You'll be an editor, predicts futurist Mike Walsh, and a diplomat, according to Michael Barratt, CMP. Also: a strategic thought leader, per Leslie Thornton; an experience designer, per Jackie Richards; and, according to Dorie Clark, an expert brander — of yourself.
Time is of the essence It really comes down to competing for time, so figure out how to maximize that time. In our industry you hear, “Oh, face-to-face meetings will never be replaced, because the networking that occurs and the ideas that are exchanged can't be done other ways.” Then we better make sure we're doing it the right way. It comes down to how you utilize the time to provide the most value at the end of the day for your attendees. Does it take technology? If it enhances, it might; if not, then it might not.
Keep your toolkit stocked I see meeting planners as being general contractors. What I always tell my team is, “Find out everything out there that's available.” You have to understand the bigger picture, and understand how the event plays into the larger role of the mission and the goals of the organization. You come in, you hear what our clients want to do and where they want to go, and then you have this toolkit of resources you slap down: “You want to do this? Here's what you need in order to do this.”
Not for everyone Don't force things down clients’ pipes just because it's out there and it's the newest, prettiest, fastest thing. You really have to think about the demographic and how it will translate. We often have clients who want all the bells and whistles, and they may not have the money for it or it may not be the right direction to achieve what they're trying to achieve. I will go to my grave saying, “If we cannot be strategic thought leaders and strategic managers on behalf of our clients, then we shouldn't be in this business.”
How to develop new skills Peer-to-peer sharing is key. A lot of people refer to outside classes through our industry organizations. Vendors and partners are important. Just as we love it when we have a client who allows us to be a meeting planner, we like to allow our vendors to bring their expertise. Reading the newspaper, just knowing what's going on in the world and then finding places where it might be effective, I think, is a huge help as well. This should not be about how many chairs you need to put around that table, this should be about what do you want to achieve at the end of the day.
You Will Be an Event Designer
Vice President, HR & Development, Experient
What every professional should know The basic [skill] is communication, as I see it, and it's really broad. Whether it's written, verbal, or interacting in teams, general communication skills are going to continue to be critical. But what I also see as critical is managing and working within virtual teams. We really need employees that can flourish in that environment, where they're working on project teams and they can't walk to the cube or office next door to get the answer. They need to find other avenues to communicate.
Job 1 for planners: creating experiences We're going to continue to see hybrid meetings; they're going to evolve. But what's not going to change is the need for that transfer of learning or emotion — really, the experience. It's about creating that experience, so that, whether it's the learning, the networking, whatever it is, can then be sustainable when the person leaves or the event is over. That person or organization can take that learning, emotion, [or] knowledge back with them and sustain that in their home or work world once they're back in the office.
Your new skill set Our client organizations are asking us to now link the event design to their organizational strategy, which is so neat. Our planners are having to get into the organization, understand how they're functioning, understand where they're going as an organization — and then create that event design around those strategies. It's been a really impactful change for our teams. Everything they do needs to be — whether the strategy is membership growth, revenue, whatever it may be — making sure that event design and everything that they do links to that experience.
Your old skill set, v2.0 There is so much more than logistics for today's events. When looking beyond logistics and into event design, planners need to rely on strong project-management skills to pull together all the clients’ needs that translated into the components of the events, to create the targeted attendee experience.
How to develop those skills We are doing a good job internally just sharing experiences, which I think is huge: “This is what worked on this event,” brainstorming different ideas. We're also going externally to our vendors and partners; we're working with some partners to see how they are incorporating the organization's strategy into what they're doing. We are learning from not only ourselves internally, but we're going outside.
What every professional should know There are two pieces that will become really important over the next few years. The first is ensuring that every professional has a basic familiarity with social media and some of the technology that is coming out. It's become so easy for literally anyone to make a video or to record podcasts or things like that; it's become the equivalent of using Microsoft Word. The other piece, on a broader scale, is that professionals will need to develop a sense of their personal brand. And what I mean by that is that, increasingly, we're reaching a place where jobs are scarce, competition is fierce. And you need to be able to articulate what the unique value is that only you can bring.
