This episode we are joined by Lisa. We dive into the issue of hiring versus contracting event planners and where the threshold is.
This week Charles sits down and talks about three things that he has found to be really important from his time in the events world. He talks about hiring a planner, hiring A/V and production, as well as maintaining your relationships with clients. Use these points to up your events game!
This week on Meeting Minds we are joined with Kris Lindahl. He shares with us the importance of core values and vision to each event and how it all starts with leadership.
What are the biggest problems you’ve noticed when you’ve been at events?
I think of our organization and how what we stand for and what our core values are and I try to translate that to events. I never feel what an event stands for. There’s no vision or mission statement or values. You don’t even know why they are doing the event. It hasn’t been communicated, there are no takeaways for what the event stands for. It’s frustrating because you don’t know why they are even doing it. Throw in a big event, you don’t even know where you are going to don’t have a target for what you are trying to accomplish, you’re never going to get to where you want to go. I go to these events and I ask, “what exactly are you trying to do?” and no one can answer that question.
I look at events like you’re running a business as well. It’s different than my real estate business. When you start to lead a big organization of people you have to communicate what you stand for so everyone starts to go in the right direction. Whether that’s the attendees that show up are clients and we need to experience this, whatever that is I’ve found out no one has it. What is key to success is having your core values that your company lives by, but you also need to communicate that to the consumer as well. Really successful organizations, are ok with their core values being exposed to the public.
When you attend an event where you can feel the core values, how does it make you as a speaker and an audience member feel about being somewhere where it’s clear.
It’s no different from the RItz Carlton Four Seasons. Really good service is really rare which creates the greatest opportunity. When you get great service and you can feel it and it feels good, it’s memorable. I remember those moments at those events where i could feel a difference in service and I could feel what they are trying to accomplish.
There’s a hotel in LA that has 4.9 on tripadvisor, the number 1 reason is they have red phones at the pool. It’s the popsicle line, at any time you can call and they come with white gloves and deliver popsicles to the kids. It’s not the nicest hotel. They realize when you are traveling with your family, the worst part is laundry. They do free laundry for you, they come back and wrap it up in twine and bring your laundry. The popsicle line and the laundry are the two things that make the big difference and that’s what got them to 4.9 out of 5.
You could spend millions on the best rooms but if the service stinks you’re losing.
That’s the same thing in the events world, you could have all the right equipment and everything look super beautiful, but if you drop the ball on the human experience, we forget that we are actually leading humans, and when we start to remove that and focus on the technology, how things look and feel and we don’t focus on the actual connection, that’s the most important part.
That’s the part that signs or cancels deals.
It’s funny you bring that up, the best locker room wins everytime. I think of the Las Vegas Knights, they were never picked to be in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They were 5000 to 1 odds to make it anywhere. They far surpassed any expectations. That’s the dangerous thing of any organization, when you pass what people expect of you, then you are playing nothing to lose. That’s what we are focusing on, having the best locker room. You look at any organization, any sports team, the ones that win the championships aren’t the most talented, they have the best locker room. To your point, when you have someone in your organization that is trying to grandstand the place, it’s not effective for the organization, it can take the whole place down.
No greater lesson have I learned than putting my own team first. When you put your team first they will put the customer first. Help me understand as a leader, how do I take the Chris Lindahl philosophy of leadership and apply it to my organization?
Really good culture you can’t talk about, you have to feel it and experience it. For us it started with me, it starts with the leader. The amount of personal development and training I went through to become a better person is where it starts. You start to get transparent and vulnerable because anything that you’re thinking privately will show up publicly. If i don’t explains something to my company they know something is off. I need to go in front of my company whether good or bad and say, “here were our challenges, here were our success are.” And constantly communicate with the team because it’s not just about being up on top and leading. We were talking beforehand about having bottom up leadership where everyone is at the same level. I didn’t have any experience when I first started in leading people. I look at people that have started companies around the same time and I look at the different progressions and mine’s been focused on personal development and theirs has been about money and growing the organization, we have surpassed everyone that has started around the same time. Not because I was driven by money, but because i was becoming a better person. Then when I started to become crystal clear on who I was, then I invested in growing my people and my organization. I really started to shift how I think about every action every move I make, I don’t think as much about my team as much as I think about their families. Every move I make I think about their families and how everything Kris Lindahl does or says affects their families.
