You know them: At a meeting, the participant standing near an arrow pointing the way to the bathroom that is searching for someone “official” to ask, “Where’s the restroom?”
That stands out for me as one of the silliest questions—unless of course it’s from me as a participant in someone else’s meeting. When I have the same need. As do we all!
That and like questions are often considered “silly.” Okay, at the time, they are considered “annoying” because the person being asked thinks the answers are obvious.
To the asker, they are necessary. Especially after downing coffee all day!
At the heart of “silly questions” is often a failure to communicate, early, often, up front and repeatedly. In research for this blog post and related newsletter, I found this article titled The Ministry of Silly Questions about setting up said ministry for your organization.
Let’s consider this blog post a start for the meetings industry. If the “Ministry of Silly Meetings and Hospitality Questions” already exists, please do tell me.
I’ll join you and we can compare notes!
For the purpose of this blog post and the interview responses*, let’s think of “silly” as those questions for which we need answers and for which answers are not easily found or forthcoming. Let’s not think of “silly” as frivolous.
Or as one person wrote in a response to the questions, “the requests aren’t always silly”—sometimes they are unreasonable, unrealistic, unfathomable.
As a planner, my dealing with and asking what some may consider “silly” questions begins long before being on-site at the event, where the restroom location and other like questions are asked. It starts when the planning process begins.
It continues during the site selection process and while negotiating contracts. We planners and suppliers take so much for granted about what others know or understand. And too often questions are not asked because people do not want to appear unknowing.
In the many years I’ve been in the industry, the number of times I’ve asked the following questions—of hotels, convention centers, conference centers, DMCs, bus and other transportation companies, decorators and others who supply our industry—is infinite.
That said, this is not about kvetching or bashing each other.
Sessions that are titled things like “The Thing That Most Annoys Me…” about the other party (planners/suppliers, etc.), irk me.
Rather, this is about the questions that are thought to be “silly” because the answer must be so obvious … and yet they are not silly.
And the answers are not always so obvious, either—and as always, it depends!
Questions for Hotels and Other Suppliers
Questions I’ve asked of hotels and other suppliers that were viewed as silly (and in some cases, annoying) by those of whom they were asked and the responses provided include:
Question No. 1: Who owns the hotel?
Response: “The owner? Why do you want to know who the owner is?”
Translation: the salesperson doesn’t know or doesn’t want to let on they don’t know. A non-answer could a clue that the property may be changing hands and it’s not public yet. Beware if that's the case, as this could impact your meeting!
Question No. 2: Please explain your policy on…
For this question make a list of all the policies you once found on other hotels' Banquet Event Orders (BEOs) or worse yet, billing, and fill in the blanks of what you want to ask.
Response: “It’s our policy.”
Translation: We don’t want to explain or do anything different.
Question No. 3: Can you provide more information about…
Another fill-in-the-blank based on what isn’t easily found on a website or is not forthcoming when reading the policy sheet, if it’s even provided.
A request for information about safety, drug and alcohol testing for transportation company drivers, accessible rooms, soundproofing of airwalls, service levels (rooms : housekeepers, servers : guests at banquets, etc.) and more is frequently responded to in the same way.
Response: “No one’s ever asked us to provide information about that.”
Translation: We don’t know and we’re not going to delve deeper; take it or leave it.
Question No. 4: What’s the meaning of [insert contract detail]…
When questioning contract language—for example the use of “or” versus “and”—you won’t be shocked when I tell you that the response often is also typically the same.
Response: “Everyone else is fine with our contract language.” And when further pressed: “Legal said we have to have this language.” And then: “You’ll have to talk to legal.”
Translation: Legal might as well be “the Great and Powerful Oz” and this is a threat.
Questions asked by planners of each other are often to compare others’ pricing and conditions: rates, concessions and contract provisions, as examples.
This happens because there is a belief that each meeting—even in the same property and on the same dates in a different year or even for the same dates before a contract is signed—will be able to secure the same negotiated arrangements. In social media conversations, just as there were in face-to-face conversations for years, examples include:
Question No. 1: “Coffee at the hotel we are using is (price named) per gallon. What are you paying?” These can’t be compared because of labor and other factors.
(Catch a session with MGM Resorts’ Michael Dominguez. He’ll explain more).
Question No. 2: “It’s the end of the quarter [or month end or year-end] for hotels and there is so much pressure for contracts to be signed. When did it get this bad?! …
“I don’t remember it being like this a few years ago.”
Note to all: it has been changing and the incentives for hotel salespeople to get contracts signed is immense—this is something that affects us all. Read this article: “Owners, Brands Worry About Rising Costs, Recession” to understand what owners are discussing about their costs and how to both control the costs and to make more money.
RFPs that groups provide should explain the group’s timeline for selection, decision and contracting and ask for the same from the hotel or other vendor.
This should be done so that—as any deadline nears—all parties know the parameters.
Question No. 3: “Why do we have to pay for [fill in the blank]—recently, in a social media discussion, it was sign easels—and why are they so expensive?”
