. How to Upskill Your Meeting Planner Career | Successful Meetings

How to Upskill Your Meeting Planner Career

New remote proctoring options make it an ideal time to dive into continuing education and start the process of earning an industry certification.

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As the pandemic stretches on, a growing number of meeting planners are using this time to gain industry certifications. Among them is Chelsea Rennie, an events manager for the real estate company JLL, who kicked off 2021 by earning her Certified Meeting Professional designation.

"It is a true honor to be joining such an elite group of professionals," wrote Rennie on LinkedIn. "I’ve wanted this certification since I started event planning. Finally one day in quarantine, I asked myself what I was waiting for. If not now, when?"

In the best of times, continuing education is a smart career move. Right now, it's also an ideal way to spend downtime, and many organizations are making it easier than ever to obtain an industry certification. The EIC, 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 stepping stones 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.

"We know the business will come around. We've been through how many recessions? We've been through SARS, we've been through Zika, we've been through 9/11," says Edward Perotti, CMP, CMM, principal of EP Events and Experiences in San Francisco. "We will come back again. I have zero doubt about that."

Until then, experts recommend using this time to "upskill" — learning new aspects of meeting planning or pursuing that certification you've been considering. When the industry rebounds, those who have sharpened their skills will be best positioned to compete in a crowded job-seekers market. 

"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. "As we move to a lifestyle of staying, working and living from home, 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, which is administered by the Events Industry Council, 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. The exam 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 Perotti. "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 is still expected to be held in late October, but MPI has also added a completely virtual course option which will be held twice in 2021: Feb. 7-11, and Dec. 6-9. An in-person option will also be offered on May 3-6, and Oct. 4-7. 

"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 last fall. “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. Due to the pandemic, ASAE is now 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, M&C's parent company, has a broad lineup of free webcasts, each providing one CMP credit hour. On the upcoming schedule are sessions on how to plan a truly inclusive meeting, and sponsorship ideas for digital and hybrid events. On-demand webcasts include legal mistakes planners make and how to avoid them, how to welcome the virtual attendee, and the small meetings guide to working with convention and visitors bureaus. 

Many industry organizations also have their own courses and webcasts with CMP credit hours. MPI, for example, offers online certificates in event crisis communications ($299 for MPI members), contracts and negotiations ($499) and emergency preparedness ($499), which can be found here

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. 

Meanwhile, 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. The course, which covers monitoring and enforcing Covid-19 safety protocols at live events, is priced at $60 for members and offers three hours of CMP credit. 

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 cybersecurity and privacy, selecting and coaching speakers for success, and how to leverage diversity and inclusion for greater impact. The sessions are priced at $34 each for members and $45 for nonmembers.