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FIVE (+ 1) CORE COMPETENCY MUST-HAVES for MEETING PROFESSIONALS


NOTE: I wrote this blog and then published each core competency must-haves individually on the website but also wanted to have the blog published and out there in full. So, here it is -- the longer, complete version. Whether you read this version or piece by piece, I hope you find value in what I have to say.


There are many components (or elements) to the meeting planning process which I discuss in detail in my book, “The Meeting Planning Process: A Guide to Planning Successful Meetings.” Of these elements, there are FIVE core competencies that I believe meeting professionals must possess or strive for in order to be successful. In addition, my +1 core competency (#6 below, Life/Work Balance) is a must-have, must-do in order to maintain a healthy mind and body. Maintaining this balance will in turn help give you the strength and mobility required to operate under stressful, ever-changing conditions and situations you will undoubtedly be faced with throughout your career.


The Five (+ 1) Core Competency Must-have of which I speak are:


1. Project Management

2. Budget Development/Revenue Management

3. Contract Review and Negotiation

4. Site Search & Selection

5. Communication/Marketing

6. Life/Work Balance


By my definition Core Competency (or skill proficiency) = knows AND can apply. “Competency” isn’t just about the “knowing.” It’s also about being able to “apply” the “knowing.” For instance, one can “KNOW” all there is to know about Project Management but unless you can “APPLY” the learned principles to the projects you’re managing, there will be issues and unintended consequences.

Said another way, simply reading a book or taking a course on project management does not make you an expert nor does it guarantee success. One must also be able to apply the principles behind the process to become competent in this or any of the other core areas for you or your project to be successful. It takes time. It takes patience. It takes practice. And it may take making mistakes along the way which will in the end make you, your organization and your programs stronger.


#1: PROJECT MANAGEMENT in general terms is defined as” the discipline of organizing and managing resources (e.g., people) in such a way that a project is completed within a defined scope, quality, time and within budget.” Or described another way: “the use of specific knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to deliver something of value (in this case a meeting or event) to people.”

In meeting planning terms we’re talking about the planning, scheduling, tracking and successful completion of a meeting or event. This includes: defining program goals, objectives and key messages; defining the intended audience; researching, siting and selecting the venue that best meets the meeting’s space requirements; developing communication and marketing plans; contract review and negotiations; budget development and management; assigning team leads and key players to task lists within predetermined deadlines; FOLLOW UP and FOLLOW THROUGH.


#2: BUDGET DEVELOPMENT is the establishing, overseeing and tracking of program expenses to ensure a project comes in at or under budget. A meeting professional must know which line items to include in the overall budget, be transparent in reporting all expenditures, and account for any and all overages as they occur.


It’s important to note, however, that the budget cannot accurately or fully be developed without first knowing and understanding at least the basics behind the goals and objectives of the meeting or event and number of people expected to attend. Then, having narrowed down the preferred destinations and venue types (resort; city, suburban, airport hotels; or conference center, for instance), secured confirmation of room rates, meeting room rentals, audio visual and production fees, food and beverage projections and associated taxes and gratuities, completed air analysis for preferred destinations, ground transportation and many other items associated with the executing of the meeting or event can a budget be established. Adaptations to the program may (and most likely will) be made along the way, but any additional monies required over and above what was originally approved will require approval from the program sponsor/host.


REVENUE MANAGEMENT comes into play with association or non-profit meetings and events and involves income generated action items like registration fees, sponsorships, silent auctions and so forth in addition to those items started in the above paragraph under Budget Development.


#3: CONTRACT REVIEW AND NEGOTIATION

Of all the components of the planning process, none is probably more daunting nor carries more risk than that of contract review and negotiation.


A contract is a legally binding document, and everyone concerned (planner, meeting host, Procurement, Legal, and in some cases Risk Management) needs to fully understand the language and implications of such. It’s important to remember that while meeting professionals are or can become very knowledgeable with contract terminology and the various clauses, they are, however, NOT (unless they are) attorneys. Therefore, it is imperative that they know their limitations and seek legal assistance when needed or are unsure of what something means to be safe.


If you are not a meeting professional but find yourself planning meetings from time to time over and above your day-to-day responsibilities, it is more important than ever that you call in the experts for assistance with this element of the planning process.