See my note immediately above this—ask in the RFP about all charges and all policies that impact the operations and bottom line for your meetings and events.
If the information is not forthcoming, ask again. Silly question? Nah. It’s actually very smart.
Question No. 4: “Anyone else experiencing overly aggressive deposit schedules lately? Tips on negotiating the terms to a more reasonable schedule?”
See the previously linked article about what owners’ concerns are. Add to that the cost for management companies and factor all this in when you request policies and pricing with the RFP before selecting the destination and site where you’ll meet.
Again, it’s a policy that should be requested in an RFP and disclosed in the proposal … and then negotiated so that it makes sense for all of the parties involved.
Ultimately, this should be contracted so that all parties are fully aware of the conditions and pricing to which they are agreeing.
In the planning stage, after sales hands planners off to convention services, the conversations then change from planner to the Convention Services Manager (CSM). Cue the question.
Question for CSMs: “I know it’s not in the contract, but could we just have…?”
Usually those requests are for additional amenities, concessions, meeting space, and other items that groups think enhance their meetings and that may cost a hotel in some way.
As a planner, I know that clients do ask for more after a contract is signed, sometimes because there are changes in a meeting or more often, because they heard that someone else “got” something different and they want it too. Sometimes this is reasonable.
Once again, it depends!
(Refer to the related Friday With Joan companion article to see what often happens from the CSM and sales perspective ... the more you know, the better!).
Question for speakers or trainers: “We want you to do it for the exposure” which translates to “we don’t value you enough to pay you.”
Okay, it may mean the group hasn’t budgeted for the expense and we really think you are great but not that good and we can’t afford you.
Question that AV companies are always asked: “Why are your prices are so high?” Yes, I have been an “asker” when negotiating for a client and I must justify the costs.
Good AV companies will provide a price sheet at the time the hotel or their own proposal is sent and let groups know whether and how they can negotiate for equipment and labor.
Then there’s this very familiar response, which usually leaves the asker very frustrated.
“We’ve always done it that way.”
Frequently used as a response to any question involving the content and design and timing of a meeting; the pricing and room sets from a hotel or other facility; from anyone providing services for a meeting. In other words, the “difficult” questions.
This means we [typically the meeting or event owner] said we want to change how our meeting looks, delivers information, and involves the participants**.
And yet, we're hesitant to change the status quo.
Also: “No one has questioned us about how we use our space.”
This really means we [in this case the supplier] are just not comfortable tweaking what we’ve done, how we use our space or really to anything else.
You know how it is said by speakers or teachers that there are no “stupid questions”?
I believe there are no silly questions.
I remember the first time I saw the original “FISH!” training video.
In it, one of the fish sellers said that he used to roll his eyes when someone asked a question that someone else had just asked.
I understood. And I knew that I did the same eye-rolling.
What the fish seller soon realized was that the person now asking the question didn’t know what someone else had just asked! I think we must ask good questions, consider each question as a new one, and provide full answers.
Additional advice from the “Ministry of Silly Questions” article includes:
“Try Not to Load: The danger with asking these silly questions is that we might automatically imply the way things currently happen are wrong. This is especially true if the question is delivered as a leading one that expresses a strong opinion, such as:
"Don’t you think it’s ridiculous that we are still using agency staff?
“This tends to make people defensive. After all, they might have been responsible for implementing the practice in the first place. But the purpose of the Silly Question, if it is to add any value at all, is to stimulate open and unfettered analysis of a current belief or system or practice. Asking leading questions will not do this. Asking genuinely open questions will.”
You can find more advice under the heading: “Ministerial Code for Silly Question Time.”
As I’ve recommended in the past, learning improvisation or “improv” can help. One aspect of learning improv is developing the art of “yes and…” (and even more on this here) to move the silly questions along to get to answers more quickly and fully. As you read the responses to questions, think how “yes and…” might have improved the situations.
Please share your “silly questions” from participants or clients or customers or business partners below*** and let’s figure out how to work around situations in a way that's more sensible than silly. Whether you're a planner, supplier, vendor or anyone else.
Make sure to run through the related Friday With Joan content linked at the bottom of this blog post and also share your "silly" or "stupid" questions in the comments below.
We won't judge and the more examples we see from each other, the better!
*If you’d like to be among those asked for your input for future newsletters, please email me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com with your name, your title, employer, years of experience, and any topics about which you know lots and/or have strong opinions about.
I would to help get your thoughts included, attributed or not.
Hearing experiences and opinions of a wide-variety of current and retired industry practitioners is a value to readers and to me.
**Participants at meeting or events are still called the “audience” or “attendees,” which means we really don’t want them to be involved.
***If you’d prefer your comments posted unattributed, please email them to me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com and I’ll post without your name or identifiers.
Editor’s Note: The views expressed by contributing bloggers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Meetings Today or its parent company.
Related Reading From the April 2019 Edition of Friday With Joan
Click here to view additional content in the 04.05.19 Friday With Joan newsletter.
Posted by Joan L. Eisenstodt
Follow Joan on Twitter: @joaneisenstodt
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