One of the most difficult tasks a planner faces on site has absolutely nothing to do with creating an environment where the attendees can achieve the goals of the meeting. It's dealing with those ambushes from VIP attendees demanding the moon. At MeetingWorld 2.5, held at the Grand Hyatt in New York City this past July, several attendees participated in a roundtable discussion on how to deal with these "celebrities-in-their-own- minds situations," as one planner put it. Here are six tips culled from that discussion that can help you manage this sensitive scenario.
1. Everyone at a meeting is a VIP or at least should be made to feel like one. But there are some who are more important than others. Establish criteria that can help you assess whether or not you should even be dealing with a difficult person. If the person making demands is the CEO, or your keynote speaker, you handle it—that's a real VIP. If the individual is leading one of a dozen or so breakout sessions, or is just one of a group of top salespeople, then don't be afraid to delegate dealing with him or her to someone on your staff.
2. True VIPs are busy people and often it is much more difficult for them to unplug from their day-to-day business responsibilities and get into the mindset of an off-site meeting. Instead of handing them the same meeting agenda that every attendee gets, give them their own daily agenda that goes into more detail. Point out the really important, must-attend events and let them know which ones are optional.
3. Often when VIPs visit a destination, they have a desire to dine at the best restaurants in town rather than attend group meal functions on site. Similarly, some CEOs feel awkward or have no interest in participating in planned group activities. Plan ahead for this scenario by always having reservations at one or two top restaurants for each night the VIP will be at the meeting.
It's also a good idea to have researched private tours or activities and, if possible, to have set up reservations as a backup in case your VIPs don't like what's been arranged for the group. In a similar vein, always have a car service at the ready.
4. For lesser VIPs—who warrant some special treatment, but for whom you can't really afford to move heaven and earth—and for those true "celebrities in their own minds" (the VIP wannabes who are actually standard, garden-variety attendees), ask them to give you a credit card. Do it politely; say, "I'm sorry, but I can't accommodate your request, but if you really want the [insert amenity here], give me your credit card and I can make that happen for you."
5. For all attendees, be they true VIPs or just wannabes, smooth over perceived slights or unavoidable lapses in service with an apology and some attempt to make amends. To that end, always keep two floral arrangements and amenity gift packages ready for emergencies. When a mistake happens, often simply acknowledging it is enough to placate even the most irate VIP.
6. When you return to your office after the meeting has ended, create a list of attendees who tended to be demanding and put them in a database. Go over this database before you get on the plane to fly to your next meeting. This will prepare you for possible outbursts and put you in a position to stop a confrontation before it happens.
MeetingWorld 2.5, the industry's longest-running conference and exhibition, is owned by VNU Business Publications, which is the parent company of Successful Meetings. For more information about the conference, is visit www.MeetingWorld2005.com.