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Lagniappes – Adventures in Meeting Planning

I am a lover of words and an always looking to grow my vocabulary.  A few years ago one of the meeting rooms for my annual conference in New Orleans was named Lagniappe [lan-yap].  As it was a foreign word to me I had to know more.

I soon learned that lagniappe refers to a small gift, compliment or bonus, often with a purchase (I liken it to a baker’s dozen).  It can also mean an unexpected or indirect benefit.1   It was the second translation that I took to heart when I added lagniappe to my vocabulary.  I don’t hear the word often, but recently was surprised and pleased to hear New Orleans native, Harry Connick, Jr. use the word to refer to a musical riff during his concert.

In my travels and throughout my career I have experienced many lagniappes that I treasure.  I call upon them when I find myself feeling overwhelmed or in need of a pick-me-up and love to share them with friends and colleagues.  They are moments that make me stop and look past the often stressful matter at hand and see the bigger picture.

I find that they seem to occur just when I really need them and put a silver lining on a meeting that might otherwise have been a less than positive experience. They take me out of the stress of the moment and become fond memories or great anecdotes.  I find that I will never remember the details of a meeting from start to finish, but moments I will remember.

At a small advisory board meeting in Hawaii we planned a welcome dinner on the first night.  The only space available for cocktails was the foyer outside the meeting room.  I learned that afternoon a high school prom was scheduled down the hallway and the party-goers would need to pass through our reception area – not exactly the atmosphere I envisioned for our high level dinner.

With no options, I instructed the staff that we would move quickly into dinner when most of the group had arrived, hoping for minimal overlap between the groups.  I paced as my attendees arrived , anxious to get them into the room.  This was not to be, as unexpectedly, there were early prom arrivals.

My guests had other ideas as they were enchanted  and the networking dinner quickly took on a reminiscent tone.  The women “oohed” and “aahed” over the girls’ sundresses and  beautiful flower leis and everyone expressed surprise at the Hawaiian shirts and flip flops sported by the boys.  The scene was quite a departure from the tuxedos, boutonnieres and gowns we all associated with our own prom nights.  The unexpected entertainment of a stream of teens parading down the hall prompted the reticent group to share memories and bond in ways they didn’t anticipate.

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I remember a particularly tense opening session of an annual meeting when the Association president called for the National Anthem and was greeted with awkward silence.  I looked to the AV tech to start the recording; surprised that there was no tech in place and no answer to my frantic calls on the radio.  The president optimistically tried again with the same result.  In a panic I headed to the exit looking for someone to make some music happen.  As I reached the door, the president tried for a third time and the audience burst into off-key, spontaneous song.  It was a beautiful sound and a moment that united the group more than piped -in music could ever do.

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Probably my most memorable and necessary lagniappe came at the close of a grueling meeting at a Mexican resort in the mid-July heat and humidity.  It was a week when everything went wrong:

1.  My group outgrew the headquarters hotel and we had to house 100 attendees in overflow properties and shuttle them long distances back and forth.  These attendees felt slighted despite our best efforts
2. Mexican Customs hijacked all of our meeting materials and held them for four days
3. Due to our large attendance we were forced to host meals outside under a tent in 100 weather and dodge frequent thunderstorms

In addition to the above issues, I do not speak Spanish and could not communicate with the majority of the attendees.  That was extremely frustrating for them and maddening for me.  Throughout the planning of this meeting and particularly on-site, I questioned if I was the right meeting planner to handle it.

Our closing night dinner was held on the beach and, for once, the weather cooperated.  Despite the many obstacles in our path my team and I managed to pull off a successful meeting and most of us were in a celebratory mood.  I found myself unable to shake the self-doubt and continually replayed the meeting crises in my head.

During the dinner we learned that three baby sea turtles had hatched and were lounging in a bus tub on the bar awaiting the turtle rescue team.  Their nest had been relocated but they were left behind.  They were tiny and beautiful and scrambling to make their journey to the water.  Many of the problems of the week went out of my head as I watched the fascinating energy of new life.

The following night, our group finally en route home, my team and I enjoyed a peaceful ending to a very long week watching those turtles set free on the beach journeying to their uncertain future in the water.  It was an amazing, unforgettable sight and I found myself torn between laughter and tears that night and still feel those opposing emotions whenever my thoughts turn to this particular lagniappe.

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These are just a few examples of the lagniappes I cherish. Do these moments erase the issues or negative situations that occur?  Not really.  They are moments that make me smile and often last long past the memories, good or bad, of the meeting details.  We all have these moments both in our work and personal lives.  Don’t look for a planning lesson here, there isn’t one.  It’s just a reminder to stop, recognize and enjoy these moments.  I wish you an abundance of lagniappes in your life and career and urge you to hang onto them.

1.  www.dictionary.com

Trish RafferyTrish Rafferty, CMP is the Senior Meeting Manager with Meetings in Medicine in NYC. She can be reached at trafferty@mimcompanies.com.

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