Anyone working in the meetings and events industry likely will tell you that nothing beats expe-rience for honing your skills. But the pros also will tell you that education can’t be beat, either. “What always strikes me, being an event manager and working with planners and others who execute events, is it’s plain to see the difference in those who take part in continuing education,” says Jennifer Berkemeier, catering and special events sales man-ager at Cobo Center. “You can see the value in their organizational skills, communication skills, in their awareness skills—they know the kinds of questions to ask, they know how far in advance they should be doing things. They’re not surprised by stuff.”
Taryn Miracle, director of sales and catering at Great Wolf Lodge, says continuing education offers a similar edge for suppliers, who must contend with complex and ever-evolving topics like contracts, negotiations and hotel sales processes. “It’s very easy for people to get caught up in the sales transaction and lose the people part of it,” Miracle says. “We really need to focus on building strong and lasting connections, because I think that all that any of us are trying to do is work together toward a common goal, which is a successful meeting for our clients.”
MAKE A PLAN
Industry education begins, rather than ends, with certifications like the CMP or CPCE. However, the path beyond those certifications can be murky. So if you’re looking to advance in your career, where do you begin? Clarify where you are, where you want to go and the path that connects the two, says Aaron Wolowiec, owner of Event Garde in Grand Rapids. “Do a 360-degree assessment,” he says. “Work with a supervisor or a mentor, and identify where the gaps exist. Then find sources that meet those needs.”
Once you’ve assessed your skills and goals, you can start to develop a plan for improvement and growth. “I always coach clients to be sure they’ve developed their own professional development plan that they refer to for themselves, which is different from having a professional development plan with their employer or boss,” says Richard Gibson, owner of Gibson Coaching and Organization Performance in Grosse Point Park. “Their personal plan is their guid-ing star for what competencies they need, what out-comes they need to have in their career to progress.
“Executives and professionals should always be scanning the horizon, not only about trends in the industry but also about what kinds of competencies are going to be needed to respond to those trends,” he adds. “Knowing the trend is helpful, but it’s only half the ballgame.”
Broadly, Gibson says, every meeting and event professional who wants to move up should master four skill sets:
Event conference and meeting management, or an ancillary industry that supports that management. (Industry associations, like the Michigan Chapter of Meeting Professionals International (MMPI) and the American Society of Association Executives, offer lists of specific skills industry pros should have.)
Management skills appropriate to an individu-al’s function and level in his or her organization. This could include areas like finance, sales, HR and logistics.
Leadership, which is not dependent on lead-ing a function or an organization. How creative are you? How inspiring are you in building and leading teams?
Attitude. “In coaching we call it your way of being,” Gibson says. “If you’re optimistic, open, engaging, sincere, authentic—those words describe your way of being.
“You want to have all four buckets, but in the fourth you want to have empowering ways of being,” Gibson adds. “It takes a bit of work to get that, but it’s so important. Negative ways of being can invalidate your other three buck-ets overnight.”
Professionals should develop their rela-tionships with colleagues and supervisors so that it becomes common practice to ask for feedback on a project, Gibson says. “‘What did I do that was effective and what could I have done differently?’ You can initiate that on your own.”
Once you’ve assessed yourself and identified your areas for growth, chances are your indus-try association can help you achieve your goals. Associations offer regular conferences and other opportunities for professionals to continue to learn. Berkemeier joined MMPI when she started her career, eventually joining the board. “You can talk about the value of membership in a group like that, but it really hits you when you meet with the board mem-bers and see how experienced and knowledge-able they truly are,” she says.
“It also enhances you professionally,” she adds. “Most people are so busy, it’s very hard to get people to volunteer for committees, boards, etc. When I started, I had the time and so raised my hand for everything. Next thing you know, I went from an executive assistant to someone speaking to groups, getting my picture in the paper. I was on the board of ISES [International Special Events Society] and MMPI. If you’re out there and raising your hand, the opportunities for pro-fessional development are just about endless.”
Miracle says she makes a point of attending conferences like the Great Lakes MPI Education Conference and the Professional Convention Management Association Convening Leaders Conference. It’s impor-tant, she says, for everyone on the team to have a working knowledge of the full pro-cess a client will go through and be able to answer questions.
Continuing education through industry associations also allows planners and suppli-ers to stay abreast of trends. “We don’t want to be the last one to be suggesting things,” Berkemeier says. “If you’re the planner, you’re always going to be challenged to do the next big thing and do it better. If you’re not going to those meetings, you’re going to be in your own little bubble.
“Continuing education opens so many doors,” she adds. “It enhances how you do business and propels your career. And then when your boss comes to you and says, ‘Let’s do something different,’ you’re ready for it. As a planner, it’s your obligation. Join some group, get out there, stay ahead, meet people.
The best ones are doing it.”
We know the truism: It’s all about who you know. From landing a job interview to getting a leg up with your RFP submission, personal contacts can make a critical difference.
Making meaningful contacts can feel like a lot of work, though, especially in the era of social media and text messaging. It’s just so much easier reaching out over email. Nonetheless, people still like to give their business and their recommendations to those they know. And, go figure, we just don’t feel personally connected to strangers who contact us out of nowhere.
“If you think about your career and the best connections you’ve made, they’re probably not from a random sales call,” says Amanda Toy, associate director of sales at the Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau and networker par excellence. “The face-to-face is not going away, and I love that it’s not going away. People want to shake hands, and they remember that a heck of a lot more than a prospecting email.”
So if you’re ready to expand who you know, here are Toy’s tips for networking like a pro:
Do your research. Before a networking event, try to see the attendee list. Is there a board member of an organization or one of your important clients you want to connect with? “Have a game plan and have a list in your mind,” Toy says.
Eat before you go. “What’s your goal?” Toy says. “Is it to feed your belly or talk to people? I always have a snack before I go so I can have a glass of wine and have my other hand available for a little side hug.”
Fake it till you make it. “The more that you network, the more natural it feels,” Toy says. “Walking through that room, the key is to always have a smile on your face, whether you have a headache or not.” If you walk in blind, find a familiar face and work it. “I would go up to someone I know first and have a short, delightful conver-sation,” Toy says. “I would try to make it a cli-ent and not a fellow supplier, and see if there’s someone they can introduce me to. They see value in that.”
Stay focused. The person you’re talking to should be the only person in the room. Don’t let your eyes wander, looking for your next conversation.
Pick an easy topic. Talk about something everybody knows about, like the weather or a(n) (uncontroversial) current event.
Always be the one to (gracefully) end the conversation. “You’re busy, they’re busy, you’re not there to talk for 20 minutes,” Toy says. “Just say, ‘I know you’re busy, it was great to talk to you.’”
Follow up. “You can say, ‘Do you mind if I gave you a quick call next week to talk to you about…’; then you have your in,” Toy says. “Jot down [some notes] so you remember the next step. Then you go to your desk the next day and do it. And if you connect with them on LinkedIn, delete the standard message and write a personal message.”
DISC | discprofile.com
EVENT GARDE | eventgarde.com
GIBSON COACHING AND ORGANIZATION PERFORMANCE | linkedin.com/in/richardgibson
ISES DETROIT | isesdetroit.org
MMPI | mmpi.org
PCMA | pcma.org
STRENGTHFINDER | strengths.gallup.com