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Nothing Accidental

Posted on January 29, 2007

By Kelly Rush

"Nothing in good writing is ever accidental."  --Dr. Bernie Baker, PhD.

What does this have to do with working in banquets, or the event & meeting planning industry?  Everything!  As a writing and rhetoric major in college, one of the requirements for my senior seminar was to assist incoming college students develop their writing portfolios.  Over and over again the big questions were: "Why do we have to study grammar and spelling?  Does it really matter?"  According to Dr. Bernie Baker, absolutely.  Let me explain—what he meant by "nothing in good writing being accidental" is that when writers break the rules, it’s for effect.  If you don’t know the rules, you can’t break them effectively. 

Our industry is about creating an experience for our attendees and guests.  Like writers of novels, short stories, or poems who create experiences for the reader, we make decisions day in and day out which effect an experience for those who attend events.  Over the next week, I’ll clarify/highlight/illuminate/examine how what we do (or don’t do) during the planning process impacts the outcome for attendees’ experience through an operational lens.  As Patti Shock, professor and chair of the Tourism and Convention Administration Department at the Harrah College of Hotel Administration at UNLV,  pointed out several years ago in an email to the MIMlist [the forerunner of the MiForum List], fewer and fewer catering managers come into their positions from a culinary background.  As this trend increases, catering and conference services managers are selling without a true understanding of what it actually takes to execute their menus.  Similarly, as the meeting industry matures, fewer and fewer planners come to the table with knowledge of facility operations.  Consequently, planners develop assumptions—some correct, some false—about what it takes to execute their requests. 

Some may take this statement as "fightin' words", but the concept of this week, (Re)Visioning Planning, is intended to educate us all by widening our view of the process that allows us to create that moment for each attendee where time and space stand still and leave our events, whatever they may be, with an epiphany—whether that be the thrill of learning a new concept or whether they look at the world around them in a new light. 

Five years ago as the assistant to the event coordinator at the a philanthropic organization in Boston, I began to begin to frame (to paraphrase T.H. White) the big picture of my meeting industry career.  Throughout the numerous discussions and conversations with professionals in the industry, the conversations kept returning to the concept of "knowing the rules.".  Having left my assistant position to return to the restaurant industry that was my home, I decided to move to Chicago to become a conference services manager—that way, I'd learn the "rules" of how hotels do business and what’s negotiable, making me a more effective meeting professional.  In order to do so, I decided that I could take my event experiences and my background as a server in the restaurant biz, and work for the season as a banquet captain—valuable experience for the transition into conference services.  I got stuck. 

I got stuck because I realized that in order to be an effective conference services manager, there was so much more to learn about operational execution—because in order to be truly effective, I had to not only understand my client’s needs, but balance them against the constraints of the operational environment.    I needed to be able to negotiate expectations with knowledge from working on both sides of the industry.

I realized that as a banquet captain, and as an aspiring meeting planner, I can be the bridge in the planning process.  This week, I’ll share what I’ve learned and I hope that we will (re)write some rules together.


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Gloria Nelson, CSEP

Kelly, it is so great to read your post and learn of your background and how you got into the industry!

For many of us who speak, we talk about the myriad of ways to get your foot in the door and transition from one level to the next.

One of the most interesting experiences I think I have observed was a student who was performing "learn and earn responsposibilities" on a setup for 997 guests in an exhibition hall that was converted into a themed special event venue. At the conclusion of the setup, this student (mid-life career transition) turned and said, "Well, I know what I don't what to do"!

It opened the door to discussion of the many opportunities there are in our industry and how to "get at them". Sometimes, the position of planner with "everything" resting squarely on our shoulders is simply too much for one individual....and that's a good thing, because there are many other jobs that need filling that are in other equally important roles.

Thanks for sharing your background for openers...and I am looking forward to your other posts this week!

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