With so many areas of meeting planning evolving, and some that remain underexplored, ongoing education is a must in the profession. Certificate programs such as the CMP and CMM provide tactical and strategic foundations, but beyond that, successful planners feel the need to stay current on a variety of topics through industry conferences, trade publications and informal discussions with colleagues.
Perhaps the most obvious example of an ever-evolving area is technology, where planners always can discover new meeting apps, social media techniques, attendee survey tools and more. It’s an area of planning that is central to the work of Judy Payne, CMP, director, meetings and travel at Grapevine, Texas-based GameStop.
Technology is an educational focus for Payne, who tries to stay current on “the latest and greatest (tech tools) that make sense at our event and fit within our budget,” she says. “We really focus on gamification, so we try to find apps that have that component. And we also look for something that’s very hands on for the planner, so we can get in and fine-tune it onsite when we want to add last-minute elements.”
Also on her list of educational priorities is attendee engagement, which has been a hot topic in recent years. Meeting technology, whether it’s a gamification app or a captivating AV setup, can certainly further the goal of keeping attendees immersed in an event. Payne cites Jeff Hurt, E.V.P., education and engagement at Velvet Chainsaw Consulting, as a favorite speaker in these areas. “He’s very down-to-earth and welcoming, and very relatable,” she says. “He talks about planning in a way that you can apply what he’s saying in your own events, with specific ideas and takeaways.”
Technology and engagement are also educational priorities for Jennifer C. Squeglia, CMP, owner of Warwick, Rhode Island-based RLC Events Inc., and she adds two more to the list: F&B trends and contract negotiation. Squeglia finds that attending hotel companies’ client events is especially helpful in learning about new approaches to F&B and entertainment. As to the latter topic, Squeglia says she “never stops learning” about contracts, despite having nearly 18 years of experience as a corporate planner. Whether it’s new clauses, new subtleties in existing clauses or instructive issues in negotiation, there is always more to learn, and Squeglia has found attorney Jonathan Howe of Howe & Hutton Ltd. to be among the best resources on the topic.
“Another big thing I’ve been learning about in the last couple years is crisis management,” she adds. “It’s just crazy what’s going on in the world today, and it doesn’t only affect international meetings.”
“Security is now starting to become a big topic,” confirms Shannon Guggenheim, CMP, vice president of meetings and events at Dallas, Texas-based EventLink International, “and I have not been to a lot of educational meetings or events for meeting planners that have even touched on that. I’ve actually written in the (post event) comments that we should have sessions on security, because I think the vast majority of meeting planners don’t have any sort of plan in place.”
This summer, Meeting Professionals International (MPI) introduced a new educational offering that effectively addresses Guggenheim’s concern. Collaborating with the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4) at the University of Southern Mississippi, MPI has developed Emergency Preparedness for Meetings and Events, a six-hour certificate course. It promises to take a “deep dive into incident management strategies as needed for the prevention, preparedness, response and recovery from all-hazard emergency incidents,” according to the course description. “Learners will be introduced to techniques to prevent and respond to extraordinary crimes, violence, terrorist attacks, natural disasters and ordinary incidents such as fights, or drunkenness to ensure the safety and security of all attendees, limit damage and restore services in the event of emergencies.”
The MPI Academy will present the course next January during the SITE + MPI Global Forum in Rome. The Global Forum itself is significant news for educationally minded planners, as it represents a new opportunity for members of both associations to learn and network together. Announced in March, the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) and Meeting Professional International partnership will bring a unique event to the Rome Cavalieri Waldorf Astoria, Rome, Italy, January 12–14. “This collaboration is just one example of our strategic priority to expand MPI educational offerings within Europe, and we believe our members in the region will welcome the opportunity to learn and network alongside SITE members,” said Paul Van Deventer, president and CEO of MPI, in a statement. There is also a certain logistical advantage for planners who are members of both associations. “By combining our otherwise competing events, we are making it easier for members to attend one event versus having to choose between two,” added SITE CEO Kevin Hinton, CIS.
