Education in meeting industry in USA, Europe: vision, principles, practice

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So, the situation of the meeting professional in Russia may not be so very different than elsewhere. Around the world, people in this industry stumble into the job of organizing events, learn by doing and fall in love with the work without realizing how important it is to the companies they work at. The company leadership doesn't understand how meetings help achieve business objectives, train staff, transform thoughts and behaviors, nurture relationships and generate revenue. If you can show how you're strategically tying the events to helping these leaders achieve their objectives and business goals, it doesn't matter where you went to school, you'll be a valued member of the team.

Sarah Storie-Pugh, Executive Director, International Association of Professional Congress Organisers (IAPCO), UK

I would say that, rather than 5, I have 4 real challenges that face young meetings professionals when looking at further education today, and they are time, cost, access and relevance. Of the four, time is the main issue, time is a most precious commodity. With an industry that expects 24/7 input, it is incredibly difficult to take 2-3 days out of your busy schedule, however valuable the reason.

Образование в индустрии встреч за рубежом: сложности, принципы, видение, практика – читайте интервью экспертов IAPCO, AUMA, MPI, PCMA на русском языке

Cost can be a concern, especially for smaller companies/organisations, however there is a saying “if you think education is expensive, see how expensive ignorance can turn out to be”. Good education is expensive and is also essential when looking at career development.

Of course accessibility is linked to both time and money. Extensive travel both costs and takes time, therefore it is essential that education is available throughout the world, not just in specific regions.

And ultimately we have relevance. It is difficult to find courses or even seminars that focus on your actual needs. It is therefore important that before embarking on any training programme, the relevance of the topics to you are clearly identified. IAPCO’s training focuses on professional congress organizing.

I think it is important to recognize the change in the role of the PCO today as opposed to 5 or 10 years ago. Previously, a PCO was a service or commodity provider: registrations were managed, exhibition space was sold, accommodation was booked, abstracts were processed, and the event was project managed. Today, that service is a given, clients expect much more. A PCO or meeting planner today is a partner, a stakeholder, a consultant, a designer, an innovator, to name just a few.

This change in the role of the PCO has led to a change in the skills required. Employees are more specialized now; they are marketers, capable of managing extensive social media, website adaptations, creative thinking; they are advisors, offering financial skills, programme design, consultant services on a multitude of topics; they are industry specialists, focusing on exhibition sales and management, and the obtaining of sponsorship and fund raising using innovative ways, such a crowd sourcing, to achieve their targets; they are also processors who continue to handle the commodity elements, such as registration and accommodation.

“The roles therefore are more focused, but in all cases, the ability to manage, and to work in an organised and constructive manner is essential. A good command of English has become an international requirement.

Despite the trend to have qualifications at all levels, this industry still relies on “learning on the job” to a great extent. Industry Associations, such as IAPCO or PCMA, provide all round education at various levels to fill the gap in the national curriculum. Many countries now have hospitality degree courses at universities, but this is a very broad syllabus with only certain sessions devoted to meeting planning and the work of the PCO.

CMP is an important step for individuals in that it provides a recognized qualification, however, it must be noted that much of this is theoretical and does not necessarily provide the experience or know-how required for successful conference management. And again, it covers a broad range of topics within the whole hospitality industry. It is however self-regulated and you can choose the seminars appropriate to your needs, as long as they are registered for CMP points.

IAPCO recognises the need for international training, indeed delivering education is one of the key strategic elements of the Association. To this end, replacing the one-week annual seminar on professional conference organisation held in Switzerland, affectionately known by all as the “Wolfsberg Seminar”, IAPCO created, two years ago, the EDGE programme – Experts in Dynamic Global Education.

This programme consists for four elements:

  1. EDGE IAPCO Seminar: 2-3 days of intensive training and participant interaction on professional conference organisation, 3 per year, held throughout the world, hosted by an IAPCO member. Seminars focus on different management levels, starting with those who are new to the industry, continuing to senior management.
  2. Bespoke EDGE: 2-3 days of bespoke education, developed in collaboration with a local stakeholder organisation i.e. CVB, Convention Centre. The programme content is tailored to the destinations educational requirements, as is the level of experience.
  3. Sharp EDGE: These are short education seminars delivered as part of a trade show/association meeting with content compiled by IAPCO in consultation with any other party involved.
  4. web-EDGE: a virtual education platform, containing a variety of training bundles which can be purchased and viewed from your own office in your own time, which begins with the Starter Pack, an introduction to conference organisation.

IAPCO strongly believes in education, and to providing that education in a manner that suits the meetings industry. Today’s education is tomorrow’s professional.

