Meeting planners are responsible for planning and coordinating the wide variety of activities needed to produce meetings and related events. They coordinate every aspect of a meeting, including securing the meeting location, acquiring speakers, and arranging for printed materials and audio-visual equipment. There are several varieties of meeting planner, and the exact nature of the job varies by the type of organization for which a planner works. Some of the more common types of meeting planners are as follows:
- Corporate Planners set up meetings whose attendees consist of employees of a corporation. Corporate planners generally have short time frames in which to arrange their meetings; however, they are usually don't have to concern themselves with boosting attendance, as employees are generally required to attend.
- Government Planners have a similar function to corporate planners, except that they work in the public sector. As such, they need to operate in accordance with established government procedures and must adhere to government guidelines when procuring materials or booking lodging for government employees.
- Association Planners, who work for various types of associations, generally have a longer timeframe to do their planning; however, they typically need to market their meetings to association members, and convince the members that attendance is worth their time and expense.
- Convention Service Managers usually work for hotels, convention centers, and similar establishments. Their job is to act as the liaison between the facility hosting the meeting and the planner on the other end (i.e., the corporate, government, or association planner). They generally present food service options, make suggestions regarding appropriate hotel services, coordinate special requests, and address any other considerations which will facilitate an effective meeting in their facility.
Planners who work in large organizations tend to specialize in a particular aspect of meeting planning. In these settings, one meeting may be handled by several planners, each concentrating on a specific function. Some planners focus on logistics; some handle advance registration and payment; while others coordinate the meeting content, including speakers and agendas. On the other hand, planners working in small organizations tend to perform a wider range of duties, with one person often coordinating an entire meeting. These planners usually require a sufficient level of expertise in all facets of planning.
A typical process followed by a meeting planner begins with the planner determining the intended purpose and focus of the meeting and its effect on the sponsoring organization. To do this, the planner will often consult with both the management of the sponsoring organization, to get a feel for what the organization would like to communicate; and with prospective attendees, to find out what motivates them and how they learn best. The planner will then choose appropriate speakers, arrange for entertainment if applicable, and construct the program in such a way that the organization's message is conveyed in the most effective manner.
The meeting planner will then seek out prospective meeting sites. Typically, he/she will target a hotel, convention center, or conference center. The planner will make known the meeting requirements (including dates, meeting and exhibit space, lodging, food and beverages, audio-visual requirements, transportation, etc.) to all prospective sites. After receiving responses, the planner will look them over, consider the establishments' proposals in terms of how much space and what services they can provide (and at what prices), and either choose the site or recommend a choice to top management.
After a location is selected, the meeting planner will arrange support services, coordinate with the facility, prepare appropriate personnel for the meeting, and see to it that all forms of electronic communication needed for the meeting are set up. Planners also need to coordinate the logistics of the meeting itself. Attendees must be registered, issued badges, and be looked after in terms of lodging, transportation, and supplies. The planner must also insure that meeting rooms are equipped with sufficient seating and audio-visual equipment, that all exhibits are set up properly, and that all materials are printed. They must also oversee distribution of food and beverages and must make sure that the meeting conforms to fire and labor regulations.
The planner's job is not always finished after the meeting is concluded. Planners are often responsible for deriving metrics which measure the extent to which a meeting was successful. Many times planners will have attendees fill out surveys with specific questions about what they learned, how well the meeting was perceived, and how the attendees felt about the overall experience. Very often the planner is required to quantify the organization's return on investment (ROI) from the meeting. They do this by contrasting the overall cost of a meeting with the benefits the organization received as a result of the meeting. For example, if the goal of the meeting was to motivate a company's employees and improve their morale, the planner might track and compare employee turnover both before and after the meeting.
In many cases planners are called upon to manage finances. They are often required to work within budgets which they are given by their organization. In such cases planners need to ensure that all costs associated with meetings they are responsible for planning stay within that budget. Sometimes planners are required to negotiate contracts with host facilities that include clauses requiring a certain number of rooms set aside for meeting attendees to be filled. In such cases there are often financial penalties imposed if the condition is not met.
Meeting planners work long and irregular hours. During the period of time leading up to a meeting, their work week can easily exceed 40 hours; after the meeting has taken place, their work week can be closer to normal or even consist of fewer than 40 hours. While the meeting is underway, planners may work very long days, possibly starting before dawn and not ending until midnight or later. There are some periods of time where planners are required to work on weekends. Although much of their time is spent in an office, planners also travel regularly to scout prospective meeting sites and to attend meetings. During the time when meetings are taking place, planners are present at the meeting site.
