From discussions I’ve had on social media about why meeting and event planners aren’t held to the appropriate level of esteem, I reached out to some who had weighed in on the issues of respect—or lack thereof—for those who do our job.
For years I’ve said that I think that what we do is more than brain surgery or rocket science because we are responsible for the lives of tens, hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of people, from the time they leave home until they return home from the meetings and events we plan and in some cases, manage.
Surgeons have teams that support them, before and during operations. And one need only look at the recent observation of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing to see the many who were involved in planning and getting astronauts to the moon and back!
Planners are often the only ones in an organization planning and organizing meetings and events, including creating contingency plans. And onsite? We’re glad if we have some support from more than the venue staff!
I think we must elevate our thinking about what we do and stop saying, “Aw, shucks, anyone can do this,” because we know that anyone can’t without training and experience. We need to take pride in and shout out our accomplishments.
Of those interviewed, not all answered all questions. In some cases, we’ve edited responses for clarity or space. If in so doing, we have changed the meaning of any responses, we apologize.
Separately, I asked Dawn Penfold, president of meetingjobs.com, to respond from her perspective of helping employers hire and planners find jobs.
I am grateful to each person, including Margaret Moynihan and Robbie Nance (included in the body of the blog post), for their time and input.
Jane Dahlroth (Dahlroth), Senior Director of Meetings and Exhibits, American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics (ACMG): firstname.lastname@example.org
Years in the industry: 40
Darryl Diamond, CMP (Diamond), Manager of Onsite Education/Exhibits
Years in the industry: 14
Audra Franks Johnson, CMP (Johnson), Senior Director for Meetings, American Dental Education Association (ADEA): email@example.com
Years in the industry: 19
Heather Reid, ARCT MSc (Reid), Founder & CEO, Planner Protect Inc.: Heather@PlannerProtect.ca; Twitter: @PlannerReid
Years in the industry: 25+
Eisenstodt: When asked what I do, I describe my work as…
Dahlroth: I work in the business events industry. I bring people together via meetings, conferences and tradeshows to conduct business in, and further the mission of, the industry that my association represents.
Diamond: I plan meetings and educational events. I also wrangle cats and answer the same question over and over again for people who choose not to read the email I send them.
Johnson: Depending on the audience, I will say event planner, director of meetings or some version of both.
Reid: As a professional event planner, I am an expert project manager and the projects that I specialize in are national, multi-day educational conferences for associations.
In addition, I am a subject matter expert in the industry, with specific expertise in the negotiation of balanced event contracts.
Eisenstodt: When someone says that what we do isn’t “brain surgery or rocket science,” I tell them…
Dahlroth: Maybe not, but what we do requires special skill sets, personality strengths, people skills, project management skills, etc.
It’s like managing a 20-sided Rubik's Cube and there are potentially thousands of people that we are providing an environment for. It must be safe, productive and provide a return on investment for the event organizers and all the participants.
What we do can range from the simplest request from an attendee, member, etc., to a detailed reporting and analysis of the event for the board of directors and/or stakeholders.
Diamond: Nope, it’s not, and thankfully so. I don’t have the education or ability to do those things. By the way, how much coffee should I order for my 3,000-person breakfast?
Johnson: I will agree to the extent that many positions are not rocket science … in general. For example, where is the rocket science in many professions like accounting or marketing?
However, I often share that on any given day my skills and talents include at times for this work that I must be a lawyer, a fundraiser, a marketing, membership and professional development professional, as well as an accountant. Jokingly, I’ll also add a caterer and a meteorologist.
Reid: In my early years, I was definitely guilty of downplaying the significance and responsibility of my role as an event professional, but I now unabashedly respond to “it isn’t rocket science” with, “Then you haven’t felt personally responsible for the safety of hundreds of people simultaneously!” Event professionals are responsible for everything from ensuring inclusive language in script writing to understanding safety protocols in evacuation plans.
We are responsible for maximizing savings in budget management and minimizing risks in contract negotiations. We are responsible for planning for contingencies and exceeding stakeholder expectations. Our roles are complicated yet rewarding; creative yet strategic; challenging yet fulfilling; stressful yet energizing—and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Eisenstodt: The best way(s) to show value in what I do (to employer, clients, colleagues, strangers) and gain recognition is…
- Provide a seamless event—and “don’t let them see you sweat.”
- Communicate the economic impact the event has on the destination—to board members, attendees, exhibitors, etc.
- Provide quality education that results in furthering the field or industry.
- Provide an event that provides attendee engagement and a return on their investment for attending or exhibiting.
- Share positive feedback from attendees and exhibitors.
- Act quickly when something goes wrong to solve a potential or impending problem or crisis.
Diamond: To keep doing the hard work, provide information on savings (contracts/budgets), show positive reviews from attendees, and ask them to cover for me so I can take a vacation.
Johnson: The best way I show value is sharing and re-sharing the important work of what my team and I do with colleagues and leadership.
We must toot our own horns and amplify our voices in meetings. We can’t downplay the importance and value of our work to our organizations.
Reid: Demonstrating professional value is directly tied to the audience:
- To employers, demonstrating tangible return on their investments; delivering on strategic objectives; communicating with C-level executives.
- To clients, delivering successful events that meet strategic and financial objectives.
- To colleagues, investing in professional development; serving as mentors; giving back to and supporting industry associations.
- To strangers, dispelling the perception that our roles are “all glitz and glam” and educate them on the depth of the necessary expertise and the breadth of our varied responsibilities.
Eisenstodt: As a profession, to gain respect, we…
Dahlroth: …must communicate what business events are and what they mean to the economy so that everyone understands the importance of the industry and our profession. This needs to be communicated within our own organizations, the government, etc.
Diamond: …have to continue to advocate for the industry and ourselves.
Together, we have a strong voice and a unique position to understand how our organization/clients can benefit from positive meeting experiences. When we do well, it’s okay to toot our own horn, and when we mess up, we need to admit it and find a new solution.
Johnson: This is such a complicated layered question…
For ourselves, for the profession—we have a duty to speak out, speak up and increase visibility—be prepared to show our value to the organization. I use any time with leadership to raise, remind, reinforce the work the meetings team does by sharing key data points that they will find of value; including but not limited to financial data, trend data, patterns and other key qualitative and quantitative information that aids and supports our decision making.
Reid: As a profession, to gain respect we must each tie our everyday professional activities to industry best practices, to ethical behavior and codes of conduct, to integrity “behind the scenes” and “on stage,” to leading by example, to being inclusive and welcoming of all, and to delivering unparalleled meetings and events!
Eisenstodt: Final thoughts?
Dahlroth: There are sometimes small and what seem like meaningless requests. And sometimes there is no one that really understands what we do. But I foster an environment with my team that they feel empowered to make decisions and to act independently.
If someone has an unreasonable request, we are prepared to either tell them that or refer them to a resource that can help them. Overall—when we do a good job, and everything is seamless—we might not get outward recognition, so we must recognize when a job’s been well done and that we have achieved a goal that maybe we have been working on for several years.
If we must, then toot our own horns. You will be surprised who will agree!
Diamond: No job is 100% glamorous. There are always compromises to accomplish a goal. If you feel that you are overworked, ask for help. We also need to communicate with each other.
We need to have safe spaces (no vendors/properties) to share ideas, review vendors/solutions, ask questions and even, occasionally, gripe.
If our trade associations choose not to supply these, we must go out and do it ourselves.
Related Content From the September 2019 Edition of Friday With Joan
[Click here to view additional content in the 09.06.19 Friday With Joan newsletter].