MPI Education Guru Hits the Ground Running with New Programs

Anyone who’s planned adult education can attest to the fact that it is no easy feat. The organizer has to create content that’s relevant to multiple constituencies, deploy cutting edge technologies, hire the right speakers, and so on.

Add two tall orders to that—planning education for meeting planners, and the overhaul of a weak education slate offered by a leading industry association—and you have a full-blown pressure cooker.

Fortunately, Graydon Dawson, the new director of knowledge management at Meeting Professionals International, is rising to the challenge. After coming onboard just five months ago, Dawson is reshaping MPI’s certifications, sessions at its annual conferences, information sharing practices, and the association’s website.

He spilled the beans to MeetingNews on what efforts are in development and what he sees on the horizon.

Q: Despite being an association for meeting planners, MPI has, quite frankly, been challenged when it comes to providing education. What changes are you making?

A: There are opportunities for us to develop training for various levels of meeting planners’ careers. Right now, we’re creating a roadmap of what skills and knowledge those coming into the industry need—from the time they start out, through the time they sit for their Certification in Meeting Management (CMM), and beyond. From that, we can determine what competencies people need to master and then create a system to have people measure where they are against the model.

We’ll be announcing new developments in this area in the coming year.

Also, we’re in the process of revamping some education, like the institutes, as well as some certifications, like the CMM, after engaging various constituencies in focus groups, virtual roundtables, and even wikis to discuss how we ought to upgrade these programs.

We are going to roll out new versions globally within the year.We’re also looking at creating new certifications for new members globally—particularly in Asia, where there’s a shortage of qualified meeting planners.

Q: Your description of a tool for members to compare their professional development against a model sounds quite similar to MPI Professional Pathways (an online profile and skills assessment program), which was introduced during the January 2006 Professional Education Conference – North America in Charlotte, NC. What ever happened to that evaluation program?

A: Any time you put together a system, you need resources to maintain it and to do reality checks to see if it continues to meet the market’s needs. But, like so many associations, MPI’s turnover has been high, and continuity was lost.

Q: How will the education at the World Education Congress in Las Vegas this August be different from what was offered at the conference in previous years?

A:We will have several non-traditional types of conference sessions. For example, we like the open space concept, where a member who has an issue and wants to find out what their colleagues have done puts her issue up on a bulletin board— and someone keeps notes and track of the ideas.

There could be 10 to 12 people in the room, and we capture the problems people are having and the solutions that are proposed, and then we publish the findings.

This is a way for professionals to get help from their peers.Members have a lot to contribute, and if we don’t tap into that, shame on us.

Also, this creates networking opportunities that can be used well beyond the event, so it gives members new resources.

Q: In addition to designing education for MPI, you are also charged with helping members learn how to create education for their constituents. What tools are you developing in this aspect of planner education?

A: We have a lot to offer members in terms of speakers and content, so we need to do a better job of making that available to the chapters.We have 60 to 70 chapters, and many of them deliver education, but some don’t have enough members or resources to get creative. So we’re trying to identify a range of topics and speakers to offer chapters.

Also, for people who put together training, I’m trying to develop a curriculum, because that’s my background and it’s very different from other types of education.

Plus, training is my background, so I can provide a lot of information on creating programs to fill this need.

Q: What’s the future of MPI’s educational offerings to meeting planners?

A: Our challenge is to move more toward the strategic side of meeting planning. Much of our education has focused on those entering the field but many of our members are seasoned professionals who solely plan senior-level education, and they are clamoring for more content.

Also, I think our members are going to see a major thrust in the global arena.We’re looking at products and services we can bring to other areas of the world, where there are major shortages of meeting professionals.

And, our website is going to become much more robust. We have a lot of content from presentations, pre-conference events, etc, that we are tagging so that members can find out about books, university courses, videos, and more on topics of interest.We hope to build a repository of information that members will be able to access seven days a week,
24 hours a day.

There will be more product and service introductions in the future, too; we just don’t know yet what those will look like. But we’re constantly following trends in adult education and looking to see what’s on the horizon.

Contact Rayna Katz at [email protected]

Originally published June 16, 2008