Every job has its good and bad aspects and meeting planning is no exception. The job is fast-paced and energizing, but it can also be demanding and stressful. There is seldom a dull moment, as planners are continually multi-tasking and orchestrate the activities of several parties in the face of looming deadlines. Planners get to go to interesting places and meet lots of people. They also enjoy a relatively high level of autonomy. On the other hand, the job can be physically taxing; there are often long hours of standing and walking required, as well as some lifting and carrying of boxes containing exhibits and/or supplies.
In order to be successful in this profession, an individual needs to have excellent "people skills", as well as an ability to communicate effectively, both verbally and in writing. Planners also need a very high level of organizational talent. They must be skilled at multi-tasking, and they need an ability to maintain their composure in a fast-paced environment while facing the pressure of deadlines. Other very important attributes in this job include strong quantitative and analytic skills, which are needed to deal with budgets and to understand and negotiate contracts; and computer skills, particularly an ability to make use of specialized software to help with things like finances and registration. For planners who work on an international scale, an ability to speak multiple languages is a definite plus.
The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (USDL BLS) anticipates that employment of meeting planners will grow faster than the average for all occupations over the upcoming decade. As the reach of businesses continues to expand on an international scale, the need for meetings grows and their importance is magnified. Face-to-face interaction will continue to be necessary even in the era of videoconferencing and e-mail communication; in fact, these forms of electronic communication actually serve to increase the demand for meetings because they tend to expand the scope of human connectivity and foster interaction among parties that previously would not have collaborated.
Industries which are expected to experience high growth will require a corresponding growth in number of meetings held. Consequently, more planners will be needed. Also, professional associations that serve these industries will hold more conferences and conventions to offer continuing education, training, and opportunities for industry representatives to exchange ideas.
A mitigating factor to consider when projecting employment prospects for meeting planners is that the profession can be highly susceptible to fluctuations in the economy. As a general rule, meetings are among the first expenses cut when budgets are tight. Although a downturn in the economy will affect job prospects for most types of planners, there are exceptions. For example, association planners for industries such as health care, in which meeting attendance is a requirement for professionals to maintain their licensure, are the least likely to be victims of cutbacks during adverse business cycles.
Education, Certification, and Licensing
Although not a universal requirement, most employers prefer applicants who hold at least a bachelor's degree. Some examples of undergraduate majors which are useful for this profession include marketing, business, public relations, communications, and hotel or hospitality management. There are presently several universities which offer degree programs with majors in meetings management. In addition, some universities and colleges offer continuing education programs in meeting and convention planning. These programs are targeted towards both working professionals and individuals wishing to enter the occupation. Program length can vary anywhere between one semester to two years.
Much of the actual training for this profession is done informally on the job. Entry-level planners often start their careers performing small tasks under the direction of senior meeting professionals. Sometimes these tasks tend to deal, at least initially, with a limited number of planning functions. As time goes on, planners may be asked to increase the scope of their duties. Planners who start their careers working at small organizations generally learn more quickly since they are usually required to take on a larger number of tasks early on.
Some meeting planners enter the occupation after having worked in a related profession; for example, in hotel sales or as marketing or catering coordinators. These types of individuals tend to hit the ground running, as they are already familiar with negotiations for hotel services, and they have usually worked with numerous meeting planners and have seen what they do. Workers who enter the occupation in these ways often start at a higher level than those who start out straight from college with no prior work experience.
There are a number of voluntary certifications available which can boost a meeting planner's chances for career advancement. The Convention Industry Council offers the Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) credential, a widely-recognized industry certification. To qualify, candidates must be currently employed full-time, have a minimum of three years of meeting management experience, and proof of accountability for meetings which were successfully completed. Those who qualify must then pass an examination that covers a number of topics including financial management, logistics, facilities and services, and meeting programs.
Government planners can strive to earn the Certified Government Meeting Professional credential, awarded by the Society of Government Meeting Professionals (SGMP). Although not required to work as a government meeting planner, this certification will help demonstrate proficiency in issues specific to planning government meetings, such as knowledge of regulations and policies governing travel and procurement. To qualify, candidates must be employed as a meeting planner at the Federal, state, or local government level, or for a firm that works on government contracts. They must also have at least one year of membership in SGMP. In order to earn the certification, qualified individuals must take a 3-day course and pass an exam.
- Meeting Professionals International
- Association Meetings Magazine
- Center for Hospitality Research
- Convention Industry Council
- Society of Government Meeting Professionals (SGMP)
- Professional Convention Management Association
- Meetings & Conventions Magazine
Approximately one in four meeting planners works for some type of organization (e.g., civic, professional, religious, etc.). A large number of planners are employed by hotels and motels. Other large employers of meeting planners include educational services, convention and trade show organizing firms, and governments at various levels. A small percentage is self-employed.
Schools for Meeting And Convention Planners are listed in the column to the left.