In another new and valuable partnership, MPI and IACC will be collaborating over the next five years on educational and research initiatives. For example, this year MPI’s World Education Congress (WEC) was the first of many MPI conferences that will be streamed live to IACC member venues. At WEC 2017, IACC CEO Mark Cooper presented on several timely topics: “Visioneering the Meeting Room of the Future,” “Trends in Conference Dining, Breaks and Wellbeing” and “20 Innovations to Look for in a Venue.”
“MPI and IACC have a long history of educational partnership,” notes Kristi Casey Sanders, CMM, DES, HMCC, director of the MPI Academy. “Mark Cooper has been a speaker at MPI signature events for several years, and MPI has presented education at IACC events. MPI has also contributed content for IACC’s Meeting Room of the Future global research and publication. The study was distributed to MPI Members, so their voices and viewpoints are reflected in the data. Some of our staff members also contributed anecdotal evidence. The research was showcased in the ‘Meeting Room of the Future’ space at WEC 2017 and during concurrent sessions. The second set of research (was published) for IMEX America, during MPI’s Smart Monday.”
Sanders overviews the two sides to the partnership: “The education MPI presents at IACC events helps conference venue executives understand the mind of the meeting/event organizer. The sessions focus on best and next practices for how venues can drive better meeting and event ROI by focusing on relationship-building consultative rather than transactional sales approaches. We also help IACC members position themselves as educational resources and true partners for meeting and event organizers,” she explains. Conversely, “IACC education at MPI events focuses on sharing best and next practices for how meeting professionals can leverage the relationships they have with conference venue representatives to plan meetings that are better aligned to achieving strategic business objectives.” Apart from its recent involvement in WEC, IACC will be participating in the following educational webinars: Internet Considerations, September 14; Meeting Experiences, October 19; and Under the Skin of Small Venue Types, December 7 (each takes place at noon Eastern time).
Livestreaming and webinars are handy educational mediums for planners who can’t attend the face-to-face events. For instance, the WEC unfortunately conflicts with GameStop’s annual conference, but Payne has found opportunities to participate in MPI’s webinars. “It’s easy to listen to them at your desk and also get some work done,” she says. “Of course, you miss the networking component and really being able to focus on what’s going on, but when I can’t attend in person I really like the webinars.”
She has been able to physically attend PCMA Convening Leaders, however, and finds value in having her four-planner team at GameStop participate. “That’s been something that I’ve fought for with my company since I’ve been there, because we all need education in different elements. So if you handle registration, then you normally select the registration meetings or housing sessions, for example. Another person on my team runs our sponsorships, so she always tries to attend the vendor ROI sessions,” Payne explains.
Payne personally avoids those sessions where the presenter is likely to be commercially motivated: “I look at who’s speaking. For example, if it’s a session about the newest and greatest apps, and it’s an app company that’s presenting, I won’t go because normally it’s a sales pitch for the things that they offer. So I’m going to get a very one-sided approach.” After the team splits up to attend the most relevant sessions individually, “we’ll huddle each day and talk about our takeaways and see how we can apply those different elements to our event,” she says. “We try to take away three to five great things from PCMA that we can apply at our events.”
Yet the most important part of attending Convening Leaders is the networking, Payne asserts, “because nowhere can you find as many different city hosts in one location than at one of these annual events.” As far as networking with other corporate end users, she focuses on connecting with other retail companies to learn from their challenges and successes in the meetings arena. Well-established professional networks, whether established through association membership or other means, serve as a major touchstone for ongoing learning.
“I tend to seek educational resources via LinkedIn discussion groups, such as event planning and management, and experiential marketing,” remarks Ashely King, CMP, senior event marketer with Santa Clara, California-based ServiceNow. “I also highly value educational associations such as Corporate Event Marketing Association. I believe having access to a network for brainstorming and/or sharing contacts is a necessity for success. CEMA has an ‘ask CEMA’ email communication where a question can be posed to the community for feedback. The variety of responses received is typically enlightening.”
“I think the most valuable learning experiences we can have are from each other, sharing our experiences with technology or a particular hotel or attendee engagement,” Squeglia adds. “For me it’s really important to be part of a network and engage in that network; don’t just contact people when you need something.” She is part of an informal group consisting of eight independent meeting planners who “meet two or three times a year to share ideas and brainstorm, and discuss challenges unique to independent planners. We really do help each other; if somebody has a question they’ll put an email out to the group.” In addition, Squeglia stays in touch with the study group for her Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) exam, which she took in 2001.