I have personally met the people on your team, it’s very rare you find people as passionate about what they are doing as the people on your team. It’s hard to build a culture around that. What is the difference between top down and bottom up leadership?
Top down leadership is most of corporate America today. You have this typically older CEO trying to lead a younger generation of people. There is this huge disconnect, like “how do you do this, why do you do this?” Instead of walking along and helping them get better it’s dictatorship. There’s this huge disconnect. I started asking questions to people at different corporations about their leaders. “How do you feel about your leadership, what do they do?” Rarely was it positive, rarely was it “Oh i love that person, I will do whatever that person does whether its this company or not!” more it’s “oh yeah they are rolling out more corporate initiative. I go there till 5 and leave.”
When you have bottom up leadership people will work when they need to to get the job done. When you have bottom up leadership you have people connected to the organization emotionally, at the heart. You won’t have turnover when they are connected at the heart. There are always going to be better opportunities where people can leave for more money. But there’s so much to it, especially the younger generation, they want to be apart of something that’s bigger. They don’t want to be in this individual cubicle or working from home when they have a CEO that’s barking orders down from the top down. What I’ve always found, you can learn a lot about leadership during bad times. When everyone is having success and things are great, leadership can slip and things are still good. When things get bad and it’s all hands on deck, we’re losing money, things aren’t working, what we rolled out isn’t working, a key player left our organization, those moments are the pivotal moments. That’s where true leadership shows up, when you’re willing to go boots on together and go through it as an organization. Most CEO and leaders are pointing down and giving orders, they aren’t actually doing it. It’s not the words, it’s the actions. It’s the actions the leaders take, people see what you are doing. They are willing to do more if you’re willing to march alongside them.
It seems like a lot of people will blame that it’s a large organization, I don’t think the size has anything to do with it.
It’s very easy for me to see now when I speak at different organizations. I can tell how long their company will stay intact. You can tell how people respect their leader, the type of culture the type of energy. That’s emotional intelligence. Sometimes when I’m speaking at an event I’ll tell them, you better fix this leadership problem or you’re not going to any people not long from now. And you know almost every single time.
As an event organizer, how do they make sure that vision and core values of the event or organization are being played through?
I’m not in that space but i’ve been on the other side of it. I don’t think that most people that are planning the events plan for what the experience is going to be. I walk in and I get this gift I don’t want to carry around. I get these things that are irrelevant from what I use or want and I have this bag to carry around. They are giving things away because I don’t believe they have walked through their event from the otherside. There’s a huge difference [from hosting to attending]. When I walk into these events I’m always interested in what’s the plan? What do you want people to experience and no one can answer them. It’s funny because the experience will build the event to the next level. The key players that you want to bring more people to your event are already there. It’s so rare that I’ll go to an event that’s super emotional, they look nice, but there’s an element missing, the service the connection.
A lot of these events i go to, they are so focused on the short game rather than building that long game, the audience that will come forever that will tell their friends that will organically grow. They are not thinking about the brand they are building and what the vision is. Bringing in the wrong speakers is because they don’t know what they stand for. And when you don’t know what you stand for it’s hard to bring in the right speakers.
Let’s talk about leading people. How do you manage and lead people that do not know me?
Number one is you have to assess the current people in your organization that are very successful at the positions you want to fill or add to. Once you figure out what their personality is, you need to hire others that are just like that. You have to make sure that the assessment matches the type of people you want. If they fit your core values and the assessment fit other people, hire that. Too often, it’s really hard to find good talent, it’s very difficult. We can get as leaders, a tendency to hire people or believe in them and don’t do any core value checks or assessments. If you bring people in that fit those two things, it’s rare you’ll have problems because they fit your organization and have the skill set to get it done. When I look back to when I first started, I’d sit down and interview and make a decision right there. That’s how most people hire.
