Business and professional networking is widely recognized as the lifeblood of the meetings industry,” writes Joan Eisenstodt and Mitchell Beer, CMM, from a chapter in Professional Meeting Management (Kendall-Hunt), a textbook from the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) Educational Foundation. The textbook is used not only by many industry professionals, but also by thousands of students in university management programs. Other industry professional organizations may offer their own educational materials.
“At its best, networking is about bringing colleagues and professional partners together to share information, ideas and opportunities, secure in the knowledge that if the substance is sound, commercial success will follow,” Eisenstodt and Beer say.
There is no better way for planners to begin to network and exchange ideas than by joining professional organizations within the meetings industry, many of which are listed at the end of this article. These organizations offer many of the opportunities mentioned above, as well as educational components and accreditations that can be very important to a planner’s career.
“Meeting planner certifications demonstrate that a professional knows the critical core competencies needed to be successful in his or her role,”
Amanda Cecil, Ph.D., CMP
“Meeting planner certifications demonstrate that a professional knows the critical core competencies needed to be successful in his or her role,” says Prof. Amanda Cecil, Ph.D., CMP, director of the Tourism, Events and Sports Management graduate program at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. “It should give colleagues the confidence and peace of mind that individuals with certifications and designations value career development and education/training.”
“It is important to note that certifications require continuing education,” Cecil explains. “In order to continue using the CMP designation, for instance, one must dedicate time and resources to evolving with the profession. “I am currently not a planner, but an academic who teaches meeting management. However, I continue to see many job postings with ‘CMP Preferred’ or ‘CMP Required’ in the position requirements. Obtaining a CMP from a professional organization will give planners a significant advantage when looking for a position or promotion.”
Cecil went on to say that “having a CMP puts you in a unique peer-group, and in a community that genuinely values professionalism and wants continued personal and professional growth. It a great goal to achieve for planners at any stage of their career.”
According to a recent salary survey, event organizers with a CMP increase their salaries by 11 percent. Several organizations, including Meeting Professionals International (MPI) and PCMA, offer products designed to help planners study on-the-go and on their own schedule.
“I believe that meeting planner affiliations are important as it keeps meeting planners up-to-date as to what is going on in the industry, provides continued education and networking opportunities available among professional planners and suppliers,” says Elizabeth A. Kretchmer, CMP, CMM, HMCC, a strategic meetings manager and positive thinking coach and speaker with Strategic Meeting Manager, LLC. “Professional affiliations/organizations are an important asset to both planners and suppliers because the focus is within the industry and provides information that no other industry is able to offer.”
Kretchmer says being an active member of MPI has definitely been a big advantage as her career progressed. “My local MPI chapter has provided me with a wonderful network of meeting and connecting with a variety of planners and suppliers who I can collaborate with both on volunteer committees and work with professionally,” she says. “I consider my industry contacts my friends, and I find that if I am ever in need of seeking an industry planner/supplier for assistance or advice, I can easily contact them. I find that serving on MPI committees both nationally and within my local chapter, enables me to expand my network of contacts plus work with the best industry professionals within the MPI community.”
She says attending events and conferences gives her another way to link up.
“. . . I reconnect with so many industry contacts/friends due to my affiliation with MPI, and on the committees or projects we have worked on,” Kretchmer says. “It is always fun to catch up with my industry people at industry events to catch up on what is going on within their lives, plus exchange ideas or information on a professional level.”
One of the major milestones for many corporate meeting planners has been the accreditations received through the various organizations to which they belong. “Having obtained my CMP, CMM and HMCC has allowed me to be more respected and recognized in the industry. With these three accreditations, I have been able to use my knowledge and experience to move forward in my career as a strategic meeting manager, plus serve on MPI international committees,” Kretchmer says. “I also find that throughout my career, people recognize me as an accomplished meeting professional, and I find myself more credible within the industry. Therefore, being an active member of MPI has helped me tremendously throughout my career in the meeting planning industry in enhancing my continuing education, the networking opportunities available plus the friendships I have gained.”
Even for the many men and women working for the professional organizations, working with outside suppliers and corporate meeting planners for private firms brings an opportunity to form lifelong friendships. “Finding the right-fit industry affiliation is like finding a best friend, or several thousand friends,” says Jessie States, CMP, CMM, director of MPI Academy at MPI’s Dallas office. “For many corporate planners, as well as the staff of meeting organizations like MPI, the organization is your family, your confidant or your support system. It’s your career path and your educational and professional development. It’s your friend-rate on a service, product or venue. It’s your future boss, next client or new employee. And most importantly, it’s your advocate, giving you the tools you need to prove your worth to your organization and measure the business value you drive for your business, organization or group.”
States continues, “When I think of our industry’s fearless leaders; men and women who have worked their ways to the tops of great companies or who have started their own successful businesses, I see people who volunteered for, and actively participated in, their professional associations and who have been rewarded with massive networks and communities, necessary and timely education and, ultimately, the leadership training that propelled their careers.”
