Continuous learning is essential for everyone, but especially in the meeting industry as meeting professionals face increasing demands from their clients and employers to prove their skills in a constantly changing industry.
Just ask Joanna Oliver, CMP, CMM, manager of business travel and conference planning at EmCare in Dallas, Texas, who participated in the first CMM program in November 2014, which was jointly sponsored by MPI and GBTA at the Hard Rock Hotel in the Riviera Maya. Professors from the Darden School of Business presented three full days of intense training in topics such as negotiation, operational and financial performance, leadership strategies, flexible budgeting, balanced scorecard, continuous improvement programs and root cause analysis.
“In our industry, there are always new, improved and more efficient ways of doing things. Keeping abreast of these things will in turn, make us as planners more valuable employees.” — Heather Borneman, CMP, CMM
Oliver believes it is very important for meeting planners to participate in certification programs and continuing education to enhance respect for the profession and advance individual careers.
“Choose the programs that relate directly to your job and you will have more success at retaining the knowledge,” Oliver says. “However, also choose some programs that are outside your knowledge base to stimulate your creative thinking. Just one nugget from a seminar or webinar can spark a wealth of new ideas that could be applied to your programs.”
Continuing education, including certification programs, helps meeting planners stay abreast of the latest trends, technology and regulations. Programs with designations such as the Certificate in Meeting Management (CMM) and the Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) allow meeting professionals to showcase their skills and knowledge, putting them ahead of their competition in the job market.
Today’s programs are far more learner-centered, innovative and relevant to immediate meeting planner and company needs than ever before. No longer simply a reward for high-potential planners or a chance to renew an individual’s knowledge base, certification programs are increasingly harnessed as strategic tools for companies and their employees to stay ahead of the game. At the same time, these programs also have been undergoing profound changes — resulting in leaner and meaner training options.
In August 2015, Meeting Professionals International (MPI) formally introduced the new MPI Academy, an entity that encompasses and connects all of the education and learning experiences MPI delivers within the meeting and event industry and beyond. In addition, the association has unveiled enhancements to its professional development offerings, including a variety of new certificate programs and experiential events.
The MPI Academy aligns with the Meeting and Business Event Competency Standards (MBECS) and is designed to provide multifaceted learning opportunities for meeting professionals at all levels. Its portfolio is comprised of training courses, certificate programs, streaming sessions from MPI events, webinars and tools such as the new MPI Professional Development Roadmap, which helps individuals map out their career, pursue continuing education, and supplement their professional development.
According to Stephanie Arehart, senior director of professional development at MPI, the MPI Academy is an exciting new entity that showcases professional development and educational opportunities in the meeting and event industry.
“It was started to provide an easy way for those in the industry to gain access to the certificate programs, training courses, webinars and other education — both MPI-developed as well as partner offerings — that will help them with their individual learning goals,” Arehart says. “The MPI Academy makes it very easy to identify professional development options that make that most sense for each individual.”
Currently, the CMP, CMM and Healthcare Meeting Compliance Certificate (HMCC) are the most popular certification and certificate programs available to meeting professionals at the MPI Academy.
As Arehart explains, the CMP allows meeting planners to demonstrate that they are certified on the basics of meeting and event planning. The CMM provides a more distinguished designation for senior level meeting professionals and provides education offered at an MBA level. And the HMCC is crucial for those meeting professionals working with medical meetings as this certificate program provides knowledge regarding related government regulations.
“Stacked credentials and specialized certificate programs are current trends for all adult learning, and that includes meeting professionals,” Arehart says. “As the industry evolves, meeting professionals want to demonstrate specific expertise, and certificate programs such as the Sustainable Meeting Professional Certificate (SMPC) are a great way to do that.
Stacking credentials allows learners to take various pieces that eventually add up to a higher-level designation. The MPI Academy is currently exploring some options including four certificates in the MPI Experiential Events Series where meeting professionals could achieve a higher designation by obtaining all four.
Heather Borneman, CMP, CMM, manager of meetings, events and trade shows at Teleflex in Reading, Pennsylvania, recently attended a multiday training session for her CMM, along with 20 or so other meeting and event professionals.
