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Asking the Right Questions

Posted on April 04, 2007

By Joan Eisenstodt

Years ago, our MPI Chapter (the Potomac chapter) did a great skit for a monthly program.  In it, meeting planners called hotel sales people to book meetings.  The planners would start with “I want to book a meeting.”  The sales person would ask “For how many?” and the planner would respond “I don’t know – maybe 50 – maybe 500.”  The sales person would ask “When do you want to have the meeting?” and the planner would respond “My boss said sometime this year.” 

Finally, after the sales person asked more questions for which the planner had broad or no answers, the sales person would put the call on hold and pretend to check – but check what? 

In the very first case in which I testified as an expert witness, I was stunned that a corporate planner booked and canceled the same meeting three times – really! – because the planner kept forgetting to ask if the CEO’s schedule would accommodate participation at the meeting! 

How can anyone plan and book a meeting without specific information?  If your organization has not asked the right questions, how can you develop the information and provide the answers to the facility? to the participants? for the marketing pieces? to secure the speakers?  How can meetings be planned without getting to the deeper answers which can only come from asking all the questions?

For many of you, answers would be easier to develop than questions.  You want to get moving – you have deadlines to meet!  You’re used to the short answers.  When you ask “why are you considering holding a face to face meeting?” or “why are we having this meeting at all?”, you may be told “because” or “my boss said to plan this meeting” or my favorite, “because we’ve always had one at this time of year.”

Taking it the next step, you might then ask “Where do you want to hold the meeting?” and be told “Somewhere warm.”  Ah yes, that helps!  “Warm” narrows it down to … many places.  Without coming up with more questions, you won’t even be able to narrow it down to parts of the world or even to areas of one country.

If asked about the budget, the answer, before Q-storming™ may be “Don’t overspend.”  Overspend over what?  You have no numbers on which to base a preliminary budget!   

Your turn again.  Begin to think of questions that might impact meeting logistics –the when, where and budget and see how many you can generate – here, in the Miguru comments, or on your computer in a list, or if you think best with pen or pencil and paper, have at it.  Think about all the experiences you’ve had that would have had different outcomes if you’d just have asked the questions first.


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Vicky Betzig, CMP

I have said for years that I would book with the first hotel that, when I first contacted them to discuss booking a meeting, would ask as the very first question "what are the goals and objectives of your meeting/attendees?" I've been planning meetings for more than 15 years and it hasn't happened yet!

Kelly Rush

Unfortunately, I think that's more of a question the conference services manager would have (and if THEY'RE not asking, you're definitely in trouble.

That being said, I'm trying! :-)

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