Photo: IAPCO

Carolyn Clark, DES, Senior Vice President, Marketing, Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA), USA

The TOP-5 challenges for young meetings professionals concerning their further education & professional development are

  • Lack of time to complete their job responsibilities plus keeping on top of the latest business events trends
  • Fitting in continued professional development
  • There’s so many industry articles, events and digital content it’s hard to choose which opportunities are right for them
  • Not all education & professional development is delivered in a format that they can access anytime, anywhere and anyway they want it
  • Connecting what they learn to their day-to-day job – being able to apply knowledge immediately to their work

The main TOP-5 competencies of meeting manager/planner now are:

  • Ability to think above logistics at a strategic level
  • Possesses strong business acumen (contracts & negotiation, financial risk mitigation, etc)
  • Uses design thinking to solve problems and deliver exceptional event experiences
  • Understands how to build and execute upon contingency plans in a crisis situation
  • Challenges the status quo through disruption and innovation

More employers are looking for big-picture thinkers who can deliver an event strategy that ties into and can further the goals and objectives of the organization. Technology knowledge and adaptability, creative thinking skills are some of the new traits employers are seeking.

There are hospitality programs offered at universities and colleges around the country. PCMA publishes a textbook, Professional Meeting Management 6th Edition, which is used by many college/university programs as source material for education and reference

Most industry professionals continue learning through professional development opportunities with organizations like PCMA that offer continuing education credit.

While it may be possible for the CMM or CMP certification programs to replace basic education, typically these programs are not designed to be introductory courses. Both programs assume that the participant has a base of knowledge and experience and the content is designed to build on that premise. Additionally to sit for these exams, participants are required to have a minimum of two to three years of work experience and 25 clock hours of continuing education credit. Therefore, it is recommended that participants have some experience before they beginning the certification programs.

Specifically, the CMM is targeted to individuals who want to develop a leadership path in their career. The CMM typically used by individuals who are already in advanced in their career and is modeled similar to most MBA programs with a focus on the meetings industry, taught by graduate school professors using highlights from their business school curriculum, tailored to the hospitality, travel and meetings industry. Topics covered include negotiation strategies, process improvement, change management, cross-functional global leadership strategies, operational and financial performance analysis, flexible budgeting, profit forecasting, and more essential executive leadership skills. The final project tests your knowledge by asking you to take an existing business problem and develop a solution for it.

Our distance education program offers all of our members and non-members have access to our online learning content. We offer free week/biweekly webinars here on relevant industry topics that are CIC approved and can earn up to a 1 clock hour. In addition to webinars, we have several learning products that are geared for this audience.

  • On Demand Content: This content includes live recorded content from our face-to-face events such as Convening Leaders, Education Conference, Podcasts, and Glo Pro. On demand content provides continuous education opportunities for individuals who were unable to attend the live sessions in person or those who want to share live session they attended with their team members.
  • CMP Online Prep Course: The online prep course is designed for individuals preparing to test for their CMP certification and takes learners through 10 learning modules organized by the CIC domains to help you prepare for the exam. Experience pretest/posttests, handouts, a full length timed practice exam as well as a handy mobile app to help individuals study and quiz on the go.
  • CASE: The Certified Association Sales Executive (CASE) online course is a self-paced, certificate course that fills individuals knowledge gaps, builds business acumen and teaches how to become an association mastermind. Individuals are taught how to anticipate the needs of clients and be perceived as a partner, not just a vendor. The target audience for CASE include new convention center and CVB sales managers (or new to the association market), destination marketing organizations, suppliers, and hotels that sell to the association market.
  • BEB: The Business Events Bootcamp is an interactive self-paced online training program intended for business events leaders and professionals to train their team. The BE Bootcamp is also designed to help event leaders conduct skill assessment and interest within their teams. The program fosters dialogue and conversation around current training topics in the industry between leaders and their events/meetings team. This tool helps business event professionals keep their team up to date on today’s rapidly changing topics while utilizing an interactive, continually updated online training program. The target audience for this includes events/meeting professionals in leadership roles with teams who are looking for team training or individual new or mid-career events professional who want to learn more on a market current topic.
  • CSM: The Convention Services Management training program is a face-to-face three day program reviews all aspects of the role of a successful Convention Services Manager. The principles covered in the program are applicable to CSMs working globally in all segments, specifically hotels, CVBs, DMCs, PCOs and convention centers. The program is structured around several modules including: building client relationships and strategic selling; event planning and execution; administration and communication.

Throughout the year PCMA holds live events focused on delivering exceptional, high-level education and networking for global business event strategists and organizers. Additionally we provide sessions for industry organization programs around the world tied to strategic alliances with other associations and partners. The Business School workshop we develop for the IMEX Frankfurt industry event is a great example.