What I’m hearing you say is as long as you have the similar core values, you should be able to lead and manage these people well.
There’s a couple parts to that. There’s variables to the event. I think I would assess the company’s, who’s going to be on site from different companies. We want to assess everyone that is coming into this place. Here are our core values, I would record a video that I would give to anyone on site saying here’s what we stand for this is what we want the experience to be at the event. I would have them sign off before they ever got on site.
The challenge is when you have people you haven’t met. There needs to be an education process. A video is at least some sort of training. When I go to these events I can tell that there is a disconnect and that they are from different companies and areas and no one knows anyone and nothings consistent. The best is when I have a question for someone and they are 20 feet away and no one comes up. If you’re not doing it [a training video] you are relying on another company to do that for you. Their expectations may be completely different from what yours are.
A lot of people make the mistake of not introducing themselves when they should. I always go and make a point of meeting people in my crew that I don’t know and thank them for being on the show.
Here’s another idea, survey the attendees but also survey the workers. When you get those surveys back, you go how was your experience working with our company. It becomes a good recruiting tool because they care about the people working they care about the attendees. The biggest thing right now, Uber the company satisfaction, they started with tracking drivers, what’s the review what’s the consumer experience. Then over time they have the rider reviews. They have both and that’s public information and helps them to figure out how we are doing. A lot of areas where there’s a lot of vehicles and you have a 4.8 you can’t have a black car.
The second part to what I would do is id’ have secret shoppers to attend the event and record what the experience is. I’d hire them to figure out what’s happening and figure out what are the areas we have to get better. You’re never going to get it perfect it’s an ongoing journey but you’re going to try to get better and better. Having secret shoppers focusing on those events is important. I think a lot of people listening, the challenge is people will be scared to do it, scared of the feedback, but the feedback is going to make you better.
If we don’t have satisfaction in the work we are doing, you’re clearly doing something wrong.
We just rolled out another customer satisfaction dashboard and there were a few scores for a few of our more experienced agents that are amazing that had lower scores. There’s a tendency when you’ve been in an industry for a long time that you start going through the motions. You don’t go back to what made you sharp. Those scores were good for those agents to see maybe their service isn’t as good as it was before. We now have that as public face to our organization. It makes such a huge difference having those scores because it shows who’s providing the best level of service, which to us i the most important thing.
I realize in our organization everything is my fault. Everything that happens there is something that’s my fault whether it’s training or consumer expectation. We’ve been talking a lot about taking accountability for things that has happened. That’s how you get good leadership. We used to blame the customer, and now the analogy that comes to me is, you’re driving down the road and a car comes out and t-bones you, whose fault is it? In our organization it’s always our fault because we were still driving. That’s how we look at everything that happens. Whether someone hits us or we hit them, it’s always our fault and it’s something to learn from. Maybe we were going to fast, or didn’t stop at the yellow light, or should have stopped because we saw the car coming. I’ve found that most organizations want to blame someone else, mostly the customer.
I love when someone owns something. That’s what most customers want to hear. “We messed up.” correct it and move forward. It’s ok to make a mistake once but don’t make it twice. That becomes a problem. I want people to fail, we call that learning opportunities. That’s where people grow. I look back as we’ve grown, the mistakes I’ve made, those were the pivotal moments in our growth where we became an elite company.
If you continue to ignore and blame others you are fostering more failure down the road.
Constructive feedback is the most important thing.
When you’re building and leading your team, how are you ensuring the core values are instilled in your team daily?
