Monday, September 20, 2010

Over-handled.

When you're baking, there's a common error that occurs when you over-beat the dough. You can't over handle it - or it somehow breaks down the proteins or some such Alton-Brown-ish explanation, and loses its texture, ability to be rolled out, and so on.

When you're planning an executive event, there's a similar danger. Despite their tendency to believe that event planning is simply a matter of trivial effort, we all know it takes a kingdom to get the right canapes. I absolutely abhor event planning, and am blessed to work in a company where there's a team for that. They handle menus at the dinner and drinks at the bar. It's wonderful. What they don't tend to handle is the content. Executive events usually have presentations - and I've been part of more CEO/CIO/CxO events than I'd care to remember in my life, from the most elaborate odes to Ratan Tata and AG Lafley, to the most humble dinners for IT directors.

The event planners often get in this panic mode about the content of the event. What will the host say? How will the conversation flow? They want to manage content the way that they manage the appetizers. Because, they feel equally culpable if the party goes badly for content reasons as for vegetarian reasons.

But here's the thing: executives can't be scripted. They are intelligent... free-willed individuals. They rarely stick to a powerpoint deck, let alone the discussion questions crafted by minions thousands of miles away. The best sort of guidance you can provide is "Avoid mentioning his wife - they are separated" and "Remember, we want these people to come away with a knowledge of A, B and C" ... quick, basic information.

And yet, I spend hours of my life on calls designed specifically to molly coddle and "handle" these executives, their executive guests, and the conversation between a group of individuals who undoubtedly have more to discuss than we could even fathom. It's a waste of time.

Bring them together. Explain the common interest areas. Provide good wine. Let them be.

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