Industry Education: 1 of 3 Steps to Improvement

In January, at PCMA’s Convening Leaders conference, and since, including, most recently, at ExhibitorLive, I’ve had too many conversations about what’s lacking in industry knowledge, professionalism and education to continue to ignore writing.

The conversations—with industry academics; with Boomer, Gen Xer and Millennial planners and suppliers; with “veterans” (often referred to as “senior planners”) and those newer to the industry or those with little formal training—all confirmed what I’ve seen and believed for a long time: our industry is not smart. Why? Because we keep doing the same things and ... well, not getting results that will convince the general public that "meetings mean business."

Oh sure, there are some minor changes in how education is contemplated and delivered. For those of us who are industry veterans, who have worked hard and continue to work at making changes, we see too few. We wonder if we’ll die having never really seen meetings change!

We can do better. Here, in the first of a three part blog, based on experience and recent experiences and conversations, and yes, using generalization, is what are seen as the problems and what we can do to improve.

Problem: Education Exclusion

We’re back to "us" and "them" education and membership practices.

1. To be a member of some industry associations is more expensive for suppliers.

2. Industry associations and the chapters rely on supplier dollars to underwrite education, education that often excludes suppliers [aka “business partners”].

3. Planners believe (surveys show and anecdotal conversations are said to reveal) that suppliers only attend education to "hit" on planners, to bring back leads for their companies.

4. Too few suppliers have been taught how to learn broadly and that learning together is a way to more business.

5. Planners, many of whom are responsible for education design at the chapter level, believe that suppliers are getting the "necessary education" from their employers. Even suppliers who achieve their CMP, in particular, don’t do deep dive learning on their own, or they aren’t exhibiting it.

6. Supplier education, provided by their employers, focuses on transactional skills and not deeper, life-long learning skills.

7. Suppliers are used to funding versus participating in education, and individual supplier companies are not often willing to pay extra for training outside their companies for their employees if they can’t see immediate results in sales figures.

8. Suppliers at shows with tradeshows are not encouraged to attend educational sessions or interact with planners in anything other than a social setting.

Solution Suggestions: Education Inclusion

In order to make changes, individually and collectively, we have to insist on changes:

1. Make professional membership equal. When MPI created a higher fee membership category, the brouhaha was loud.

2. Encourage activity by making it more affordable to join and attend programs. Years ago, I believed and said that if it were that important to a person to be a professional, he or she would find a way to finance membership and education. It took me a long time to see differently: if keeping a roof over one’s head and food on the table is weighed against membership or attendance at a meeting, something’s gotta give.

3. Chapters can hold more facilitated meetings where peer knowledge is used to educate. Train chapter members in facilitation techniques to be effective moderators. Establish "norms" or "ground rules" to ensure that no selling or marketing is allowed. Create inclusive settings and atmospheres.

4. Create more self-sustaining meetings. Sheesh, most of us who plan meetings have to build a budget that doesn’t rely heavily, or at all, on sponsorships!

5. Put a halt to hosted buyer programs that are more like pyramid schemes than anything I’ve seen the industry do! Think about it: if a CEO or manager sees that a planner can attend a meeting for free, without being a member of an industry association, why would she or he pay for a planner’s membership and attendance at an industry meeting? For suppliers (who are really just that and not the euphemistically named, in one industry association, “business partners”) hosted buyer programs are a huge cash outlay to provide freebies to planners and no education for themselves, and thus the long-term ROI is often minimal.

6. Teach industry professionals how and why to learn and to become/be active learners. Encourage ongoing learning and peer learning at and between face to face opportunities.

Next Up in Part 2: Content Development and Delivery.

Posted by Joan L. Eisenstodt

Follow Joan on Twitter: @joaneisenstodt

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