At the end of May, Hot Topic presented a dialogue on The Meeting of the Future. This time, we're looking at what it will take to plan those meetings.
How will the job of the meeting planner change over the next few years? In terms of career success, who will move forward and who will be left behind? Will there be new skills—and a change of attitude—required for veterans and newcomers alike?
To get some answers, Meetings Media asked six leading meetings industry and business gurus for their take on where the workplace is headed. They include corporate trainer Alisa Peters, meetings industry educator Joan Eisenstodt, futurists Jim Carroll and Rohit Talwar, management and human resources consultant Joyce Gioia and meeting jobs placement expert and Meetings Media Career Forum columnist Sheryl Sookman Schelter.
What are the skills that planners will need to stay on the job in the future?
Alisa Peters, CMP, CMM, vice president of Chicago Indoor Racing; president of MPI Chicago Area Chapter: I think the biggest area of opportunity for our planner community is going to be on the technology side.
Around 20 or 30 years ago, planners would worry about things such as selecting a great venue with good food and hiring and great speaker. Nowadays, our planners really need to know how to produce an event that will deliver the strategic value that shareholders or boards are looking for in an organization. Meetings need to have a metric tied to them and planners need to be experts in providing those metrics. They need to be able to show decision-makers what they can contribute to the bottom line of the organization.
Technology is controlling everything. You now have meeting attendees that are coming to you on a host of platforms—virtually and in-person. Meeting planners need to be aware that if a speaker says something off-color, attendees will tweet about it instantly.
The biggest area of opportunity for the planning community is technology right now. There are still some meeting professionals who are phobic when it comes to technology. They aren't completely familiar with the power of Twitter or Facebook. These are excellent platforms for getting their messages out.
Jim Carroll; trends and innovation consultant; www.jimcarroll.com; Toronto: Business and professional associations are facing numerous changes that are occurring at a very fast pace; business model change; very rapid skills change; fast market change; new competitors; and the impact of younger generations in terms of adaptability to change.
This means that organizations must be able to enhance the knowledge, skills and capabilities of their people faster; it's all about strategy.
As a result, meeting planners are going to need to have deeper insight into evolving business strategies in order to come up with education programs that are relevant to the organization.
Joan Eisenstodt; meetings and hospitality consultant; facilitator and trainer
Eisenstodt Associates, LLC; Washington, D.C.: I think there is a movement to a seat at the table that is more strategic. I think meeting planers will have to be more strategic in their thinking and more investigative in how they view things and not be order-takers anymore.
I think that planners need to be better educated about what it means to be strategic. People have been pushing ROI for years and not getting it. If you want to stay in the job, you have to think differently.
I also think that improv is a great tool for people to learn on their feet. A lot of our job is learning on our feet. I recommend taking an improv class. It is a great way to take the conversation forward. My first class was years ago and I was blown away by it.
One skill that will be very important for planners is risk assessment. I don't think there is a sense that anything bad will happen that will affect your meeting. It is a good idea to take classes in risk assessment and risk management. Keeping the people and property safe is one of the most important parts of being a meeting planner.
In the future, planners will also need to have a greater understanding of cultural differences. If you are bringing together a worldwide group, what do you need to know for them to be safe and comfortable?
Joyce Gioia, president and CEO of The Herman Group; president and CEO of Employer of Choice Inc.; Austin, Texas: In the future, planners will need to be able to embrace technology. Planners need to know how to give presentations in the virtual world. They will need to know about the technology so they can access the performances of the speakers they may be hiring.
Person-to-person conferences will never go away; there is never going to be a substitute for two people sharing the same physical space, but planners are going to need to be flexible.
The new generation, the Millennials or Generation Z, will be looking for different things in their conferences and conventions. They will look for more ways to connect with each other. There will be more social networking opportunities at conferences and conventions.
The meeting planner needs to have his or her finger on the pulse of what the [different] generations are looking for so they can provide the kind of meeting that will draw the people and have them coming back year after year.