“Attaining the CMP certification, for example, verifies your professionalism in our industry,” States says. “You may have all the skills, and more, to deftly design experiences of all sizes and scopes, but the CMP lets the world know about it. CMP-preferred and CMP-required jobs are proliferating because hiring managers see the benefits of bringing on meeting professionals who are not only certified by a globally recognized certification, but who think investing in their professional development is important.”
Every corporate planner has a different story about their experiences with professional organizations. Heather M. Seasholtz, CMP, director of meetings and events for the New Jersey-based Talley Management Group, became a PCMA member in 2011 after working in the corporate sector as a planner either in-house or as a third-party meeting planner. “To have an organization where I could network with meeting managers, exhibit managers, decorators, audio visual providers, venues, hoteliers and CVB’s was important to my growth and development within the association for my work” Seasholtz says. “I went to my first PCMA Convening Leaders in 2012 and have been going ever since, along with the PCMA Education Conference and any other event where I can ride on the PCMA coattails. PCMA has given me the tools to become an ‘Event Boss’ and the opportunities to give back through volunteerism. Along the way I have grown my circle of colleagues and friends, which is invaluable.”
Seasholtz appreciates having the opportunity.
“What is great about PCMA is they take the risks that some planners are sometimes afraid to take. Staging at Convening Leaders, breakouts offsite away from the host hotel, mixed seating room sets, meal creativity, corporate social responsibility (CSR) opportunities and volunteerism. Not everything is a home run, but what is great is that we get to see what works, what didn’t work and learn how to either make adjustments or implement it for our size of budgets,” Seasholtz says.
For Seasholtz, the international component of her own business, and with the PCMA organization, is what she thrives on. “PCMA has a fantastic forum for members to use when they need to ask a question. It is international brainstorming between planners and partners. Using the forum has helped me with understanding cultural nuances, find supplier partners that are recommended by industry colleagues and seek feedback on questions in regards to sponsorship,” she says. “For example, I may have the opportunity to assist with an event in Kenya. Utilizing the forum has given me a network of individuals who have planned or may be planning an event there in the future so we can share knowledge with one another. Further, at the 2019 Convening Leaders, I was honored to serve as a moderator for a panel discussion on contract clauses that are above and beyond what is in the typical contract with an amazing group of industry professionals. That opportunity has elevated my profile and Talley Management Group, which has afforded us opportunities for name recognition and consulting.”
As a meeting planner, Seasholtz offers her recommendations to those just starting out in the industry, on how to get the most out of your exciting career.
Get involved on the local level. This will help grow the network of professionals around them. That network will be great for career development and ongoing support. Getting involved is as simple as attending local events.
If you are attending a national conference for the first time, such as Convening Leaders, sign up for a mentor program. This program gives new attendees a mentor who has attended the conference in the past or repeatedly. By partnering, the new attendee has a contact and connection right away. Also, the mentor can introduce them to their circle of colleagues, check in with them during the conference to ask how it is going. It also gives the attendee a contact so they are coming to the conference knowing someone.
Lean in. Young professionals should feel empowered to introduce themselves at events, strike up conversation and work outside of their comfort zone.
PCMA and other meetings orgnizations offer scholarships to attend various events to which I encourage young professionals to apply. This will automatically put them in a group of similar individuals and therefore a great way to build a network.
Approximately 4,000 industry professionals from around the world gathered for PCMA Convening Leaders 2019 in Pittsburgh January 6-9 for three days of education and inspiration aimed at driving economic and social progress through business events. Sessions covered innovation, design, leadership and technology. Celebrities Billie Jean King, Geena Davis and Steve Pemberton were among 138 experts, advocates and industry leaders to address the group.
“We built this conference around the theme ‘Disrupt + Deliver’ because that’s what the industry needs and wants,’’ says PCMA president and CEO Sherrif Karamat. Convening Leaders was held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center and generated an estimated $6 million for the Pittsburgh region. The PCMA Foundation raised more than $300,000 through onsite fundraising projects, including its annual Party With a Purpose.
Corporate planner Sarah Pinkowski, CMP, meetings supervisor at Enterprise Holdings, says meeting planners can gain a lot of knowledge and make additional industry contacts through volunteering at headquarters or local chapters of whatever organizations to which you belong.
“Through volunteering at your local chapter level or through the global organization, you meet and work with people in a different way that allows you to connect with them on another level,” Pinkowski says. “Friendships, partnerships and relationships form that provide potential for longer term business and interaction. Volunteering can build skills that you might not find in your day job, like presentation skill development by introducing a speaker at a chapter luncheon or a supplier putting on a planner ‘hat’ for a trivia night.”
“The opportunities are endless so figure out what you want to do and go for it,” Pinkowski says. “When I joined, I was involved with the MPI St. Louis Chapter’s education committee to impact chapter programming, which led to other committee and director positions. Before I knew it, I was president of the local chapter. It was an amazing learning experience, so I’ll say it again. Get involved! You will develop personally and professionally, which will move your career in ways you may not have even imagined yet.”
For corporate planners interested in affiliating with one of the major professional meetings organization, contact information is below:
Global Business Travel Association
Meeting Planners International
Professional Convention Management Association
International Association of Professional Conference Organizers
International Congress & Convention Association
Society for Incentive Travel Excellence
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