers didn't show up? AV isn't finished setting up and the guests are arriving? Vendor didn't deliver the right linens or props? Sweat on the inside. Your event will be that much more professional for it, and you'll find that the more you fake that you're coping easily, the more easily you'll cope. Having contingency plans and knowing who to call about any particular problem are both good, but if you're stressing about the problem you won't be able to think around it and implement the solutions. Don't get mad; roll with it.
While none of these are nearly as satisfying sending certain business associates floating blissfully towards the Bermuda Triangle, they should cut down on the time you spend imagining it. You can truly enjoy your less-than-perfect contacts. With thorough organization and a commitment to flexibility you'll hit fewer snags, and will greet the snags with plans instead of frustrated scramble. When you work in a business so entrenched in communication and interaction with people, things will always be surprising, interesting, and a little tangled. If you're ready for it all, you'll see the beauty in that.
Image courtesy of JSajana