Meeting professionals must know and understand the basic components of a contract and the key clauses that should be included in a hotel contract in order to best protect the people, company, association or non-profit they represent. They need to know what is negotiable (like room rates and suite upgrades, room rentals) and what is not (hmm), how much to push and when to back off and the cause and effect of either.


Contract Negotiation should be looked at as a WIN-WIN proposition across the board. You can ask for the moon and the stars, but you need to be realistic and understand both sides of the equation in order to be successful in this element of the meeting planning process.


#4: SITE SEARCH & SELECTION is a multi-faceted area and a favorite area of the meeting planning process for me. It encompasses three areas of consideration and best done in order; although, it may take a fair amount of coaxing on your part to make this happen.


1) Search (Research)

2) Site Inspection

3) Selection

And, then there’s the ever present, Budget (but I already covered that in Core Competency #2: Budget Development and Revenue Management).


Search (research)

There are so many venue options and destinations to choose from, but research efforts should be driven first by program goals and objectives, intended audience, anticipated numbers, and general area of the county under consideration.


Getting a bead on this can be hard to do if the Design or Planning Team isn’t forthcoming with the information or for proprietary reasons isn’t able to disclose too much, but try, try, try). Sometimes, it boils down to trust; sometimes it may take a little more initiative on the meeting professional’s part. (There’s an Overall Meeting Action Plan template in my book to help you identify and document program specs.)


Other considerations during the research phase include preferred setting or atmosphere; maximum distance guests are willing to travel to and from the airport; preferred venue type (resort, city, airport or suburban or conference center); level/quality of accommodations and service; and perhaps above all, safety and security.


Site Inspection

Site inspections ideally should be done BEFORE going to contract. You want to make sure you know what you’re getting before committing. And you just might want to keep a second option in your back pocket in the event you need more rooms and/or for some reason something unanticipated happens with your preferred choice (such as change in management, another client commits before you do).

I also liked doing a second site during the final detail phase of the planning process to reinforce what I remembered from the first visit and to make sure the conference services person and I are in synch.


Selection

While it’s important to flush out program goals and objectives early on (and certainly before going to contract), first and foremost you need to make sure there’s a proper fit between required meeting and banquet space needs and the actual space a venue has to offer. You can’t grow space that isn’t there or just plainly not available should your needs change as planning moves forward). The number and required setup of meeting and breakouts rooms, and food and beverage function space all matter. And don’t forget registration, office and storage space. (The Request for Proposal (RFP) template in my book will help you lay out guest room and function space requirements.)

The Site, Search and Selection process is a very time-consuming element of the meeting planning process, one that may require the help of a sourcing company (a company whose primary function is the sourcing of hotels and resorts) to obtain the best rates and contract terms for their clients (YOU). This does not take anything away from the planner; you’re still in the driver’s seat but it does free you up to work on other tasks when you’re hit with a last-minute request for a new project (and we all know this happens, sometimes more often than we’d like).


#5: COMMUNICATION & MARKETING

If as you’ve read through this document in total or as it’s been unveiled one Core Competency at a time and there seems to be a resounding emphasis (or theme) centered on words or phrases such as: “goals and objectives”; “meeting purpose”; “intended audience”; “expected outcomes”; and “messaging”, there’s good reason and you’ve read me right.


Developing a relevant meeting requires a complete understanding of these and other elements and how they play to the success of any meeting or event – along with the good, rock solid, talents and expertise of the Design/Planning Team to properly execute the PLAN.


A comprehensive and well-thought-out marketing strategy must raise awareness, generate interest and help drive registration (especially, if your meetings are externally driven). Corporate meetings are different in that their focus is mainly internally driven and attendance is quite normally mandatory.)


Your overall methods of communication and the vehicles you use to get your message out (social media, video, print, online registration, etc. or any combination thereof) to meeting participants is paramount to getting them to understand what the meeting is all about; the benefits to them for attending; securing in some cases, their buy-in, and how and by when they need to go about making their travel plans. In the case of eternal participants, how, when and what you communicate may mean the difference between attending or not attending, making revenue projections or not.


