by Padraic Gilligan | January 10, 2014

Most readers of this blog know that my partner Patrick Delaney and I left MCI at the end of 2013 but staying in the meetings industry to work in the areas of strategy, destination marketing, training and advisory boards. As the two-decade arc from Delaney Marketing to Ovation Global DMC reaches its end point, I offer my top tips for newbies in the meetings industry, based on Polonius' advice to his son, Laertes, in Act 1 of Hamlet .

Listen twice as much as you speak
"Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned thought his act …
Give every man thine ear, but few the voice."

Polonius probably goes overboard by telling Laertes to be the brooding, inscrutable silent type who takes everything in but gives nothing away. That might work for the law but not for the meetings industry. However, there's great wisdom in Polonius' advice not to act on any unbalanced or irrational thought and to listen more than you speak. My mom used to say, "God gave you two ears and only one mouth; listen twice as much as you speak."

Be careful who you trust
"Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new hatched, unfledged courage."

The meetings industry has more than its fair share of extroverts and, by and large, it's easy to forge connections and "make friends." Polonius makes an interesting distinction here between true friendship and air-kissing superficiality, a trademark within our industry. It's all fine if you can tell the difference between the two, but the shiny surfaces ("new hatched, unfledged") can beguile to deceive. When you find those people in the industry that you can trust -- and, thank God, I have found them -- "grapple them unto your soul with hoops of steel."

Choose your battles
Of entrance to a quarrel; but being in,
Bear that th'opposed may beware of thee."

Quarrels are as much a part of the meetings industry as any other industry and Polonius nails it here by stating that conflict should be avoided, if at all possible. As a last resort, when it cannot be avoided, then you need to be crystal clear about your own position and ready to slug it out and win. Actually, both Machiavelli and Sun-tzu, in their respective classic books, The Prince and The Art of War, make similar points: Stay out of fights if you can, but if you cannot, then be a fearless opponent, sure of your position.

Listen to criticism of yourself but don't judge others
"Take each man's censure but reserve thy judgement"

Judging others, in my experience, doesn't lead you to a good place. Snap judgements about people are usually wrong and can cut you off from relationships that would otherwise have been enriching. Trade shows, where buyers and suppliers wear different color-coded badges, are places where bad judgements are often made, as stressed exhibitors fall into the trap of making badge contact rather than eye contact.

While not judging others, you should be open to hearing their criticism of you or your work. Feedback is precious when taken in the right spirit and can help take you to the next level as a professional.

Learn to watch and measure the bottom line
"Neither a borrower nor a lender be
For loan oft loses both itself and friend."

Knowing how to managing money, for yourself and for your company, is crucial. Having initially stammered and stumbled in this area myself, I would strongly advise that you spend whatever time it takes to get comfortable with and around figures. Polonius advocates self-sufficiency, which is sound advice overall, as it recommends only spending what you've earned and not living beyond your means.

Be yourself
"This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man."

Another statement that extends way beyond the limits of advice for business success, this oft-quoted phrase sums up an entire philosophy of life. Here, Polonius advises his son to live a coherent life, in accordance with his values and beliefs. I cannot think of any more fitting way of concluding these tips for newbies in the meetings industry: Always remember who you are and where you come from, and be kind to people on the way up, because these are the people that you'll meet on the way down, too!

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Padraic Gilligan most recently was vice president of Ovation Global DMC.