Developing your brand It's knowing what your skills are and what's different about you, whether it's a skill set you're really good at or experiences that you've had. Maybe you worked in a different industry and bring that knowledge to bear. Maybe you had specialized training in some way. Or it could even just be a question of temperament — that you're extremely even-keeled in times of crisis. But if you're aware of what you can do that other people may not be able to do as well as you can, that's your competitive advantage.
Communicating your brand You need to ensure that the people who need to know — your employer or, if you're job hunting, your prospective employers — know what it is that you're capable of. And you can do that in a couple of ways. One is by building a robust social-media presence, so maybe you have an industry blog that shows that you're up on what's going on in the field and have a lot of good ideas about it. It could be taking leadership roles in the profession. Maybe you're chairing committees or organizing specific events, or things like that. And yet another is to build a fan base in some ways. You can reach out to like-minded friends and colleagues and essentially turn them into wingmen for you. You can make an agreement that you will talk each other up and try informally to promote each other where possible. The meeting planner of the future In many ways, the skill set of the future is actually about broadening yourself. Every meeting planner, of course, needs to have a basic understanding of the trends in their industry; that goes without saying. But the real value-add is for professionals who have a great breadth of knowledge and expertise. It's not just about grasping your industry, but broader trends in society, because the future is about making connections across industries. It's about innovating and discovering what is useful in one context that may become useful in a new context. And if you can bring people together and if you can highlight those ideas, then that's something that people will clamor for. In a lot of ways, creating this successful, diverse event that really sparks the kind of connections that people are hungry for these days is analogous to being a really smart dinner-party host.
The true relevance of meetings Gone are the days when a meeting planner's main concern is “Are we going to serve enough fish and chicken in equal proportions and at the right temperature?” It’ s far more important that meetings have real relevance, [to ask] “Have I found the right content that engages the public imagination? Is this meeting the business’ need?” That is a very unique skill around editorial judgment. That really has been the success of TED — that they have managed to take people and subject matters that would have only appealed to super-nerds and make them interesting and sexy.
Building community This is especially relevant if you're building a conference. Conferences and trade shows have moved away from a monolithic model to being very focused seminars and conferences. And the ones that have been successful have been able to build a very tangible community around that topic. I think the same logic applies to internal meetings: The role of the meeting planner is community building— understanding the key stakeholders and the key issues, maintaining contact with the participants and stakeholders. Not just during the event, but in the spaces between events as well. What to do with your content A key question is, how much content did your meeting generate? What is left over after you pack up all the chairs and put away the screens? Did you create short, sharp, five-minute excerpts with interesting blog posts? White papers? Because it is that content ultimately which, in public events, gets distributed on social networks and that people share on LinkedIn. For internal meetings, it's the content that top executives and leaders can say, “Okay, we have fixed, tangible outcomes out of this meeting.”
Brand your meetings and events At our organization, we try to clearly identify our programs. We have a clear brand — we try to brand our programs so that people who go to our meetings or our events know that, oh, this is an AAIA program. You can become a brand ambassador for your organization and align your programs so that they match the overall image your organization's trying to portray; then you are well ahead of, I would say, anything else.
Market yourself as the best You want to make your event the place where they have to be. You have to be the best program out there within your industry. So if you can brand yourself as the best, then everyone else is going to try to keep up with you, and you're going to be the one leading that.
It's not just numbers “I think about it in terms of our trade show and what we call our event — it's not about the number of bodies that are there, it's about the quality of the attendees in terms of buyers, because we have a commercial show. It's about the quality of the attendee and not just getting bodies in for bodies’ sake. And making sure that when you have an event, that the right target audience is at that event. We have to show them a business reason for them to come to our event.”
Be a good partner One of the other professional skill sets that I think we all need to have is, we're basically diplomats. You have to get things done, but you have to figure out how to do them without stepping on somebody's toes or making the other person disappointed or upset. We work in a really tricky place where we work with the venues where our events happen, but we also have to be representing ourselves to the associations. Negotiations and when things happen on-site and you have to make things work. You have to get the results you need, but you also have to realize that you're working in a partnership with these people, too.