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How to Earn and Keep Your Seat at the Leadership Table as a Meeting Professional

November 1, 2018

By Carl Winston

The meetings and events industry—and with it, the role of the meeting and event planner—is evolving dramatically. Sadly, meeting professional’s are still widely misunderstood and sometimes truly undervalued.  No longer can you call your events “successful” based on attendance, atmosphere and positive feedback. Planners today must create and communicate value. How will you navigate the many stakeholders involved, earn the respect of the C-Suite, and become an indispensable asset to your organization?

Understand the Enterprise

Meeting planning is a small fraction of an organization, but one that has wide implications. In order to unlock the impact of your event at every level, you need to understand how the business works as a whole. That entails learning to speak finance, marketing, human resources, and other departmental languages, so that you can tailor your own language (particularly in your pitch) accordingly.

A CFO, for example, wants to hear how you’re making or saving the company money. Meanwhile, a CMO wants to know how your event is going to drive brand awareness and sales. Over in another office, the COO is anxious to speak with you about using the same event to drive employee engagement. They’re all working toward the same enterprise goals, but each using different words, thoughts and metrics. The more multilingual you can be as a planner, the more you will be respected as a business strategist.

Think Beyond Arrangement

Let’s not talk about tables and chairs, please. You know how to manage vendors and deliveries in your sleep. The more important question is: Are you able to manage stakeholders?

Your mission when planning an event is to get all of the executives mentioned above—and many other managers, directors and coordinators who technically sit “above you” on the org chart—to develop a unified vision. Realize that you, the planner, are providing leadership, not just tables and chairs. You are the only person in the room with the expertise to turn a million contingencies into a single cohesive event.

Establish Performance Metrics

Stakeholder management includes setting measurable objectives. Instead of, “We’re having our annual conference because it’s that time of year,” think, “We’re having our annual conference and our primary goal is to increase sales by 5 percent over last year.” If you’re planning an internal event, the metric might be employee retention.

Meeting planners now have a world of data at their fingertips both before and after an event. If you’re hiding from data rather than leveraging it, the problem isn’t that you don’t know how to read the numbers; it’s that you’re not confident in your ability to give them meaning. What I’m saying is that you don’t necessarily need to be the driver of the data, but rather, the creator and keeper of the metrics. This often means peeling the layers of input you receive to turn jargon into actual figures and benchmarks.

Elevate Your Career

Earning your seat at the leadership table as a meeting professional boils down to redefining your role, and that starts with rewiring your mindset. Meeting Professionals International (MPI) and the San Diego State University (SDSU) L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality and Tourism Management have partnered to create the first graduate-level program in the U.S. designed specifically for professionals in the meetings and events industry. With an online curriculum covering everything I’ve discussed in this article and more, the Meeting and Event Management Master’s Program provides the specificity and flexibility you need to take your career to the next level. Click here to learn more.

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