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by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua

Has the human race ever been as challenged as it is today by the frightening  proliferation of “content”? Has there ever been so much stuff to look at, to deliberate upon, to read, to digest? If, like me, you’re on a lifelong  quest to learn, then on a daily basis you’ll face what Italians call l’imbarazzo della scelta – far too much choice! It’s on-line, off-line, leaflets, newspapers, magazines, books, periodicals. The list is endless.

Amidst all this material, however, I find myself more and more reverting to the classics. For 2 weeks last summer I lost myself in Middlemarch, George Eliot’s mammoth panoramic masterpiece set in middle England in the 1830s. Often I flick through Shakespeare and re-read passages underlined 35 years ago when I was a student of English literature at University College Dublin.

When I was asked recently what advice I’d have for newby #eventprofs I thought of the Bard, dusted down an old edition of  Hamlet and turned immediately to Polonius’s speech to his son Laertes. There are some truly enduring gems there.

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 over-board 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 or 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”. GenYers bring energy, enthusiasm and boundless confidence to our industry and greatly enhance our workplaces accordingly. Sometimes, however, this innate confidence leads arrogance and too much is shared either face to face or, horror of horrors, on-line.

Be careful whom 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 Meetings Industry that you can trust – and, Thank God, I have found them – “grapple them unto your soul with hoops of steel”.

Choose your battles

… Beware
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 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

A lesson for life as well as business, 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 colour-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.

Dress to brand

Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy
But not expressed in fancy; rich, not gaudy,
For the apparel oft proclaims the man

Your dress code should re-enforce your company and /or personal brand and, above all,  should be consistent. Polonius thinks it shouldn’t be over-the-top and maybe he’s right but if your brand is youthful, fun and in-your-face then maybe it’s OK to wear an orange suit (Kudos, Mr Holland!) or a green strapped watch (well done @supergreybeard!)

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, although it may not be a personal strong point for you. 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!

Here’s the full speech

 … Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned thought his act
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar
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. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel; but being in,
Bear that th’opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thine ear, but few the voice;
Take each man’s censure but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy
But not expressed in fancy; rich, not gaudy,
For the apparel oft proclaims the man
… Neither a borrower nor a lender be
For loan oft loses both itself and friend
… This above all, to thine own self be true
And it must follow, s the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man”

Pádraic Gilligan is a former student and teacher of English literature. He now runs SoolNua with Patrick Delaney and Aoife McCrum offering destinations, hotels and venues input on strategy, marketing and training within the niche MICE segment of Business Tourism

DISCUSS...

6 thoughts on “Tips for eventprofs from Shakespeare

  1. good stuff for everbody, everywhere there

    1. padraicino says:

      Thanks for the lovely comment Shane. Hope Shakespeare doesn’t bring back bad memories of Inter and Leaving cert!

  2. Martin Lewis says:

    Nice blog, Padraic. The rise in quantity is in inverse proportion to the change in quality of content everywhere. When the internet God created electronic communication in all its guises, he dumped the requirement for an editor. The lack of cost gave the all-clear to publish, whatever the quality. Hence the noise gets louder every day without filter or judge of quality. But having said all that, quoting classics “is the last resort of the scoundrel.” 🙂

    1. padraicino says:

      Thanks Martin! Yes, indeed, the devil quotes scripture for his own ends! Hope you’re well there.

  3. Cherie Weinstein says:

    Great post! There’s a certain US presidential candidate who could learn from Shakespeare, but as he has told us, he has a great mind and knows everything.

    1. padraicino says:

      Thanks Cherie! Lovely to hear from you

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