How to Upskill Your Meeting Planner Career

More remote programs and new virtual-proctoring options make it easy to gain continuing-education credits and start the process of earning a meetings industry certification.

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Each Northstar webcast is equivalent to one CMP credit hour. To access the webcasts on-demand, click here

The Delta variant has brought renewed concerns around event safety, with states once again tightening gathering restrictions and some groups cancelling their meetings. But rather than worry about what the future holds, a growing number of meeting professionals are taking this time to enhance their skills and gain industry certifications. Among them is Amanda Richert, event specialist with software company Jamf, who recently earned her Certified Meeting Professional designation.

"I love this industry so much. From the creativity, determination, resiliency and passion everyone in this industry has, I couldn't admire the people that dedicate their careers to being meeting and event planning professionals more," wrote Richert on LinkedIn. "Earning my CMP is even more validation that I'm in the right career and have never felt more ready for the future." 

Continuing education always is a smart career move, and many organizations are making it easier than ever to obtain an industry certification. The Events Industry Council, for example, has added new remote proctoring and year-round testing options for its Certified Meeting Professional and Certified Meeting Professional-Healthcare programs.

For newcomers and seasoned planners alike, taking the initiative to enhance your skills can serve as a stepping stone to career advancement, a new job or a higher salary. In fact, planners who hold one of the leading industry certifications earn, on average, $12,000 more than their uncertified counterparts, reveals M&C's 2020 Salary Survey. Now that gatherings are coming back (Northstar's latest PULSE Survey shows 82 percent of event professionals polled expect to hold an in-person meeting this year), competition for industry jobs is going to be fierce and evidence that you've completed a course can give you an edge.

"There is often little time for professionals in our industry to take a deep dive into future-proofing their careers," says Nancy Snowden, manager of curriculum and instructional design at Meeting Professionals International, which administers the Certificate in Meeting Management. "Educational offerings like the CMM provide the chance to tap into your professional development goals, connect with like-minded professionals and engage with world-class educators."

Coming out on the other side of today's restricted environment with a certification is a smart way to demonstrate your value to employers or clients, adds Snowden.

Choosing a Meetings Industry Certification Program

Requirements, costs and other factors differ among the most respected programs for meeting professionals. Some quick facts:

Certified Meeting Professional

Costs: Application, $250; Exam, $475

More than 11,000 people in 55 countries have earned their CMP. To qualify for the exam, applicants must have worked full time in the industry for 36 months and completed 25 hours of continuing education, all within the past five years. Those with a degree in event management or hospitality need only 24 months of full-time employment.

Once accepted, applicants have one year to take and pass the exam, which is typically held at an in-person testing center four times a year, in January, May, August and November. Due to Covid-19, the EIC has added remote proctoring and year-round testing options. 

"The networking that comes out of these is almost as valuable as the certification itself," says Edward Perotti, CMP, CMM, principal of EP Events and Experiences. "All of a sudden you have a peer group that you didn’t know before. There are people all over this world who are in the same boat and looking for the same thing as you."

The CMP certification is valid for five years. To renew, CMP holders must verify their current work experience and complete 25 hours of continuing education.

Certificate in Meeting Management

Costs: $4,400; includes a one-year MPI membership

Many consider the CMM, which is offered by Meeting Professionals International, an industry master's degree. Taught by Indiana University faculty, the program is held twice a year and features 15 weeks of course instruction followed by a capstone project. Typically, the first week of CMM instruction is held at the university's Bloomington campus, with the following 14 weeks conducted online. An on-site course will be held Oct. 4-7, 2021, but MPI has also added a completely virtual course option which will be held Dec. 6-9. 

"My experience has been 10,000 times more than what I thought it was going to be," says Cindy Villa, CMM, vice president and director of meetings and events for Transamerica, who was promoted two levels after receiving her certification in the fall of 2019. "This certification really does give you that next layer of respect and professional growth, and helps with how you're perceived. I was able to show my new boss what I bring to the table and that I’m not just a meeting planner, I’m a part of his executive team."

