Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Teach Your Clients to Speak Your Language

Often a client causes stressful situations with last-minute requests only because he or she doesn’t understand what he (or she) is demanding. In this case, the client, even though we both speak English,  doesn’t speak my language, and it’s up to me to teach them, aka provide the education. A large technology-based company that shall remain nameless comes to mind as an illustration.

Close your eyes so I can set the scene. Well, since this isn’t Books on Tape, that won’t work. Shut ONE eye.

It was a December Friday night in Manhattan at one of the piers. It was sleeting and snowing – imagine traffic – and we were in the final countdown for a holiday event for our client’s CEO and his 1,000 employees. All the elements and the meal were planned for a wonderful event to begin with cocktails at 6:00 p.m.

The rather young, powerful CEO would be giving a speech and holiday salutations.

“Does he need support for his speech?” I had questioned the corporate planner.

That’s a “No,” … confirmed in writing. “He’s just reading off his PowerPoint.”

At 5:30 p.m., the CEO, looking like a football tackle in a business suit, loomed above me asking, “Where are my screens?”

I shuffled through my binder, so beautifully tabbed, and advised him that he didn’t need them per my written confirmation with his planner which I attempted to show to him.

“Get them now!” he said with no accompanying “please.”

“Get them NOW,” he repeated even more strongly.

I looked up at him and calmly responded, “Okay, sir, I’ll do my best.”

“Get them now!!!!” he ordered yet again even more forcefully.

I made calls, and, as luck would have it, one of the AV companies I often utilized had what I needed and could “probably” get it to me (across town) in time. Good thing I had everyone’s cell phone and home numbers and that they liked me well enough to take my calls.

We were now into the cocktail hour, but with a bit of a scramble and no time to test the equipment, we set up the screens. Then, I asked the question of doom. “May I have your PowerPoint presentation?”

“I don’t have one; YOU were supposed to have it!” he spouted.

Again confirming with my handy dandy tabulated binder I said, “I don’t have your notes, sir, but we’ll do the best we can if you can tell me what you plan to say.”

“I have to greet my guests,” he snorted and stomped off.

Enter the corporate planner, who, shaking and scared, started feeding info to one of our techs.

Minutes passed, and the CEO approached me and pinched my arm jovially. “Wait till you hear what I want to do,” he announced, quite pleased with himself.

I couldn’t wait to hear what was coming now. But I kept smiling and showing great interest.

“My main guys and I are called ‘the three matadors.’ Get me three matador outfits,” he chortled gleefully, now apparently in the holiday spirit.

I dared to ask, “What sizes are the three of you?”

“They are mediums; I’m a large.”

He was an extra large if I’ve ever seen one, and I hadn’t seen the other two, so it was anybody’s guess.

Again as luck had it, I got the outfits. Imagine. An entertainment company I’ve worked with was open after hours on a sleeting Friday night, and they could messenger them to me just because they liked me. (And I’ve always paid them on time.)

Still in the cocktail hour, our charming CEO walked up to me and said, “The weather is lousy and we need to get our people home before it gets worse, so serve dinner NOW.”

Most people would have argued with him. I simply smiled and said, “Absolutely. Let me tell you what we are serving: A warm lovely pumpkin soup, which we could now serve chilled - which is fashionable nowadays, though not in the dead of winter; a lovely filet mignon, which we’ll make into Carpaccio…that’s very trendy… and the Chocolate Soufflés will just be served as chocolate pudding. Guests will love pudding, don’t you think? This is what you’ll get if we serve it now, or, if we serve it when we are supposed to, they can have a wonderful hot soup, a perfectly cooked filet and a magnificent soufflé. Either way, I’m happy to do whatever you wish. It’s your choice.”

He stared at me and simply said, “Keep it the way you planned.”

The Lesson
What made him think that we could get costumes and screens and serve dinner early? It was obvious. Here’s a man who sits behind his desk and clicks for whatever he wants and gets it, immediately, with no repercussions. But the timing of an event was beyond his scope of experience. So, by not arguing with him, creating a clear picture for him and making it his choice, the situation turned out well. Otherwise it would have dissolved into a totally adversarial confrontation. It didn’t, and we continued to do the event for years.

Growing up in a multi-lingual house made me understand the power of words. I love them and learned at a young age that telling stories creates a clear communication for others.  I adore telling stories; my life is about telling them and providing clear communication, because everything has a point to it. Doing so has helped me work with others, such as the CEO at this event, more successfully.

Oh, and by the way, the Matador outfits were more than a bit snug but served their purpose well!

Andrea Michaels is the founder/president of multiple award-winning Extraordinary Events, an international event agency based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Reflections of a Successful Wallflower – Lessons in Business; Lessons in Life.To learn more about her and her company, visit Andrea may be reached via


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