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Roadmapping the Professionalization—and Elevation—of the Meeting Planner

January 29, 2019

By: Sandra S.A. Ponting, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality and Tourism Management

San Diego State University





Between the surging demand for immersive events, the flexibility brought forth by the gig economy, and the vast data we’re able to gather using the latest technology, the meetings and events industry is on the cusp of a golden age. It is also at a critical juncture that has many professionals struggling to articulate exactly what they do, the value they bring, and how their efforts can be measured.


I have spent the last two years researching the professionalization of meetings and events, speaking with corporate meeting planners and third-party planners alike to first understand their perception of themselves, and, ultimately, identify opportunities to elevate their status in the hospitality and tourism sector. I’m still completing my research, but here’s an early look at what I’m gathering so far from their responses:


Reframe the Position

Meeting planning involves so much more than booking venues, setting tables, and coordinating vendors. If you’re thinking, “That’s right, I bring corporate value,” you’re on the right track, but it goes even beyond organizational objectives. What you are delivering is social, societal, experiential, and behavioral. Meetings and events don’t just mean business; they mean movement, change, and impact.


Establish a Professional Identity

The number of corporate meeting planners who have told me, “I’ve been with my company for years and my colleagues still don’t know what I do” is alarming. On the flip side, planners themselves have difficulty describing their purpose to those same colleagues. They can explain their responsibilities, but we’re still missing that unified explanation that professionalizes an occupation. Professors educate. Lawyers uphold the law. Doctors save lives. Meetings and events professionals __________.


Compounding the lack of identity is the relatively low barrier of entry into meetings and events. Fortunately, we’re seeing new, industry-specific programs and certifications, like the Meeting and Event Management Master’s Program from San Diego State University (SDSU) and Meeting Professionals International (MPI), designed to further specialize the profession. The time is now for meetings and events professionals—individually and collectively—to do that soul searching. Instead of letting the profession define the professional, we have a chance for the professional to define the profession—and that’s exciting.


Synchronize Position Titles

While we’re working to define the meetings and events profession for those within the business, it’s equally important that we do so for the people on the outside. Due to the vast array of skills that meetings and events professionals perform, there has been a plethora of job titles associated with the industry. There are planners, producers, creators, designers, etc. Many don’t even have “meeting” or “event” in their job title. Creativity in position titles is not necessarily right or wrong, but it does fragment the profession, nonetheless. A set of consistent titles that can explain the work associated with the position may assist in clarifying the profession.


Become Better Leaders

As we start to reposition the role of the meeting planner from completing tasks to meaningful impact, we enter the realm of leadership. The Meeting and Event Management Master’s Program that I mentioned earlier—the first graduate-level program in the U.S. designed for meetings and events professionals—begins with a week of individualized leadership study, assessment and discovery on campus at SDSU before shifting into an online, contextual curriculum.


The one-week “bootcamp,” so to speak, examines the essence of leadership in three masteries: context, relationship, and self. To see a master’s program 1) focus on meetings and events professionals, and 2) dedicate much of that focus to leadership is a sign that meeting planners are wanting more out of their professional identity. That includes speaking the language of business and quantifying ROI (not just monetarily, but also in human behavior).


Emphasize Influence

The intangible value in a meeting or event is undoubtedly more challenging, but arguably, more crucial, to capture than are the economic benefits. The reason you put on a meeting or event is to move people. Fundamentally, this is why meetings and events occur. Whether it is a business meeting raising the morale of sales managers or an event that drives return attendance to an artist’s concert, the objectives ultimately tie back to influencing human behavior. That means the role of the meetings and events professional—and everything it entails—does, too.

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