It’s not words, its the actions. It is what people see me doing, where people see me commit my time. I’m on video all the time communicating what I’m doing why i;m doing it. You mentioned earlier the podcast I am doing, Behind the Billboard, I did a video last night to our whole organization telling them why i’m doing this. Our number one core value is to be generous. I say we have our time treasure and talents to give back. To continue to be a thought leader in our industry this was the natural thought progression for us, and this was going to benefit every family in our organization. The doors have already opened up, from the podcast, that we wouldn’t have had before if I didn’t have a podcast. I’m always communicating to our company so they know what i’m doing. When you start to cast that vision, they start to feel apart of it. The problem is, leaders are working on these crazy ideas and don’t share the blueprint with anyone else. Then hey let’s go we’re going I’ve been thinking of this for 4 months.
Last night I got done with flag football, I returned from speaking at an event in Vegas, I was exhausted but I needed to launch this to facebook and social media but I need to go internal first and tell those in my organization why i’m doing this. “I’m extremely exhausted but I want to get into here and tell you guys how I feel about this why i’m doing this.” Notice I said feel there because feel is important to culture, it’s the emotional heart connection. Most organizations the feminine energy is a huge part of it. Super alpha males have been scared to get vulnerable and talk about feelings but that’s what people want to be apart of. They want to feel what’s going on, that’s where it grows. So I communicated to them, that’s why i’m doing this most people would be confused on why Kris Lindahl is opening his playbook and sharing it for free and I said I feel it’s important to give back our time treasure and talents. Yes some people will take the information and use it, but I don’t think anyone can beat our locker room. The thing is, when you help others it helps you more. We are always students, by no means do I think i have it figured out. Even though in some moments I become a teacher, I can still learn just as much. It’s like becoming a mentor, giving feedback, you learn as much as they learn.
There are female leaders that really get it that sometimes we fall short, putting the emotion part of it as a true part of the equation. I look at the emotional part and I think that’s how people are making decisions, and we have to be mindful of that. You have to lead with heart.
Here’s a super short story of something that happened at my organization a few years ago. Our leadership team is almost all female. I had a conversation with one of our leaders. We were doing a review and trying to determine what the next level was for compensation. I made a comment, “I think you deserve this number.” She said, “Kris you don’t understand, I’m not motivated by money.” It was the first time i realized there was more happening in my organization than money. You think for high drivers the motivation is a pay increase, but when someone said that, it was one of those moments where I had this completely raw, it’s more than just money. If people come to your organization for money they will leave for money, every time. If you really take your core values and what you stand for and communicate those to attendees and staff, it really starts to take a life of its own and that’s why people come to your organization, attend your event, things happen. They won’t leave because they want to help get that organization to the next level.
The right people, when you start to broadcast what you stand for the right people are attracted by that and the wrong people are scared away.
Leadership is a commitment to becoming a better person first. If you can’t take care of yourself you can’t be a better leader. I look at the early days of my organization and what really helped me was investing in personal development but it was doing video early on. I’d do 100 videos everyday to improve my communication. Id do a video and it was so bad I’d run into the hallway to make sure no one heard it. Then what I did, I started speaking. I was doing the boring powerpoints that every speaker does, then I’d do a little more. Then after that I did 30 minutes with just notes. Then it was 40 minutes light notes, than an hour with nothing, two hours with nothing. Now I can speak 3, 4, 5, hours with nothing no notes, no plans, no powerpoints. It’s because of those videos speaking in those uncomfortable environments where I’ve continued to grow my brains so I can fire at the highest level, all of those things have helped me become a better leader. Because I am a better communicator. Most people aren’t willing to do that.
None of us are natural born leaders, we have to invest and expand our brains to become better people and leaders. Most people aren’t willing to do those things.
Find Kris at Kris Lindahl
Kelsey from Lynn David Events joins us to talk about her experience in corporate events. She shares her story getting her to the point of starting her own corporate event company.
Tell us about you.
