As I watch the snow hurl itself from the skies to pile up on the sills of my home office windows, it’s hard to imagine that this time last week I was lounging on the trampoline of a 38-foot catamaran in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. But, distant as the memory seems now, I was (and yes, it was fabulous!).
And, as always, as I sailed and snorkeled and swam and ate altogether too much mahi-mahi fish, plantains, and rice and pigeon peas, my mind of course wandered to meetings and the wonderful people who plan them. Also as always, I ended up thinking about the parallels I could draw from this sailing experience to what you all do every day. Here are a few things that came to mind.
Beware the Dinghy Dudes
For the first time, the boat charter company allowed us to spend the night on the west coast of St. Vincent, a gorgeous but sometimes a bit dangerous area (extreme poverty among the local people and foreign visitors on sailing yachts aren’t always a good mix). But since we got the green light to try a few spots now deemed safe, we decided to tuck into Keartons Bay, a gorgeous tiny harbor right next to Wallilabou, where the opening scenes of the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie was filmed.
The cruise guide warned us that as far as several miles out, we may be accosted by guys in dinghies promising to help us with our mooring lines. Do not accept their offers, the guide said. Likewise, when we called the Rock Side Café, the restaurant that basically runs the tiny harbor, to reserve a mooring and a spot for dinner, they were very emphatic that we shake those outer dinghy dudes loose and that they would have some guys waiting to help us. Not only were the unofficial greeters trying to horn in on the action of those who sunk the moorings, they may not know what they’re doing, could foul the mooring lines and cause other damage to both the harbor and our boat.
Sure enough, the dinghy dudes descended like gnats before we could even see Keartons, and they were very resistant to the word “no.” But we escaped them eventually and found good, reliable help once we entered the bay (it took four of them and two of us to get the bow and stern lines secured—it’s a tricky little spot, but well worth the effort).
Meetings Parallel: Don’t let your attendees get dinghyed! Your event may not have dinghy dudes, but you likely have equally pesky, potentially business-draining guest room poachers and pirates, not to mention suitcasers, outboarders, and lobby rats buzzing around your attendees and trying to steal business from the exhibitors and sponsors who are paying the freight.
We were well warned, so we knew not to accept what the dinghy dudes were offering—how well informed are your attendees? Do they know the economic harm these folks can cause to the meeting, and potentially to themselves in the case of room block pirates who may just take the money and run without even having a room block actually secured?
Dinghy Dudes Part 2: Cay Considerations
One of our favorite spots in the Grenadines is the Tobago Cays, home to a turtle sanctuary and a view to what feels like the ends of the earth. However, when we first started going there lo those many years ago, we were inundated by dinghy dudes who wanted to sell us ice, fish, fruit, banana bread, t-shirts—you name it, they were selling it.
They’d start to swarm as soon as we entered the Cays, and all day long they’d be smacking into the side of the boat and trying to hawk something. While this still happened on St. Vincent to a lesser extent on this trip, in the Cays, they have figured out that this is not good for business and come up with some plan. I’m not sure exactly how it’s organized, but it seems like each boat gets assigned one main guy as you enter who will be your contact point. If he can’t supply what you want, he’ll send someone who will, but the incessant boat bonking and shouting has diminished hugely.
Meetings Parallel: Manage your supplier-attendee interactions carefully. I’ve been to some meetings where there are so many suppliers that, to quote Jimmy Buffett, participants feel like there are “fins to the left, fins to the right, and you’re the only bait in town.” Sure, the trade show floor is great, but do you also structure other ways suppliers and participants can interact without the experience becoming overwhelming?
Know When It's Time to Buckle Down
St. Vincent and the Grenadines can be a bit challenging in terms of wind and swells, and we’ve had a few “holy #$%^” moments on past trips, but we rarely pulled out the harnesses the charter company provides unless the situation was really scary. That’s because those harnesses usually were fairly incomprehensible jumbles of straps and buckles that didn’t appear to come together in any way that would actually make you safer, assuming you could figure out what goes where.
But this year, the charter company had just bought state-of-the-art harnesses that were easy to don, lightweight and relatively comfortable to wear, and easy to hook onto safety lines. When the wind gusts hit 40 knots per hour and the swells started towering over the bow, we put those suckers on, and kept wearing them even on calmer days just to be on the safe side.
Meetings Parallel: In-vest in your equipment. It pays to provide the best for your attendees, whether that means a state-of-the-art audience-response system, a meeting space that’s conducive to learning, or whatever other equipment they need to understand and retain what you’re trying to get across. If your app is too cumbersome to use, they probably won’t use it. Not a matter of potential life or death like it could be while sailing, but important if you don’t want to leave your participants at sea during your event.
Don't Just Hand Them Another Line: Get Perky
Indulge me on one last item, though it was more general travel than sailing-related: Perks should mean something. For example, our non-stop short flight from St. Vincent to Barbados turned into a six-hour shuttle-and-wait tour of the local island airports, which meant we landed with very little time to make our connection to Miami. Thanks to my husband’s preferred status on American Airlines, we got a supervisor to get us through immigration, customs, and security and onto the plane with just moments to spare. I’m pretty sure if we were riding on my non-existent status, we’d probably still be in Barbados.
But when we got to Miami and got into the TSA PreCheck line, well, there were no PreCheck perks. Why they had a designated PreCheck line that ran into the regular line, actually making it longer than the regular line, I do not know, but it made an already long trip just that much more tiresome.
Meetings Parallel: If you promise a VIP experience, deliver what you promise. It's better not to set an expectation than to fail to deliver on it, whether it’s an opportunity to hob-nob with some big shots, or get the best seats in the house, or room upgrades.
What non-meeting-related experiences do you find yourself comparing to planning? (I can't be the only one who does this!)