Rohit Talwar; CEO of Fast Future; London: Five years from now, meeting planners will still be doing basic planning functions, but businesses will be cutting back on costs. They will be looking to do things more cheaply.
In the future, there will be a lot of differences within the planning domain. There will be a big group that will be asked to take on different business roles. One will help with finances, one will find sponsorships, and there will be a lot more outsourcing of the business side of the event to maximize revenue and minimize risk.
Some businesses will have more planners in-house and some will be outsourcing; we will see the complete spectrum.
Planners will also have to develop a much larger sense of technology awareness—on the Web in particular. They will need to learn how to use social media to promote events and engage delegates.
I think there will be more of a focus on event design—really trying to get your head around how you design the educational and experiential part of the an event. I see the design side of things growing and growing.
Sheryl Sookman Schelter, CMP, principal of The MeetingConnection; Novato, Calif.: I think it is important that planners maintain some of the basic computer skills. I've come across more seasoned planners that are very thin on their computer skills. It is important to know your basics: Word, Excel and PowerPoint. You don't need to know extensive formulas, but need to be comfortable with basic stuff.
As planners become fuller-service within companies and organization, we should be aware of what is going on in the marketing and content of programs. It is not a bad idea to have an awareness of desktop publishing programs.
Planners will also need to understand what goes into to creating virtual meetings and webinars.
It is also important to understand how to use social media as a way to market your meeting and event.
In general, what are companies looking for in employees these days?
Peters: Every employee, if you are working for an organization right now, you need to be delivering. Two years ago, the world got flipped upside down. Companies are looking at every single line item because sales are down. That transcends genres and industries.
Organizations that maybe ran and were profitable on the status quo for years started finding that they had to do something different or they were going to get Darwined out of the marketplace. The demand for employees to perform became greater.
Employees, now more than ever, have to show that what they are doing contributes to the overall successes of the org in a tangible way.
Carroll: Agility, the ability to change, strategic depth, teamwork, collaboration skills, entrepreneurial capability.
Employers are looking for people who are self-starters, independent and can fix problems rather than process paperwork!
Eisenstodt: I think employers are looking for people who have the ability to gather information and communicate it well. Communication skills, written and oral, seem to be a major issue these days.
Companies are looking for people who are ethical and will not bring shame to the company for whom they work. I see clients asking tougher questions on ethics issues. In the area of meetings, I think that is a huge issue.
Gioia: Employers are looking for people who are already trained because they don't have the time to train these people up. They need someone who can literally hit the ground running.
They are also looking for employers who are flexible and spin a lot of plates simultaneously and make it look effortless.
Companies are also looking for people who have the potential to move into leadership positions. This is because there is a real lack of leadership in corporate America today.
Organizations have not trained because of the cutbacks in training and there is a resistance in young people to move into leadership positions. We have a critical shortage of leaders.
Talwar: Companies are looking for a higher tolerance on uncertainty. They want their staff to live in that environment. Having high levels of uncertainty is becoming essential now.
I also think companies want their staff to be a lot more complacent. They are looking for their staff to follow the rules, not rock the boat. People can't cope with a lot of ideas at the moment; they seem panicked with what is going on.
Sookman Schelter: Companies are looking for people who have a good, solid base of logistical skills. In the meetings industry, they want them to know how to put various elements of a meeting or event together.
In general, companies are less willing to bring someone in from another industry. They want someone with comprable skills and they don't have time to train. It is really hit the ground and go these days.
How is the role of the meeting planner changing and what new things are expected?
Peters: The meeting planner used to be a coordinator. They took a bunch of vendors and orchestrated a lovely presentation. It was almost like theater.
The meeting professional of today and tomorrow is proactive. They are looking at their organization at a high level and asking, "Where are we headed? What is the purpose of this meeting and what is the objective of this company?"
They have to be experts within their organization, not react to what their organizations are requesting.
In order to show value to the people sitting around the board table, we needed to be able to measure how meetings are affecting an organization, impacting its sales goals and initiatives.
Carroll: It's certainly becoming faster. I'm now often booked into events with as little as one month's notice.
