What does the future hold for meeting planners? We asked 13 experts to weigh in.
When futurist Mike Walsh talks about the outlook for meetings and conferences and the people who plan them, he goes back to a dark and dingy place: industrial-age coal mining and the observations of a British economist named William Stanley Jevons, whose “Jevons paradox” asserts that increases in the efficiency of energy production result in more, not less, energy consumption.
In 19th-century England, coal producers had worried that as people began to use coal more efficiently, they would use a lot less of it. Instead, Walsh said, “the use of coal spread and it ended up powering the Industrial Revolution.”
“The same thing is happening today with communications technology,” said Walsh, author of Futuretainment: Yesterday the World Changed, Now It's Your Turn and a keynote speaker at the PCMA 2013 Education Conference in Denver this month.
“Meetings are becoming more important than ever. Rather than reducing the need to interact, [technology] has addicted us to networks and interactions. People often think about technology in binary terms — that one technology replaces the others. That is, the meetings industry was going to be in decline because new forms of communication would mean we weren't going to meet anymore.”
But the average professional is more connected, Walsh noted, and used to interacting constantly through platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. “In a way, networking has been hard-coded into our DNA,” he said. “At the same time, we have realized that in order for those connections to make sense, we need to provide them with context.”
That’ s where meetings come in — along with the entire profession of meeting and event planning, which recently ranked No. 14 on U.S. News & World Report’s list of “Best Business Jobs” and No. 66 on its list of “The 100 Best Jobs.” Here's how U.S. News describes the profession:
“Meeting, event, and conference planners will have to figure out their sponsoring organization's needs and requirements in terms of exhibit space, lodging, transportation, telecommunications, audiovisual requirements, print- and Web-based materials, and food and beverages, among other necessities. A lot of time will be dedicated to reviewing proposals and contracts, and negotiating with facilities and suppliers. Overall, an event planner should be a very good task juggler and highly flexible, especially when problems arise with vendors [and] clients make last-minute changes.”
All true. But that's really just the beginning. The world is changing, and the experiences and expectations of people who attend meetings are changing along with it. To remain competitive as a meeting professional, you'll need to be everything you've been and do everything you've done — and more. You'll need to embrace the new and the different, the untested and the unknown, including tools that you might not think have anything to do with meeting planning.
We asked a baker's dozen of experts inside and outside the industry to tell us what skills tomorrow's planners will have to bring to the table if they want to enjoy a viable, fulfilling career. The short, exciting version: You will do more than you ever dreamed.
There are certain skills you'll need to acquire to remain competitive as a meeting professional. Thirteen experts inside and outside the industry tell us what you'll have to do — and become — to create tomorrow's meetings.
You'll Take On New Roles
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.
You Will Create a Kick-Ass Experience
You will be global, you'll immerse attendees in a rich digital experience, and you'll banish plain-vanilla mediocrity, says Roch Parayre, a teaching fellow at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
You'll Become a Master of Data
You won't forget ROI, says Kristen Foldvik, CMP, but you will crowdsource content, says Phil Cavanagh. And, says Meetings Technology Expo's Paul Paone, you will use technology all the time.
You'll Discover New Realms
You'll find attendees online, predicts social-media strategy consultant B.L. Ochman, and operate, according to futurist Devin Fidler, in a borderless work environment. You will play games, promises educator Sandra Strick, Ph.D., and you will know your end users, says consultant Joanne L. Smikle.