• Steve

Diary of a Meeting Planner

I often wonder why anyone becomes a meeting planner. Or even more, why do we stay in this manic-prone occupation?

Some years ago, my mother was called to serve for jury duty.

Just as an aside, I have always wanted to serve on a jury, but have never been called. I think I would be great at it. I’m sure I could judge innocence or guilt just by looking at the defendant…but I digress.

Nonetheless, my hard-of-hearing, sight-Impaired, subject-to-dozing-off mother was called and of course her name was drawn, so she took her seat in the jury box to be interviewed by both attorneys. The nature of the case was such that she was asked if she had any children.

“Yes,” my mother said. “I have 3 sons.”

“What do they do for a living?” quizzed the attorney.

“My oldest is a teacher, my second son is a minister, and my youngest son is a pharmaceutical rep,” my mother answered.

That all seems perfectly normal, except I'm son #3. And I had been a corporate meeting planner for 10 years. When I asked my mother why she didn’t just tell them that I was a meeting planner, she said with no apology whatsoever:

“Well, I don’t even know what that is. Pharmaceutical rep was all I could think of.”

That’s what being a meeting planner is. It’s constantly explaining to people what the job is, even though, the very name explains what the job is.

Once people think they understand what the job is, they will inevitably tell you how wonderful it must be to have a job like that where you get to travel all the time. If they only knew that mostly what we see when we travel to all these wonderful places is the inside of another hotel. Eating banquet food and breathing processed air is our lot in life.

Being a meeting planner means dealing with the stress of being responsible for things over which you have no control, such as weather, limo drivers who don’t show up on time, or attendees who get drunk and fall off of a balcony in the middle of the night while trying to relieve themselves (that sounds very specific, doesn’t it?).

It means never being able to attend any event, even your niece’s-by-marriage wedding, without critiquing every arrangement.

“They should have done a two-sided buffet.”

“That bar placement is all wrong.”

“This centerpiece blocks my view.”

Or, maybe it’s dealing with intelligent questions like:

“What time does the 10 o’clock shuttle depart?”

Or, “If I take these stairs up to the meeting room, can I come back down that way too?”


Why do we keep doing this? I’ve given this a lot of thought. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

I have no Idea!

Here’s what I do know:

This job gets into your blood. Maybe you’re a corporate planner or you work with an association Maybe you just plan reunions or, like ONYX, you’re on, what we call, the supplier side of things. We all seem to have our own reasons for sticking with this crazy line of work. I know that all of us at ONYX love what we do. I can’t imagine any of us doing anything else. The idea of having to actually sit in and take part in the meetings we put together holds little or no appeal to any of us here. Maybe that’s why we do what we do. We’re like the novelist who can imagine great things, create awesome experiences for others to enjoy; even take great pride in bringing the seed of an idea to life, but in the end, we are just voyeurs. The challenge of creating and the pleasure of observing holds much more fascination and satisfaction for us than attending and participating. Weird, I know. But then who said everyone should be normal?

I would argue that it’s the “one-offs” like us who define what normal is. I can tell you that for us, we’ve seen normal, and we want nothing to do with it.

But, if this doesn’t work out, I guess we could always be pharmaceutical reps. I hear that job is easier to understand.

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