Convening Leaders is our January Annual Meeting that took place in Austin where we brought together over 4,200 event professionals from 37 countries plus 1,500 remote participants for our virtual event from 36 countries. This 2 ½ program has 120 sessions, 140 presenters covering topics like contract negotiations, event sponsorship and experience design. Education Conference is our smaller 2 ½ day event each June for up to 800 participants and we’re deliberately keeping it to this number to keep it more of a VIP experience and hands-on program. We’re creating a must-attend experience where participants are immersed in unique learning environments and get to co-create content and actionable takeaways with other participants. Topics we’re addressing include design thinking, strategic planning tools, virtual reality and events, bringing creative ideas to life and using event data to design experiences.

Bettina Rosenbach, Manager Further Education and Training
Institute of the German Trade Fair Industry, Association of the German Trade Fair Industry (AUMA), Germany

I am going to try to answer your questions to the best of my knowledge. I hope you understand that I can do so mainly from a “German” and exhibition and event-oriented perspective since challenges and required competencies may vary from region to region, country to country, continent to continent.

A lot of young people do not see that the basic education in event management is first of all a commercial business training including such areas as i.e. cost accounting, international tax legislation, event law, insurances, etc. Glamour is not the daily business. And furthermore in this industry, you often have to work, including week ends and evenings, when other people party. Besides the hard skills the so called soft skills are essential for a job in the exhibition and event industry. You need to be open minded and have an outgoing personality in order to be a successful event manager. Good communication, cultural and language skills are also very valuable. Creativity, resourcefulness, and a solution oriented attitude do help a lot. A good knowledge of how to use social media are vital in our times.

Another point (getting more and more important here in Germany) which is directed more towards the employer is to provide an encouraging working environment and offer and create incentives in order to retain the talented young people and their competencies in the company.

Flexibility, people skills, organization, passion, time management – which you will always need and needed 5 years ago in order to be a “stand out” event professional. Of course, today you need more internet and social media oriented skills then maybe 10 years ago.

First of all in Germany you have the opportunity to undergo a vocational training in order to become a certified event manager. The combined practical and school training ends after three years with an officially recognized Chamber of Industry and Commerce examination. Then, according to a current survey, in Germany we have 69 university degree programs offering a focus on exhibition, congress and event management. This includes full time bachelor and master programs as well as part time programs (where you study and work at the same time). Furthermore there is the opportunity for a further training (full time and part time) in order to become a bachelor professional in exhibition and event management. This training also ends with an officially recognized Chamber of Industry and Commerce examination (written, oral, presentation of a project).

AUMA itself does not offer any education programs. We support various educational institutions with lectures, presentations, facts and figures, material and sometimes project oriented co-operations. Also every year we conduct a two-day further training for vocational school teachers who educate future event managers. Furthermore, with our German Trade Fair Library we support a lot of students who are writing their thesis (bachelor, master, Ph.D) in exhibition, congress and event management.

Enrica Baccini, Studi e Sviluppo, Fondazione Fiera Milano, Италия

Be aware that meeting industry is growing because meetings are effective, but the science of meetings is not yet written:

  • To organize successful meeting you need to make experiences in the different area of our industry (operation, production, marketing, communication, hospitality)
  • Continue to study the latest marketing strategies (today for example, customer journey is very trendy and effective)
  • Catch the new trend in communication and advertising (storytelling is now one of the most successful strategy for the communication of a brand)
  • Stay update with what is happening in the digital world and be part of the digital sphere
  • Attend the industry meeting, nationwide and international wide

The main TOP-5 competencies of meeting manager/planner now are

  • marketing and communication competencies
  • physical space attitude and digital space attitude (O2O)
  • Be curious and open-minded
  • English and some other foreign language will be extremely useful
  • Don’t forget we work is made of projects, so become the guru of project management

How do employers` requirements change (if we compare 5-yearsagorequirements and today)?

  • It depends on the global developments. If our countries continue to strengthen relationship and trade, the young professionals will be asked more and more to deal with events rotating in different countries, or with national events that can be exported. The ability to understand different cultures and needs will be important, as well as the attitude to help and solve the problems of international clients. The shift from a task oriented workforce towards goal oriented professionals will likely accelerate

In Italy there are courses at University where students can find some detailed study in events and conferences. Some of them where born in Tourism courses of Marketing courses. None of this University courses have a focus on trade fairs. For this reason in Fondazione Fiera Milano we decided to launch an Academy.