“During that training we heard from industry experts, examined various case studies and financial statements, completed multiple teambuilding exercises, and learned to look at obstacles from the point of view of others in order to determine better, more efficient ways of doing things,” Borneman says. “We also completed a Darden 360 exercise where we learned a lot about ourselves and what our managers/colleagues thought of our capabilities. After the group training sessions, we were tasked with completing a number of online classes. Following that, we had to complete a project, utilizing what we learned and how to implement moving forward.”
Laura Bell Way, CMP, CMM, senior manager, global customer events at Autodesk, applied for the CMM program in the first year of taking on a new strategic meetings management role at her company. She had already passed the CMP exam more than 10 years earlier, and felt that this was the time and the job role in which the CMM certificate process would help her succeed in her job.
“After my application was accepted, it took me over a year to start the course, as there were some changes in the structure of the CMM program taking place, as well as limitations of my time due to travel schedules,” Bell Way says. “The first stage of the process was a week-long program run by the University of Virginia Darden School of Business. It was long days of business strategy, process and real-life scenarios that are helpful for planners to craft and communicate their programs and goals to the corporate executive level.”
The second stage of the process was done in a virtual environment, reviewing industry sessions in the GBTA online portal and submitting takeaways on each one. The third stage of the CMM was to create a project using the skills and strategy learned through the program, and put them into a thesis paper to be presented to the CMM board.
“Beyond what is learned in the sessions offered, the networking offers opportunities to hear from planners and managers who may share some of the same challenges — and may also share great recommendations on destinations, venues and vendors. It is such an important part of ‘staying on your game’ in your job role,” Bell Way says.
Lynnette Offen Gerber, M.A., CMP, CMM, manager of global accounts at HelmsBriscoe in Adams, Minnesota, stresses that the biggest trends regarding certification and continuous education involve taking key general business subject matter and principles and applying them specifically to this industry — whether it is ROI, social media marketing, app development, participative (versus passive) learning, financial fitness and multigenerational participants.
Indeed, while the above topics are applicable to this industry, Bell Way, also advises planners to look outside the immediate hospitality industry for certifications that really can help in a job role. “Certification and education in procurement or project management, for instance, would be great additions to a planner’s resume and help vault a planner into a higher level role,” Bell Way says.
Borneman believes it is important for meeting professionals to continue their education in order to keep up on current trends and technologies.
“Having that knowledge will help show your company or organization the value you bring to their organization,” Borneman says. “In our industry, there are always new, improved and more efficient ways of doing things. Keeping abreast of these things will in turn, make us as planners more valuable employees.”
Kelly Bishop, CMP, CMM, manager, meeting and event strategy for Liberty Mutual Insurance in Boston, Massachusetts, agrees. “Our industry is constantly being challenged with the latest trends and new ways of doing business. The education piece that is learned from these certification programs is valuable and helps support the day-to-day work,” Bishop says. “For example, in the CMM course I recently attended, we learned about root-cause problem-solving. My company is moving into a ‘lean type’ workplace environment in which the practices I learned at the CMM training have helped me embrace the implementation here at work.”
Bishop’s advice to corporate meeting and event planners is to target a certification. Understand what you need to possess to qualify for the certification and ask your manager to help create a plan with you that can give you the right tools needed to apply and qualify for the program.
“There is never the perfect time — select a certification and go after it,” Bishop says. “Make the time you need to invest in yourself, because no one else will.”
Offen Gerber recently earned her CMM designation and believes corporate meeting planners need to pick a certification program that they are passionate about and want to learn about.
“Then it becomes not something else on your to-do list, but rather something that inspires you and motivates you to learn,” Offen Gerber says. “Remember that it’s very important to keep growing and expanding your knowledge base and staying on top of industry trends. It’s important to always evolve as a meeting professional. If you don’t, you will become extinct. Even if you have been in the industry for 20 years and think you know it all, the learning process itself is good for your cognitive abilities and there are always new avenues to explore in our ever-changing industry.” C&IT