“I definitely knew that having a CMP after my name would set me apart,” Squeglia recalls. That career benefit has made many planners advocates of the program. According to Payne, holding the designation “shows that I’ve done my due diligence and made my commitment to the industry.” Guggenheim, who previously served as a lead planner at Apple, observes that “There are several companies out there that will offer you a pay raise or higher title if you have a CMP. In the corporate world, especially an internal meeting planner for a big company, basically you stand out from every other meeting planner that is trying to apply.”
As far as the educational benefit of the program, it varies depending on how much experience in the field the planner already has. “When I did CMP, I had been in the industry for a while; people that hadn’t been in it as long as me would probably gain a little bit more,” says Guggenheim, who recertified last year. “At the time in Apple I was not doing trade shows, and there was a whole section on trade shows (in the CMP course) that we had to learn. So that piece was valuable; after Apple I ended up going to a company that does trade shows, and had I not done that CMP, I may not have been as familiar with the terminology. So there were pieces that were valuable to me at the time, and I didn’t realize it until later in my career.”
Payne found it especially helpful that the course “pulled together all the APEX terminology,” among other terminology and formulas. With the evolving nature of many areas in planning, its certificate programs also need updating. One example is the inclusion of the Event Industry Council’s APEX terminology, which did not exist when the CMP was founded in 1985. As it stands, “the CMP program itself should ideally be updated to include more of today’s experiential marketing requirements,” King feels, “given the demands of a meeting planner than exceed basic logistical management.”
The content of the Certificate in Meeting Management (CMM) program, offered by MPI and the GBTA Foundation, is less logistical and more focused on event strategy and executive-level decision-making. Although far more planners hold the CMP, the CMM program has been making strides. In January, the certificate was awarded to 37 meeting and travel professionals from the CMM 2016 class in Norfolk, Virginia. There are now 1,185 CMM holders worldwide.
MPI continues to add specialized certificate programs to its educational offerings, including the aforementioned Emergency Preparedness for Meetings and Events Certificate, Healthcare Meeting Compliance Certificate, Sustainable Meeting Professional Certificate, Meetings & Events at Sea Certificate, and several more. While these courses are surely addressing many planners’ educational interests, some believe that their career value should be put in perspective.
“I think you should have your CMP or CMM before you go off and become, for example, green meetings certified,” says Payne. “If you’re green meeting certified but don’t have the knowledge to plan a large-scale event, then it doesn’t help you that much.” As far as the weight these specific designations have in the job market, Guggenheim is skeptical. “Big companies are looking for a meeting planner and maybe one with a CMP, and that’s about it. I think it would take a specific company and a specific job to really have any of those certifications seem valuable,” she explains.
More valuable than any certificate course, Guggenheim maintains, is “real-life experience. Showing you can do whatever you’re certified for ranks higher to me than saying you were able to pass a test. So while I do think certification is important, I don’t think that people that only try to go after the certification are as knowledgeable as planners that have worked in the field doing meetings every day.”
And that includes learning from those who are planning in real time. An on-the-job mentor, for Guggenheim, was “career changing.” Early on she benefited from two planners who allowed her to “shadow” their daily processes, from personal organization to the beginning-to-end planning of particular events.
For Payne, “60 percent of learning has been on the job,” and as a young planner for IAEE (International Association of Exhibitions and Events) she benefited from the mentorship of Cathy Breden, CMP, CAE, currently IAEE’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. “She knows the industry like nobody else. Just being on that team I learned so much. Being a planner for planners is like cooking for chefs. You have to be at the top of your game,” Payne recalls.
Now, as the lead planner at GameStop, Payne is available as a mentor to her team members. In addition to pearls of planning wisdom, she imparts advice on how to gain recognition in the company as an events expert.
“Have a voice and don’t be afraid to speak your mind,” she says. “We tend to be in all the planning meetings with the executives, and we have to be in the front line to help guide the event to make sure that in the end it is successful. So have confidence in your knowledge: This is what we should do and this is why, and this is how we’re going to move forward.” Unlike “hot topics” in education that can come and go, it is perennially valuable for planners to learn that assertiveness in the corporate environment. C&IT