Certification and education programs provide opportunities for meeting planners to grow both personally and professionally. They’re a terrific way to build a network of colleagues, make new friends and build knowledge of a fascinating industry. Having a set of initials after your name can help the next time a job hunt or salary negotiation comes around. They’ll also make you more confident that you’re doing everything possible to plan meetings that are safe, engaging, well organized and on budget.
“I would make the case that with all the security and other challenges in the meetings and event space, you really need to hire professionals and partner with professionals that have certifications,” says Christie Pruyn, CAE, CIS, executive director of the International Live Events Association (ILEA), which manages the Certified Special Events Professional program, a certification for people focused on special and live events.
“For the employee it’s a way to set themselves apart from other potential candidates,” says Karen Kotowski, chief executive officer of the Events Industry Council (EIC), the nonprofit that manages the Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) certification. “It gives the employer a third-party validation that the person has the knowledge and skills to do their job.”
Education programs are a great way to keep up on ever-changing industry best practices, says Chris Murphy Peck, senior director of education and learning services at SmithBucklin. Organizations also are changing the way they deliver education. A good example of this is attitudes toward where and how educational sessions should take place. “People are actively moving away from that old classroom-style seating, where you sit in rows and learn, and instead, creating atmospheres where people can engage and learn,” she says.
There are general and highly specialized meeting planning certifications that can meet varying needs for professionals. Which program or programs to choose is highly personal. If you’ve been pondering a certification for a while, you may be interested in knowing that there are some relatively new programs out there, as well as updates to existing programs that you might not be aware of. Make sure you explore these options in the search for the certification that’s right for you.
The CMP continues to be the unfettered leader when it comes to professional certifications for meeting planners. The program was developed by meeting planners as a way to create an industry standard for best practices and ethics. The body of knowledge (the CMP-International Standard) is regularly updated to ensure planners are up-to-date on changes in the field. The last update took place in 2016.
Kotowski calls the CMP a great baseline certification. “The CMP covers the full spectrum of meetings and event management and execution relevant to both the planner side and the supplier side of the planning team,” she says. “After that you may choose to do one of the other meeting industry certifications for a deeper dive into the specific sector they’re involved in.”
EIC recently initiated a research program to identify opportunities and barriers to expanding the certification globally. “We’re looking at what markets are right for the CMP, and which ones are coming online and will be the next places where we really develop the CMP program,” she says. “We want to know what barriers there might be that we need to look at to help people successfully pursue the CMP.”
The biggest program change in recent years is the addition of a subspecialty in health care. The industry’s rules and regulations are quite complicated. Meeting planners have to understand health care laws and regulations which govern how health care meetings are to be executed. This program can help professionals gain a better understanding of the regulations they need to follow when organizing these meetings.
Planners interested in receiving the CMP-HC designation must first complete their CMP, then sit for the health care-focused exam. One of the first people to successfully complete that test was Robin Simon, CMP-HC, senior vice president of Association & Meeting Solutions in Thorofare, New Jersey. “The exam validated my knowledge of the rules and regulations I apply on a daily basis to meetings,” she says. “It also gave me knowledge in other areas in terms of international compliance codes and laws, and regulations I might not have been exposed to. It made me more well-rounded.”
Simon first learned about the CMP-HC at IMEX in December 2013. The first exam was being offered in February 2014, which didn’t give her much time to prepare. A woman she met at IMEX was planning to put together a study group, which Simon joined. That turned out to be a very smart decision.
“The exam was very rigorous, and participating in that study group prepared me well to sit for it,” she says. “We met as a group via conference call twice a week during the month of January. We broke down the standards and each person took a section, and we shared that information amongst all of us.” She recommends that others looking to take certification exams consider joining similar groups.
The Digital Event Strategist (DES) certification designation was launched in 2012 in response to the rising popularity of digital meetings. “Digital events are a powerful way for associations to extend their reach,” says Jennifer Kingen Kush, DES, executive director of the Digital Experience Institute, which manages the program.
Organizations can use fully digital meetings to train and empower members throughout the year or reach people who can’t travel. Associations are increasingly organizing hybrid events, where certain sessions are livestreamed or on-demand packages are made available after the event.
The DES course focuses on crafting all kinds of digital events so they meet the organization’s goals and provide a quality experience for attendees. Topics include user experience strategy, how to make participants feel engaged, marketing and production technology. “That’s bookended with metrics — how do you create the metrics to measure the success of the events, and how do you report that to your stakeholders and have data for continual improvement going into the future?” says Kush.
“With technology constantly changing and evolving, the course is always changing,” Kush says. “We did a complete rewrite of the curriculum in 2015 so it was brand new in 2016. There are constant updates to the technology module.”
Miranda Connon, CMP, DES, meetings manager for the Société Internationale d’Urologie, based in Montreal, Quebec, has high praise for the program. She’s responsible for the association’s annual Congress, which has become a hybrid event. Although the organization has specialists who assist with the digital aspects of the event, Connon wanted to increase her knowledge of this growing part of meeting management.
“I realized there was no hiding from the fact that digital events are no longer the future of the industry but are here today,” she says. “I’m very comfortable with technology, but this had been turning everything I’d been doing for the past 15 years upside down.”
Connon started researching digital meeting training programs, and when she found the DES certification, “I knew right away it was going to help me understand the digital side of the industry,” she says. She completed the program in 2016.
Today, Connon is better able to offer valuable input to her digitally focused colleagues during meetings. She’s better able to negotiate with technology suppliers and plan out space at physical events. “Acoustics matter more now,” she points out, and she remembers to make room for bulky recording equipment.
“I recommend this course to all meeting planners at all stages in their careers,” she says. “This is the only course that gives you everything you need to know about digital meetings from A to Z.”
A training program meeting planners may not be familiar with is the Diversity Executive Leadership Program offered through ASAE. Its goal is to help mid- to high-level association staff from under-represented identity groups advance their careers in the field. The two-year program provides ample network-building opportunities with peers and leaders, and funding so participants can attend a wide variety of professional development events.
“When the scholars enter the DELP program, we work with them to develop their goals and try to customize their experience,” says John H. Graham IV, FASAE, CAE, ASAE’s president and CEO. “They attend education sessions in the areas they want to focus on, and we provide opportunities for them to be mentored one-on-one and attend networking events. It’s a great opportunity for anyone in the association field.”
Jerome Bruce, CAE, CMM, CMP, CEM, director of meetings and expositions for the Association of Government Accountants, is a recent DELP participant. He enjoyed everything about the program, including the opportunity to learn about various functions within associations. “I’ve been doing meetings for close to 20 years, but being part of the DELP program exposed me to the different aspects of association management,” he says. His colleagues helped him learn about the basics of areas such as governance, policy, membership.
Bruce is still in touch with many of the people he met through the program. “The DELP community is very close,” he says. “We have our own group and talk to each other when we’re looking for referrals and recommendations.”
The program confirmed his desire to stay in the association industry. And it helped him land his current job, which is a more senior event management position. He was able to impress the people who interviewed him with his knowledge of the many different aspects of running a successful association, not just his experience organizing quality meetings. That’s only one of the benefits that made this certification program extremely worthwhile. AC&F