Archive for July 30th, 2007

Wanted: Vendors Who Actually (And ACTIVELY) Listen

Monday, July 30th, 2007

In my experience, party vendors (including planners, florists, decorators, caterers, bands, and deejays) can be divided into Group 1 – those who go home after the event and sleep well, as long as they did every single thing they were told, and Group 2 – a smaller number who only sleep well if the party was a stunning success.

I confess to being a Group 2 guy.

Why? Because every hostess, every bride, and – indeed – every person I’ve ever worked for had the same goal in mind: the best event ever. No matter what unrealistic instructions they gave me, what they were really saying was, “I want a great party!”

What am I calling unrealistic instructions? Well, nowhere does the inexperience of the typical bride show up more than in her timelines. Often, their schedules will read “8:00PM – ring the chimes for dinner. 8:05 – announce the bride and groom.” Which would be fine, if the bride and groom really wanted to be announced while 50% of their guests are still out in the foyer. Given the choice of doing what the bride told me, or waiting until the majority of the guests have sauntered into the room, I’m going to wait.

Brides also frequently budget 5 minutes for the first dance (when 1 minute flat is usually ample – 5 minutes would seem like an eternity), as well as for the invocation (again – one minute at the outside.)

We Group 2 folks engage in a process called active listening. Active listeners tend to pose lots of questions. If told by a hostess that she wants “no Country Music,” I might ask, “Do you mean that I shouldn’t play any Country unless one of your guests requests it, or that I shouldn’t play it even then?” Because most hosts want their guests to have a good time, they will often – after pondering such a question – modify their previous edict.

Active listeners also try to discern what our employers mean, rather than what they literally say. If a bride tells me to play a “fast song,” she’s probably talking about something that is reasonably hip, rather than just up-tempo.

A final way that Groups 1 and 2 differ is by that old aphorism, “The Customer Is Always Right.” Some Group 1 vendors take that statement so literally that they will – without a word of warning or complaint – allow their employer to make choices which sabotage their own party’s chances for success. Others, like me, feel a moral obligation to at least alert our bosses to the potential down-side of their decisions.

Bosses are not required to listen to the pros working for them. But those who choose to ignore their event veterans do so at considerable risk to the enterprise which is consuming vast amounts of their time and money: their “perfect” party. Which is why – in every endeavor – the smart bosses do keep an open mind as their experts speak.

When such communication leads to a fantastic event, both employer and vendor can sleep well – knowing their joint efforts led to a dazzling success.