Scholarships are available to help offset the cost. To qualify for the CMM program, applicants must have seven years of event experience, at least three of which must be in management and at least two years with profit-and-loss responsibility. The CMM certification does not require renewal.

Certified Meeting Professional–Healthcare 

Costs: Application, $155; Exam, $280 

This designation is for planners who have mastered the specific regulations, laws and best practices of medical meetings. Candidates pursuing the CMP-HC must already hold a valid CMP certification, have three years' experience in health-care meetings management and have completed five hours of professional development in the industry within the past five years. Like the CMP, the CMP-HC applicants now have the option to sit for the exam throughout the year, either from their homes or at a testing center. The CMP-HC must be recertified every five years and requires 15 clock hours of continuing education.

Certified Association Executive 

Costs: Application, $500 for ASAE members, $750 for nonmembers

Administered by the American Society of Association Executives, the CAE is a badge of excellence for association planners. Eligibility requirements include five years of experience on an organization's staff, or one year at the C-suite level. Employment must be at a qualifying organization, such as an association management company, a trade association or a professional society. Those not employed at a qualifying organization who can demonstrate 10 years of paid service and professional involvement with one also might meet the requirements. 

All candidates must complete 100 hours of association management–related professional development, which can be earned via workshops and online courses. 

The CAE exam is administered twice a year, in the spring and winter. An in-person exam was held in May, and another will be held in December. Due to the pandemic, ASAE is also allowing candidates to take the exam from their home or another location via an online proctoring option. The CAE must be renewed every three years, which requires 40 CAE credits of professional development.

Certified Professional in Catering and Events 

Costs: Application and Exam, $525

Managed by the National Association of Catering & Events, the CPCE requires a minimum of 36 months of full-time experience in the catering and events industry, or 24 months of full-time experience in addition to a hospitality degree. Instructors of catering and events can also qualify if they have at least 36 months of full-time experience in academia and one year of professional experience in the industry.

The exam is held online; applicants can retake it if needed for an additional $200. To recertify, which is required every five years, CPCE holders must complete 30 classroom hours.

Getting Credit 

Continuing education hours, which are required by most certification programs for the application and renewal processes, can be attained through webcasts, and in-person or online courses. 

Northstar Meetings Group has a broad lineup of free webinars, each providing a half hour or full hour of CMP credit. On the upcoming schedule is a session on planning an incentive travel program with a wow-factor. On-demand webinars include which technology will benefit your events most right nowhow to choose the best convention destinations for 2021, and how to plan a truly inclusive meeting.

Many industry organizations also have their own courses and webcasts with CMP credit hours. MPI, for example, offers online certificates in advanced hybrid-event design ($556 for MPI members), contracts and negotiations ($499), and emergency preparedness ($499). 

In addition, the MPI Academy is home to a plethora of on-demand content — all of which are free for MPI members. Sessions that qualify for CMP hours include creative cost-saving techniques, and how to ensure attendee safety and security. 

The Event Leadership Institute has added new certificates that cater to the Covid-19 crisis and the new skills meeting planners must adapt. The pandemic event design and virtual meetings management certificates are six-week, online courses that offer 20 hours of CMP credit. Both are priced at $556 for ELI and MPI members. In addition, ELI has partnered with MPI to offer a pandemic on-site protocol training course ($60 for members and offers three hours of CMP credit), which covers monitoring and enforcing Covid-19 safety at in-person events. Health Education Services has a pandemic compliance advisor course, which can be taken for three hours of CMP credit. (Learn more about the pandemic compliance advisor designation in this episode of Eventful: The Podcast for Meeting Professionals).

ASAE also has robust online-education offerings, such as a seminar series packed with hour-long sessions that qualify for continuing-education credit. Among the options are webcasts on communicating through crisis, building a culture of ethics in your organization and diversifying your board. The sessions are $34 each for members and $45 for nonmembers.