I have been a corporate event planner for 13 years. I absolutely love it. I love partnering with organizations to bring their dream to reality. I spent the last 8 years working for an amazing company, John Wiley and Sons publishing company. Its 215 years old. Thomas Jefferson was president when they opened their doors. I was able to manage 150 events a year, just me with them. I got a really well rounded education and experience. Everything from a 700 person conference all the way down to an 8 person board meeting. Runs the gamut of everything. I’ve taken what I learned from them and struck out on my own this year, and started my own event planning company (Lynn David Events). I named it after my children, Neva Lynn and Brooks David, my 3rd baby.
How do you become successful in corporate meetings?
I think what separates a novice event planner to one that will go the distance and succeed is understanding that as an event planner you have a responsibility to understand the corporate goals and objectives and how the events support those goals. Ways that you need to do that is really be apart of the leadership discussions don’t be shy to ask to sit in on meetings, the non confidential ones of course, ask questions. So many corporations hold the same conference every year or convention just because that’s what we do, that’s how we do it. But why? What are you trying to achieve? What is the overall corporate goal or objective that this one event is trying to satisfy? How can you change this event to make it better and better? What are you trying to get the attendees to walk away with?
How do you set yourself apart and how do you add value?
Once you can understand what the goals are and why you are holding these events, the executives will look at you in a different light. You’re not just executing on this event every year, you’re playing into their goals and objectives and they’ll see you as more of a team player for the company. Then you are able to have those strategic conversations and look as more of a strategist in the company. What’s the goal of the event and you can better allocate your budget to achieve that goal instead of googling it and saying “30% of your budget should be spent on food and beverage”. What’s the goal? Are you trying to elevate the event to be looked at as educational experience, playing in that realm, then you will want to spend more money on a quality keynote speaker that people will recognize. What if you are trying to launch a new product or elevate a new brand? Then you will want to spend more money on A/V and production to really make that that product or that brand come to life, really play up the colors of this brand. But you also need to know your audience right? So if your audience is a bunch of foodies you’re going to want to still maintain a very healthy budget for the food and beverage while you’re trying to elevate your brand. Or take brand elements and put it into the food and beverage, like putting the new logo kind of showcased on top of the cheesecake would be adorable like ways to achieve your objectives but also strategically spend money to do so.
I feel like I almost can remember, to like the day, the turning point in my career when I was stopped being looked at like a party planner “oh she’s an event manager, she’s strategic”.
How do you sell a keynote to your organization?
Bring it back to the overall goals and objectives. You gotta think the executives your leadership team they’re getting pressure from higher ups from the CEO from maybe a board to achieve these goals and objectives and if one of them is to really become a player in education space or to build attendance and the attendees really value content and education it is a drop in the bucket $100,000 for a keynote speaker that’s going to maximize attendance and really put yourself, the company,and the event as a major player in education or content that’s a drop in the bucket.
What else do you have?
I think one of the biggest tips I can give anybody starting off in the corporate event space is you really need to create mutually beneficial partnerships with suppliers and vendors, and I want to repeat mutually beneficial. Because I feel like early on in your event planning career, you think the way you succeed is you negotiate the cost down as far as possible right? And you need to understand you want your partners to make money you want them to look at you like a partnership where they are really caring about the project and also making a profit on it so they’ll want to work with you again. Having a partner is a one off you’re creating that long term relationship that this is what you do. You should interview suppliers whether A/V or production or what have you, that share the values that your organization does and somebody you want to be in the trenches with. Tell me one event planner that has been at it, at an event that didn’t have something go wrong, and the reason why they’re always fine in the end, it’s because of your partnership. We’re in this together and we are succeeding together. You want to have someone you click with that’s going to also look at you like “I’m your partner and I’m excited about this event excited about the next hundred events we partner on”.
For new planners in the corporate realm, it’s a very controversial topic among event planners but I believe you should be transparent about your budget to your partners. So many people think “but that’s my power. How can I negotiate, how can I get the price down, how can I get more for less?” You can’t have a good partnership unless you’re transparent, open, and honest about the budget and the scope of the event. If you do that right away you’re already going to be in a better spot when the event actually happens because you’re going to get the quality you’re going to get the equipment that you need and you’re going to be within budget because the partner that you decided to work with at the beginning they signed up to be that budget.
