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When to Embrace Change—and When to Hold Your Ground

A veteran planner explains how to push back tactfully but effectively when a proposed change isn’t for the better.

During the 12-hour educational marathon hosted by Meeting Professionals International on April 11—Global Meetings Industry Day—one session presenter touched on a delicate issue that surely had all the business-event planners in attendance nodding along:

Yes, change is essential and inevitable. But there must be boundaries for change in the course of planning a big meeting, and planners are responsible for enforcing those boundaries. Those who don’t are only inviting failure.

That was the message from Huong Nguyen, CEO and founder of Shiloh Events. She told the GMID audience that building out business events “means there will be constant change. Every meeting element—the budget, the agenda, the food and beverage, the production, all of it—will go through several iterations as the planning goes on. So, you have to treat change as your partner rather than your enemy.”

To do that, Nguyen advised planners “to create backup plans for event spaces, session presenters, technology, and any other element” that will have an impact on the attendee experience. In addition, “rehearsals are so important for planners to learn what type of glitches could happen, and how to solve or work around them if they do happen. There should be a plan B for everything.”

Fighting Off Detrimental Change
Over the 12 years she has operated Shiloh Events, Nguyen has encountered her share of executive decisionmakers who come to the event-planning process in its late stages and want to make wholesale changes. For both the budget and the attendee experience, however, this is a recipe for disaster—and Nguyen said the blame will fall on the planner rather than the decision-maker who forced the changes.

To protect herself from such situations, Nguyen brings facts to the table that “get others to understand the impact of change, both the good and bad. After doing that, you can say, ‘It can be done, but you can see that there is nowhere near enough benefit to spending all the time and money necessary to make that change.”

Screen Shot 2024-04-15 at 1.57.38 PM.pngNguyen (in photo) provided a real-life example: Just 30 days out from a technology company’s 3,000-person customer conference, one executive came to Nguyen and said he wanted to change the venue for an evening reception. Nguyen kept her cool, asking the executive for his vision for the event—its goals as well as the style and atmosphere he felt would achieve those goals.

Based on his answer, Nguyen reiterated the reason the original venue was chosen versus others in the destination and how it did, in fact, fit the executives’ goals. Then, “I gave him the downsides to making such a big change at that point,” which included contract deposits lost; the higher cost of contracting with a new venue on short notice; changing the event app and other marketing materials to announce the new venue; changing the specs and cost for the production company to set up in the new venue; and changing the time allotted for group transportation to the new venue plus the additional transportation cost.

She also explained that “the new action plan his internal team had to take on would keep them from doing other things they had to do to make the conference a success.” After hearing all those things, the executive backed away from his demand, and the special event hit the mark for the host firm.

Nguyen’s final lesson: “Change management is a critical skill for planners, and a big part of that means getting others to understand its full impact.”

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