A meeting planner by MY definition is the go-to person within an organization – be it corporate, association or otherwise – charged with the responsibility of planning and executing a meeting or special event.
Not all people who plan meetings are “meeting planners,” nor do all meeting planners start out their careers as meeting planners. I for one started out on a clerical/administrative career path with absolutely no knowledge at the time that a career in meeting planning even existed (and at the time it probably didn’t). Truth be told, I had no intention when I first returned to the workforce after being a stay-at-home mom of working for the rest of my life or until heaven forbid, retirement. But as it turns out, that’s exactly what I did.
The first time I became involved in planning meetings was in my role as an office manager/prospect donor researcher in the Grants and Development Office of a state university. Our office reported to a Board of Trustees and was responsible for planning and executing quarterly board meetings and eventually group informational meetings with corporate CEOs to educate them on a major development campaign the university was embarking on. Not only did I set the meetings up, but I also took notes (in shorthand no less), transcribed the notes and prepared final reports for dissemination. Did I think of this as meeting planning? I did not. Did I know the difference between a board room or conference room set and a classroom set? I did not. BUT, I learned and I learned quickly by making some mistakes early on.
What I also learned was that I liked what I was doing and that I was good at it – or had the potential to be. I believe meeting planners and administrative professionals possess similar skills/traits that enable them to be good at what they do. They typically are leaders (even though they may not realize this at first). They also tend to be strategic, analytical, solution-oriented and disciplined. They have a logical way of looking at a project and understanding what needs to be done to ensure success, They have an innate ability to see the big picture — to take a look at a project and break it down action item by action item, and create a systematic/timely order for meeting goals. Most importantly, their attention to detail is second to none.
However, planning meetings also requires one to know and understand the hospitality industry and how it works, how to determine which venue and what destinations will work best for the types of meetings you’re asked to plan, the ins and outs of contracts and contract negotiations, budget prep and oh so much more. It’s a full-time job and then some and for the administrative professional who is asked to plan a meeting over and above (or even as part of) their normal day-to-day responsibilities. Maintaining balance and keeping priorities straight can be quite challenging. They need to make sure the administrative needs of the person they support are met, while still making sure the meetings they are charged with, go off without a hitch. This is where the word “team” comes into play.
I learned long ago that I could not do it all by myself, that I couldn’t possibly know it all or have enough time or talent to do everything that was requested of me – BUT I did know what I needed to accomplish and who the experts were that could help me get it done and those people became my unofficial “team” of sorts. Here are some of the areas of expertise to consider when putting together your team.
Most of the program content for our meetings was developed within the confines of individual business units that had communications, marketing and HR staff responsible for this component of the planning process. These business units had many different reasons for conducting meetings. They conveyed their needs to me; I found them the venues/destination that would best help them accomplish their goals and objectives. Oftentimes, I found myself working in tandem with a business unit’s admin to pull a project together. If/when there was resistance to my assistance, I worked hard to let them know that I was there to partner with them to ensure success and not to take anything away from them and/or diminish their role – and it seemed to work just fine.
I was not tech-savvy but knew I needed an on-line registration system that would provide meeting participants with a means of registering for a meeting while also giving them all the details they needed to make their trip plans. So I found a company that had a registration system already in place that could handle all back-of-the-house technical details which freed me up to create the fields required on the registration form that would allow me to capture the information that was needed to track sleeping room and travel requirements, recreational activity requests, food allergies, etc. I wrote copy for the communication that went along with the registration form so people would know where they needed to be and when, appropriate attire, the type of weather to expect, safety and security issues they needed to be aware of and so forth.
I needed a graphics design expert to design logos, save-the-date cards, invitations, menu cards, signage, etc. I knew how I wanted something to look: colors; font styles; formal or informal, the layout; but, I needed someone with graphic design expertise to make it come alive.
Audio-Visual and IT Support
I knew enough about AV equipment and computers to know that I needed both an AV and computer tech on MY team. The last thing you want during a meeting is equipment malfunction. Ugh! And, when you and your team are on-site at a meeting, you want someone that can set up the computers, printers and copy machines to make sure they are running correctly; to troubleshoot when they’re not. If your meeting requires full-scale production, you may also need to add a production company representative to your team.
Procurement and Legal
I looked to our Procurement and Legal staff to review all contracts to make sure I wasn’t missing something that could cause us financial harm.
One of the tasks that I liked best as a meeting planner was the site selection/research process. However, it’s a very timely process and when you’re handling multiple meetings, it’s nearly impossible to keep everything moving if you suddenly have to stop what you’re doing and start looking for space for yet another meeting. This is when what I call a “sourcing” or “third party” comes into play and can become a very important member of your team. I found that if I could give these people the basics of what I was looking for and let them do the initial legwork, I could continue finalizing details on whatever project I was working on while they were putting out requests for proposals with hoteliers and/or other vendors on my behalf.
Other good resources to help you with your site selection process that shouldn’t be overlooked would be national hotel sales reps and/or CVBs (convention & visitors bureaus). CVBs know their cities very well and have many contacts within the cities and counties they represent.
Safety and Security
Much too important to be overlooked, it is imperative you include someone on your team with expertise in safety and security and that you have a Medical Risk Management and a Crisis Management Plan in place.
DMC (Destination Management Company)
I looked to DMCs to assist with coordination of airport and other ground transportation needs, off-site event venues, team activities to name a few. I found them to be valuable assets not only because of their knowledge and well-established relationships with suppliers but their buying power as well. I would maybe work with suppliers in any given city once or twice, while a DMC worked with these same suppliers many times over.
I think you get the idea. Planning meetings is very involved. Becoming proficient at it takes time. It takes patience, and it takes practice. It also takes making mistakes along the way which ultimately you will learn from and become better and quicker at resolving. There are numerous components/moving parts to the process and a proper sequence for completing tasks to ensure that a meeting or event is executed successfully. Everyone on your team, whether they are employees of the company you work for or external vendors and consultants has an important role to play utilizing their special areas of expertise to ensure the success of your meetings to make you and your organization SHINE. With your leadership and the partnerships you create, you can make this happen.
Prepared by Mary Jo Wiseman, CMP | Author, “The Meeting Planning Process: A Guide to Planning Successful Meetings” | November 2019