What else do you have?
What I didn’t understand early on in my career which I would love just to make sure that all your listeners do, is not every corporate event planner has a very clear career path outline for them by their organization. I mean maybe you’re blessed to be working in an advanced division for a company where there’s 40 other event planners and maybe it’s a little bit more clear where you can go in the next 5-10 years, but I didn’t have that. I was really the only one corporate event planner. My advice is you need to know that you can look outside the organization for professional development, opportunities, education for networking and you’re not on an island. You’re able to turn to organizations like MPI or ILEA or what have you, to seek out professional development to network with your peers. It’s an incredibly giving industry like you’re saying with you know somebody that might be a competitor as an independent planner I have been amazed by how all the other independent planners in the Twin Cities are so willing to help.
I think breaking out of the walls of your office exposes you to so many things in the industry because you know if you’re doing the same 5-10 events every year and you really are kind of craving new ideas, you’re craving like new technology going to industry events going to these annual association meetings and talking to other planners about what they’re doing, it sparks so many great ideas and not only introduces you to new people like new suppliers it can maybe bring in technology for you. You can also talk to people openly. I encourage people to not get stuck in the walls of their cubicle. The industry is very giving and you can seek elsewhere for networking and education.
What else have you got?
Also breaking away from your office, getting out of your typical 9-to-5. What’s incredibly important and if you’re a planner you understand that there’s events always held by different venues our national sales manager, Hilton, Loews, Omni, Independence they all hold events and invite planners to them over the course of the year and I encourage you to take advantage of these opportunities because the whether again you’re you are in a division of 40 event planners, or you are a team of one what’s incredibly important is to stay up to speed on the other different venue options out there and hotels are changing every day. They’re changing flags, they’re renovating, there’s new hotel popping up, there’s new venue a special event spaces in every market. So many times I’ve had someone from the corporate leadership team come to me and is like “we wanna hold an event in three months, we wanna wanna have it in Nashville”. You don’t always have time to hop on a plane is scheduled to be great no I got a handful of properties that I have on the phone with them.
Large corporations often have event teams and planners inside, how often are those people also contracting external planners to plan things?
It’s actually becoming more and more common. So as you know event plans for a year or budgets they ebb and flow from year to year based on the plans and those goals and objectives for the corporate organization so you don’t always want to hire another head to be a full-time employee. We don’t know if we’re going to need that additional person the next year, so a lot of times they’ll save one or two head counts on their team to contract out other planners like myself and other amazing ones in the Twin Cities. But what’s great, is good quality independent planners, can be an extension of your team in any capacity if you need that ,if you need them to understand the product the clients the attendees whatever so they can actually interact with your guest they can do that, if you need them just behind the scenes doing the grunt-work that frees up others on the team they can do that, there are resources out there.
How do you choose the right independant planner?
I think really going out and being a part of these associations and networking like we discussed before. I think that’s incredibly important because you get to know who is in your industry and as we were talking about everyone has their niche, right, like what they’re really good at, what they focus on, what they really excel at, what they bring to the table. You can get to know someone and see if you have a need and you have someone as a resource who would fit what you’re looking for.
As you gain experience in this industry, you can’t do it all, and you don’t want to do it all. As you get more experience you become more self aware and figure out what your passion is and what drives you, you’re able to focus on that one area that you can bring purpose to.
What other tips do you have for being great and succeeding as a corporate events planner.
As corporate you have to think every company has a brand identity and that needs to be brought to life and consistent through the events. If you went to a target event and it didn’t have red you’d be like who is this? Everyone has a brand a core identity, brand personality, but also quality and consistency needs to be in events.
You can contact Kelsey at firstname.lastname@example.org
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