Most meeting planners begin their careers with no specific training. But it’s a complex job; one that can involve anything from sending out requests for proposals to setting up registration, securing sponsorships, booking speakers, managing travel, negotiating contracts, planning meal functions and everything in between. Attending industry events where you can gain knowledge and learn best practices from veteran insiders and peers is the fastest and most economical way to safeguard yourself from making costly mistakes while you’re learning on the job.
Unless you’re independently employed, chances are planning meetings and events is only part of what you’re asked to do on a day to day basis. With booking windows shorter than ever, having a database of vendors you’ve met and vetted face-to-face is an invaluable tool when you need to put together a program quickly. Attending an industry function, such as a PYM LIVE Event, allows you to cram weeks of destination and vendor research into an hour. And unlike surfing a Web site or doing a Google search, you’ll form a relationship with someone you know will value your business.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for meeting and convention planners in 2008 was $44,260 a year, with the lowest 10 percent averaging about $27,450/year and the top 10 percent of earners making more than $74,610/year. Payscale.com estimates that Certified Meeting Professionals (CMP) make an average of $53,000 to $87,500, depending on the industry they’re in. PCMA’s annual salary surveys show a clear correlation between the pursuit higher education, experience and pay.
Many meeting professionals start off in administrative positions, where no experience is needed. But if you want to advance to a titled position in the industry, employers are beginning to require college degrees or certifications like the CMP designation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the meeting and convention planning industry is expected to grow by 16 percent between now and 2018. As senior planners start to retire, those with the best chance of taking over those high-level positions will be those who have continued their education and have a track record of planning successful programs. Even if you decide that meeting/event planning is not for you, the skills you learn in this profession are applicable to many positions in senior management. Read “How meeting planning skills can boost your career” for some ideas and options.
This is a relationship-based business. If people know and like you, that can help you with everything from negotiating the rates your group needs to putting together a last-minute program. The friendships you form with your peers at industry functions not only will open up a world of information, it also can open up a world of opportunity if you’re looking for a job or to make a career change. The more valuable you are to this circle of peers, the more likely they’ll be to respond if you need to call in a favor later.