Dawn Penfold and I have known each other … a long time! In the industry for 40-plus years, Penfold began her hospitality career in 1977 working for Hyatt in the front office.

Before she founded meetingjobs.com, she was a special event planner for the City of New York under Mayor Koch and worked on the Brooklyn Bridge Centennial Celebration.

She was then a planner for the American Society of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and then for Touche Ross (now Deloitte).

And long before any of this, she worked as a college admissions counselor, a fundraiser for the MS Society, and while in graduate school, answered fan mail for Mark Hamill!

Eisenstodt: You help employers hire planners. What is the perception of what we do?

Penfold: It all depends on the hiring official. If it is someone in the meetings department, I feel they have a higher level of understanding and respect for the role and job at hand.

If it is out of the meetings department, human resources or a supervisor out of the department, often they consider the role more frivolous. Not that we are not supposed to have fun at work … but often the person not in the meetings department will describe the position as “fun” or “you get to travel and stay in nice hotels” or “they get wine and dined.”

Another interesting observation is the notion is that our industry has become very niche oriented. Hiring officials—even those that are in the meetings department—often feel that a medical meeting planner would not be able to manage a corporate meeting or association meeting and vice-versa.

Each industry does have its own idiosyncratic nature … but skills are transferable.

And, let’s face it, meeting managers are very much like chameleons, being able to adjust to the environment that they are presented to.

Eisenstodt: How do you help elevate the perception of the job of planning by working with those who are in a position to hire?

Penfold: I’ll ask questions … find out what the needs are—if they are logistical or more strategic. My job isn’t to elevate the perception, but to find the right fit for the position at hand.

Eisenstodt: What can planners who are seeking jobs say differently about their accomplishments and knowledge? Many fear that by doing so it’s “bragging,” which some think is not attractive! And is this a gender issue?

Penfold: Is this question still being raised? I would hope it isn’t a gender issue. I would hope that it is more of a personality issue.

There is a difference between bragging and showing your worth.

First of all, know what your accomplishments are. Have you saved money, created new processes, managed a difficult team or project, handled a heavy work load with ease, sparked creativity, introduced new technology that made a difference? If you are at a strategic level, have you verified ROI? Again, what have you done that has made a difference?

Have you asked to be on the strategic side?

What have you done to be on the strategic side or get a seat at the table?

Eisenstodt: As a profession, how can planning gain more respect? Why have all the attempts for a “seat at the table” not seemed to work?

Penfold: I think being active in the process is key. Corporate and association politics are key—they need to know who you are. When you are at a meeting, how do they see you? Are you doing more than just counting chairs and hanging out at registration?

Are you making sure those with power are seeing your accomplishments? Have you offered new solutions, new dynamics, new technology, new ideas?

Are you standing in the background or being part of the conversation?

Eisenstodt: Final thoughts?

Penfold: Saving money, introducing new technology, politics and getting those in power what they need all are important—be visible.

Related Content From the September 2019 Edition of Friday With Joan

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