Operations

‘Please Don’t Call Me Shirley’

Expect the unexpected, and other lessons from a CU meeting planner.

April 20, 2011
KEYWORDS annual , business , meeting
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Meeting planners don’t like surprises, and I’m no exception. As I was planning for the West Virginia Credit Union League's 75th Annual Meeting (held earlier this month), I thought back to a surprise encounter that would be categorized as an exception to this “no surprises” rule.

It was 2004, and I had the fortune of a chance meeting with funnyman/actor Leslie Nielsen at the Charleston Marriott. He was in West Virginia performing at a Marshall University Alumni fund-raising event and was a guest of the Charleston Marriott.

Sadly, Nielsen died last November after a long and successful career in movies and television. His deadpan humor in movies like “Airplane!”and the “Naked Gun”series is a comedy style I most enjoy.

The departing Marriott sales manager asked me to stop by his office at the end of the business day to meet his replacement. This gesture was not unusual from the Marriott staff. A clean hand-off was necessary, so I suspected nothing.

I was also a hotel guest and was preparing for the league’s 68th Annual Meeting. At the correct time on that April day, I rounded the corner inside the Marriott’s 3rd floor offices. There, standing 15 feet away, staring at me was Mr. Nielsen with his head slightly cocked, along with the Marriott sales manager with a wide grin. Nielsen introduced himself in a serious manner much like the Dr. Rumack character from “Airplane!”

The voice in my head was that of Nielsen’s “Police Squad” character, Lt. Frank Drebin (“It was a sunny, spring-like day, the kind of day that you makes you squint hard if you look directly into the sun’s rays with a powerful telescope”). I was surprised, but instinctively didn’t break character either.

As soon as the handshake occurred, Nielsen employed the use of a whoopee cushion hidden in the other hand. “Surely, you have to get that thing tuned up,” I declared without missing a beat, much to the delight of the Marriott staffer.

Nielsen stayed serious and replied, “It sounds fine, and please don’t call me Shirley.” There it was, his signature line delivered to me, in the deadpan manner that made him famous!

We chatted for a few minutes about the purpose of each other’s business at the Marriott. Sensing that he would be leaving soon, I asked one favor of him, “Call our league president [my boss] and order him to the third floor offices.” I knew he would stay in character. I dialed his number and handed him the phone.

“Yes. Mr. Watts, this is Leslie Nielsen here at the Marriott, and I need you to come to the third floor immediately,” he implored in an authoritative even tone. “Yes… Yes… ummm… I see…,” the actor said inquisitively as if carefully pondering a line from fellow “Naked Gun” cohort George Kennedy. “He wants to talk to you,” handing the phone back to me without explanation.

Needless to say, my normally mild-mannered and unflappable boss wasn’t pleased with the prank. He told me we had interrupted his meeting. Clearly, this could be an unfortunate turning point in my career.

But luckily, I persuaded him that it was in fact Nielsen. Although he never made it to the third floor, my boss asked me to apologize for his “abruptness,” which seemed to please the actor. Before hanging up, I asked if I was still employed thinking that other lodging arrangements may be in order. With things patched-up, the Nielsen entourage including myself, headed for the nearby elevator.

Nielsen, now wearing dark sunglasses and a whoopee cushion still hidden in hand, boarded the elevator. Asking me in a “Drebin” voice “What floor, please?” other passengers looked on without a clue. “Two, please,” I requested.

As the doors shut tightly, the whoopee cushion was once again activated and I had the longest one-floor ride of my life as the other passengers unaware of the gag or its perpetrator, didn’t seem pleased. Departing for the second floor, I nodded to him only to later say to myself, “Did that just really happen?”

What a treat!!!

Tim Henderson
April 26, 2011 3:00 pm
The chance encounter with one who knew how to maximize each chance, what a treat! It was especially refreshing to hear of someone courageous enough to shake up the status quo of our "professional" standards - meetings, elevators, etc.

Only Leslie Nielson and you, Sir, could be respected for it. i seem to be reprimanded at each attempt:)
Thanks for sharing,
Tim
CU-VO.com


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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory (www.appreciationatwork.com/assess) will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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