A company has a sudden new competitive challenge, and needs some innovative thinking on how to respond, so they pull together a leadership meeting. "Get us an innovation expert, stat!" goes the refrain.
Everything is going short term. Lots of the speakers bureaus that book me now experience two to three months as the booking cycle norm, rather than a leisurely one or two years. What this means is that planners have to learn to work quicker and partner with management more in defining needs and getting results.
Eisenstodt: The role of a meeting planner should be to think strategically. They need to look at an organization, look at its strategic plan and understand how any meeting or event fits into what they are doing.
Planners need to understand budgets and the implications of expenditures of a meeting. I don't think that is happening enough.
I think what needs to happen is that meeting planners need to be aware of implications of world events in everything we do. They need to be aware of issues such as supply chain and climate change and how those can affect their events.
Gioia: Meeting planners have to do things they never had to do before because hotels have always provided extra services. Hopefully, as the industry comes back, the hotels will be able to provide those services again.
There are just not as many people at hotels right now in order to support the meeting planner.
Because hotels have been short-staffed, planners have had to pay much greater attention to make sure they are getting everything they have contracted for.
Talwar: The planner really has to do a much broader range of tasks these days. They have to deliver the meeting, take care of the design and handle finances.
In the future, I think you will see the emergence of the virtual planner. This will be someone who can work for multiple companies from a remote location.
Sookman Schelter: I think there will be more of an emphasis on understanding the positioning of meetings and events—what role they play and who the stakeholders are.
Who are planners reporting to these days and what do these upper management executives expect?
Peters: Corporate planners are traditionally reporting to meetings management departments. They also usually work closely with legal and purchasing. If there is any kind of procurement department in the organization, sometimes planners report directly to that department.
On the association side, a lot of planners will report directly to the board.
Carroll: The reporting structure is all over the map; but to really have effect, they need to have the attention of both the CEO and head of HR. The planner needs to be viewed as a strategic partner to the process of helping the organization achieve key strategic objectives.
In a lot of cases, that doesn't happen. Some planners clearly aren't viewed in this way; they're on autopilot, planning the same type of event year in year out, with the same type of content, without much thought to the overall strategic objectives of the organization.
What is interesting to me is my own experience that many of the events I am booked into come from initiatives by a CEO or other senior executive. They've got some critical business issue to deal with, and need to get their leadership team together to look at it.
In this instance, I'm often called by an executive assistant rather than a meeting planner. Why isn't that person at the table for this type of event?
Eisenstodt: It is all over the board. Some report to the vice president of marketing, others report to the travel department and some report straight up to the top.
I think meeting planners need to have closer contact with the C-suite (CEO, CFO, etc.) They need direct consideration so they can explain what value meetings bring to an organization.
Gioia: Upper management is expecting the same level of quality of meetings that planners provided when they had additional resources. Their expectations are really kind of unreasonable.
Planners now need to be multitalented and multitasking people who can handle whatever the universe throws at them.
Meeting planners are now burdened with more work and less staff.
Talwar: Planners are reporting all over the organization. Some report to marketing, some report to CEOs and some have vibrant meeting planning teams that they report to.
Sookman Schelter: Meeting departments fall under so many different departments within a company or organization. The amount that senior management expects from a meeting planer really depends on if they understand the value and purpose of the meetings department.
For More Info
Resources for Planners
Want to explore this topic further? The following are some books and websites that address the changing workplace and the skills needed to survive and thrive.
Be on Your Best Cultural Behavior
By Colleen A. Rickenbacher
Virtual Presentations The Work
By Joel Gendelman
Leading the Virtual Workforce: How Great Leaders Transform Organizations in the 21st Century
By Karen Sobel Lojeski
60 Second Self-Starter: Sixty Solid Techniques to Get Motivated, Get Organized, and Get Going in the Workplace
By Jeff Davidson
Beyond E-Learning: Approaches & Technologies to Enhance Organizational Knowledge, Learning, & Perform
By Marc J. Rosenberg
Exploiting Chaos: 150 Ways to Spark Innovation During Times of Change
By Jeremy Gutsche