The power of learning in the meeting and event planning industry

By Lynda Hoff

From the time we are born we have consistently been exposed to new things — skills, environments, people and situations. There is so much to accomplish we wonder how we will ever manage it all. We go to school, we seek out mentors and experts of the skills we are learning and keep trying to improve. We offer our expertise to others who may be less accomplished. We are constantly learning and educating ourselves to do a better job, be the best we can be.

If we live life thinking we already know everything, where is the “a-ha” moment? Where do we find the satisfaction in completing a task we didn’t think possible? Where is that sense of pride in knowing that we are better with this new skill than we were without it?
The power of learning in the meeting and event planning industryLearning comes in many forms. Formal education encompasses grade school through high school and beyond. College and university provide us with opportunities to build on the fundamentals we have acquired with a more targeted and specific approach based on our desired careers. The meeting and event planning industry has recently become a popular course of study. Not all that long ago, the opportunity to study in this field wasn’t as readily available. There were limited offerings, and our industry was not seen as a “professional” opportunity until quite recently. Many of us “fell” into this line of work or “picked it up” along the way while doing other things.

Learning through experience

We perfected our craft by doing and by trial and error. Many of us practiced the “form vs. function” method and adapted processes to this line of work. How much better would we have been at our jobs with a set base of skills to grow upon? How much easier would it have been to build skills upon that base? How much better would our early programs have been with an added knowledge framework? These are great questions that today’s student doesn’t need to worry about. Now programs are offered at colleges and universities across the country providing a sound base for students today and our coworkers of tomorrow. Mentors are providing the knowledge and sharing their experience, with the next generation of planning professionals.

We all understand the value of a skills base – just like a building – if the foundation is sturdy then probably the building will be too. A base of skills is that foundation upon which skills can be honed, crafted and moulded into a talent that will change and morph with time. That foundation allows for quick thinking and manoeuvrability when challenges arise.

Looking for “a-ha” moments

When I hear students talking about an event they attended or a sector of the industry that they were not familiar with, I think to myself, how could they know? Until you actually experience an event in full planning mode or attend the event in the presentation phase you don’t know how it will look and feel. Those skills may not come to life and merely be words on a page. Recently I had the opportunity with a group of 17 students to work on a corporate event from load in through execution of the program. It was eye opening for all of us to see what “a-ha” moments presented themselves and how their participation impacted attendees at the event. It gave us all an appreciation of their base skills as learned in the classroom and the practical application on site when things are moving a mile a minute.

College and university program offerings provide students with an opportunity to work with and be mentored in an active environment where planning business events is an everyday occurrence. They can take the base skills learned in a classroom and apply them to a live situation and feel the euphoria of seeing that event come to fruition and work through the challenges when things don’t quite go according to the plan. That opportunity will create their “a-ha” moment.

The value of mentorship

Now is the perfect time to think about what kind of mentor you worked with in the past – what experience gave you your first “a-ha” moment? Think about how valuable it could be to provide that chance to someone looking to move into or within this industry. Think about what skills you are looking for in prospective employees within your organization. How can you influence the types of planning professionals you will work with in the future?

You can play a vital role in the education and learning of the next generation of planning professionals by getting involved with your local college/university program to provide internship/externship opportunities within your organization, being a member of their Program Advisory Council (PAC), sharing your industry story with a class as a guest speaker, or working within your chosen industry association committee structure to mentor someone. Not only will it grow the student opportunity, you could also learn from the experience!

Changing with the times

If you have been planning business events for many years, you believe what works and what doesn’t in many situations. However, environments change. Our industry has learned through time that we can’t remain static, and we need to address change just like every other industry. Several of our associations have recognized change as an opportunity to become better at what we do and have developed courses and accredited designations to ensure that planning professionals consistently have resources to help them navigate the changing landscape of business.

We don’t stop learning once we graduate from high school, college or university – we continue to learn by reaching out and embracing all opportunities that come our way with an open mind. Check out industry designations and accreditations. By attaining them you will show your clients your commitment to learning your craft and your ability to adapt to the changing environment and your awareness that it is never too late to amplify your skills. Industry designations can be found through your industry association events (WEC, IMEX) and professional development sessions (CMP/CMP-HC, CSEP, CMM).

Learning is change, and at times it can be intimidating. The “learning curve” always seems to be steep and can be viewed as inconvenient at best. It can also be exciting and exhilarating to know that you are broadening your knowledge base. Learning and being involved with today’s student, whether they are in school currently or in one of the professional development activities you are participating in, will benefit our entire industry and our relationships with colleagues. It is never too late to learn something new, embrace a new situation and gain a new perspective. Be open to change – we learned from the stories told to us and our shared experiences will help the next generation to become even more proficient.

About the author

Lynda Hoff, CMM, CMP, is Principal of LNH Strategic Event Management. She is also a professor at Seneca College’s School of Hospitality & Tourism; Durham College and is the Incoming Chair of the Business Events Industry Coalition of Canada for 2015. She can be reached at [email protected].

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