Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio October
Back to Basics
BY MIKE KABO
Go Ahead, Take a Vacation
How to leave your office without a care in the
The meeting is over. The delegates have shipped out and all
leftover materials have been sent back to the office. All you can
think about is that well-deserved vacation. Your mind is already
checked into the special place you'll soon be enjoying.
But then it hits you: How can you possibly go away? How will
your customers get in touch with you? What business might you lose?
What about your staff? These worries can be especially acute for
independent planners with limited resources.
Don't panic, and don't rip up your plane tickets. You deserve
some time off. There are proactive steps you can take to minimize
your concerns, give your clients confidence that you are staying in
touch and keep the paperwork moving.
As all meeting professionals know, the better the planning up
front, the better the execution and results. Start by taking a step
back, imagining what issues might come up during your absence and
ranking them. Once prioritized, you can prepare an action plan to
handle each one. Ignore the low-priority stuff. Concentrate on your
best customers, your boss, deadlines, the mail and your staff.
Warn key customers and the boss. Reach out to
these high-priority individuals. Be sure they know at least three
weeks in advance when you will be on vacation. Remind them before
you leave. Tell them who they can contact during your absence for
routine questions. Depending on how much you want to stay in touch,
give them the phone and fax number where you will be staying in
case they absolutely, positively must reach you.
Cover your deadlines. There are several ways to
handle monthly reports or other deadlines that come due during your
vacation. You can complete the work before you leave, delegate the
work to another member of your team or contact the "owner" of the
deadline to request an extension. There is usually enough
elasticity that you can work something out, but the earlier you
bring your vacation schedule to the attention of those contacts,
the easier it will be to adjust the deadlines.
Leave a message. Use your voice mail fully by
learning about its options. Personalize your message, indicating
the specific dates you will be out. Advise callers that you will be
checking messages from time to time. Offer an alternative phone
number or extension for urgent needs. If you're forwarding your
calls to someone else, make sure that person is aware of this. If
you suspect that your mailbox may get filled, have the number of
messages it can hold increased. A real customer-pleaser is to
program the phone so that it goes to voice mail on the first ring
so callers won't have to wait to find out you're on vacation.
Now, learn how to access your voice mail from the road and set
aside five minutes a day to check your messages; this way you can
handle emergencies. Transfer (with specific instructions) as many
calls as possible so someone else can handle them. If you really
don't want to let go, have your calls transferred to your hotel or
cell phone. This practice is not recommended: You'll be in touch,
but you probably won't have much of a vacation.
Manage your e-mail. You don't necessarily have
to pack your laptop. Consider programming your e-mail to
automatically reply to senders. Your auto-response message should
indicate the dates you'll be away from the office and that you will
respond when you return. As with voice mail, be sure your mailbox
is large enough to hold the messages you'll receive. Contact your
information systems department or Internet provider to be sure.
If you do want to stay in touch online, many hotels now offer
guests access to their e-mail. But remember, check your messages
only when it's convenient for you. And be fully aware of the costs
- if your company won't reimburse you for the hotel e-mail service,
you don't want to pay a lot out of your own pocket. Because of
security and privacy concerns, it is best not to give someone else
access to your e-mail while you're gone.
Prepare your staff. You can increase your
staff's ability to hold down the fort by meeting with them in
advance to bring them up-to-date on your key projects. Discuss
potential problems and the solutions you've identified. Encourage
questions and answer all of them. Ask or assign someone to go
through your mail, empowering him to handle anything that requires
an immediate response. If possible, ask him to sort your mail into
categories to make your first day back more organized. Independent
planners should stop mail delivery until they return and remember
to pay all bills before they leave. Bon voyage!
Mike Kabo is president of Solutions Inc., an
independent travel and meeting management consulting firm with
offices in New York City and San Francisco.
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