We are a Foundation and we own Fiera Milano Spa. We offer courses for undergraduate and graduates young people who want to became exhibition and event professionals. How are they structured? 6 months of lessons and 6 months of internship in companies like venue owners, exhibitions and event organizers, catering companies, PCO, etc . We also organize courses for companies that want to improve the ROI of the trade show participation.

Kristi Casey Sanders, CMM, DES, HMCC, Director of Professional Development for Meeting Professionals International (MPI), USA

TOP-5 challenges for young meetings professionals concerning their further education & professional development?

  1. Lack of resources (where do you start?)
  2. Finding the job they want (a lot of the work isn't glamorous)
  3. Understanding the value of the work they do to the company/organization (no one's teaching this)
  4. Knowing how to track, analyze and communicate the success metrics related to your meetings' success
  5. Finding the time to step back, relax and invest time in yourself (striking work/life balance is difficult in this line of work)

Five years ago, you were expected to have a budget, find a site, book the speakers, order the food and make sure nothing went horribly wrong.

Today, you are expected to:

  • Manage your key meeting stakeholders
  • Define a meetings' goals and objectives (and prioritize them with stakeholders)
  • Create the budget, manage the finances and project potential revenue (ex: sponsorships)
  • Contract site, transportation and vendors
  • Reduce waste, improve processes and plan sustainable events
  • Accommodate food allergies, disabilities and make sure the environment is welcoming to all
  • Provide for the safety and wellbeing of your guests
  • Program content that will enhance the learning experience of your guests
  • Manage the speakers, entertainers and other vendor relationships
  • Design the technical experience
  • Align all design and content elements to achieving the stated meeting objectives and goals
  • Creating a content and event marketing strategy
  • Designing the hybrid event experience or content capture strategy that runs in parallel with the main event
  • Arrange transportation, housing and hospitality
  • Hire and train staff
  • Execute the event plan
  • Collect and analyze data
  • Communicate findings to stakeholders
  • Document and improve the process prior to the next event cycle

It's so much more! So, if I had to narrow that list to what Top 5 competencies meeting professionals need now, it's:

  1. Strategic thinking
  2. Creative problem solving
  3. Flexibility
  4. Project management
  5. Time-management and organization

(With a bonus competency of 6. Effective communication and people management skills)

It wasn't until recently that students had an option to study event management at the university level. Even today it's more common to find a hospitality management major than one that centers around event design and management. You can earn a Master's degree in Hospitality Management, but you can't earn one in Event Management yet, although Meeting Professionals International hopes to change that.

In Europe, it's more common to find Master's programs in Event Management. But even so, they are taught so that students expect they'll come out of school and just plan music festivals. The programs are geared to train people to work in agencies. The reality of the industry, however, is that most of the meetings that are held are not festivals, they are business meetings and events, which requires a different set of skills and strategic approach than agency work.

In both Europe and America, the majority of corporate meetings are for fewer than 100 people and tend to be planned by an administrative worker who isn't typically called a meeting planner.

So, the situation of the meeting professional in Russia may not be so very different than elsewhere. Around the world, people in this industry stumble into the job of organizing events, learn by doing and fall in love with the work without realizing how important it is to the companies they work at. The company leadership doesn't understand how meetings help achieve business objectives, train staff, transform thoughts and behaviors, nurture relationships and generate revenue. If you can show how you're strategically tying the events to helping these leaders achieve their objectives and business goals, it doesn't matter where you went to school, you'll be a valued member of the team.

You have to learn by doing as well. For example, the CMP covers core competencies involved in meeting logistics. But if you just memorize what they are and don't understand how to apply them in a real-life scenario, you may not even be able to pass the CMP exam. That's why you need a minimum 2-3 years of work experience before you can apply to sit for the exam.

The CMM designation isn't about meeting logistics at all. It's designed for leaders in the industry to equip them with the financial, business strategy and people management skills they need to lead teams and become executives. Before you can start that program, you need at least 7 years of experience, with 3 years in management and at least one year of profit/loss responsibility.

The certifications show that you've reached a certain level in your career as a meeting professional, but you still need to have baseline knowledge from designing and executing the events themselves.

We provide free weekly educational webinars and hundreds of hours of on-demand content from past conferences and instructor-led trainings to members of Meeting Professionals International. For non-members, you can purchase access to sessions that interest you. Memberships start at $34.99/month for professionals and less than that for students and

On that MPI Academy site, you can view education by topic or see all the sessions that are relevant for people with less than 3 years of experience (novice), 4-10 years of experience (intermediate) or more than 10 years (advanced). We also offer certificate programs on topics such as sustainability and healthcare meeting compliance. By this summer, you'll be able to find some certificate programs specifically for young professionals to help them master the fundamentals of meeting strategy, design and management.

Photo: IAPCO


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