Communication should be clear, concise and timely throughout the planning process. All marketing materials should carry the same tag line/headline/graphics throughout to keep the theme/brand/objectives foremost in everyone’s mind.


Clear, concise and timely communication before a meeting will help alleviate questions or concerns participants have on logistics, meeting flow and expectations. Follow-up communication prior to departure confirming final details (hotel confirmation, airport transfers, anticipated weather, proper attire, check-in and check-out times, etc.) and what to expect on arrival will enhance their travel confidence and set the stage for a successful experience as they arrive and throughout the meeting or event.


Having a well thought out Communication Plan in place in the event of medical or other emergencies is paramount to the health and safety of all concerned and is separate to the Communication/Marketing Plan discussed above and requires a great deal of pre-work and due diligence of internal and external sources.


It is imperative you have both a Crisis Management Plan and a Medical Risk Management Plan in place BEFORE a meeting starts and that everyone on your team is aware of the proper protocols that will need to be followed per each possibility should an unplanned disturbance (weather, disease outbreak, fire, active shooter, for instance) present itself, such as: who notifies who of a situation; how will it be communicated to guests; where does the team position itself during evacuations, who gives the “all clear” to return back to business, and so forth.


You’ll find information on questions to ask your hoteliers on emergency protocols from both a Crisis Management and Medical Risk Management perspective in my book that should give you a good starting point of some of what to look for, but I encourage you seek the help of experts as you draw up your specific plans moving forward. There’s too much at stake to not do this.

# MY+1: LIFE/WORK BALANCE


Life/Work Balance is my “(+1) Competency Must-have for Meeting Professionals” (or anyone for that matter and may ultimately be the most important aspect to a person’s health and well-being.


Being a meeting professional is extremely rewarding in so many ways but very stressful at times (well most of the time). Therefore, it is a must that you take care to maintain a good balance between your work life and your personal life. It means taking time for YOU. It means setting boundaries. It means eating right, establishing and maintaining a realistic and sustainable exercise, relaxation and/or meditation regiment -- plus, getting adequate sleep. And it means asking for help BEFORE it becomes apparent that something is amiss and totally out of kilter.


I was late to the game in starting my career as a meeting professional. My son was older and well on his way to leaving home and starting his own career, so I did not have the struggles and issues young mothers with careers faced then (and still do today).


I honestly do not know what I would have done in those early years and am in awe of how single and/or married moms managed home and work to the extent they did then and still do but I do believe not having a well-balanced work and home life comes with a price – so take care of yourselves, your families. It’s important for you; it’s important for your family. It’s important for your/their present; it’s important for your/their future. So, strike that balance. You’ll/they’ll be glad you did.


Here are just a few quick tips I found that helped me keep my balance.

  • Change your clothes, wash your face and take your watch off when you get home from work.

  • Designate the dinner table as a cell phone free area at mealtimes.

  • Shut off your work cell phone and computer at a designated time each evening.

  • Don’t take your frustrations from home into work; nor work into home. Take a deep breath, put a smile on your face when you walk in the door at work in the morning and back home at the end of the day.

  • Take time to recharge with your activity of choice every day at whichever time works best for you.

  • When you’re working on-site, go for brief walks or look for reasons to get outside for short periods of time throughout the day to regroup.

  • Take your daily touch-base kind of meetings with staff outside whenever possible.

  • Find things that can be done outside when working on-site like stuffing name badges, sorting handouts, stuffing gift bags – weather and wind permitting, of course – and don’t feel guilty about it.

  • Go to the fitness center or take a walk or a swim when you’re on-site before you start your workday.

  • When traveling for work unpack and put things away and get yourself and your desk area in your hotel room organized as soon as possible upon arrival. Crazy as this may sound, I did this even when I was staying for a single night only. I felt more at home, more centered. It made me feel better; I was more productive and less scattered – simply, happy to be.


If you have other tips for creating/maintaining life/work balance, please do share. It’s important and may just be what someone who is struggling needs to hear.


Namaste.


P.S If you want to delve deeper into these core competencies or the meeting planning process in general, please consider checking out my book, 'The Meeting Planning Process: A Guide to Planning Successful Meetings." If you do and you found it to be beneficial in your work, I welcome reviews.





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