The 21st Century Meeting Professional: Act Strategically, Think Both Functionally And Strategically

VALUES+: A campaign for AKTO

What’s the role of the 21st Century meeting and conference professional?

In the past, the answer was easy. Perform very straight forward, transactional, functional tasks related to the logistics of conferences, meetings and events.

S/He fulfilled the same types of tasks on a daily basis. When asked to make improvements, s/he focused on efficiency and cost savings. Today however, many meeting professionals are being asked to balance new strategic roles while still managing their functional areas.

The Strategic Leap

Today, CEOs and senior executives have begun asking conference and meeting professionals to deliver more value to the organization and its customers. Instead of being asked to be the best at their functional tasks, they are being asked to align their purpose with the organization’s strategy and mission. Employers want conference professionals who think and act differently with a focus on purpose and target audience first and logistics last.

So why the leap to a focus on strategy (the who and the why) before details (the what and the how)?

1. Conference Customers Demand More

First, conference customers are demanding more from an event’s experience. As sociologist Josh Packard and authors Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore have demonstrated, people are tired of passive, consumption-based experiences. They want to participate in meaningful events. That means conference professionals have to become experience designers, community connectors, and learning explorers on how to help participants learn, understand, remember and apply curated content.

2. Content, Connecting Socially And Learning Everywhere

Second, content, social connections and learning are everywhere. Our cry of face to face is better is being undermined by science that shows our brains respond the same way to online or face to face conference experiences. Meeting professionals must begin to design unique face to face experiences that can’t be replicated online. This means delivery of information and content distribution for conferences won’t make the cut.

3. Differentiation Provides The Distinctive Advantage

Third, senior executives have renewed focus on the competitive advantage of providing something different. Customers are looking for something unique and different, not status-quo sameness. As meeting professionals provide more differentiating capabilities that server cross-functional roles, they provide a way to out-perform their competitors. And the differentiation must also be meaningful for customers, not just wow-filled temporary escapism fluff.

4. Becoming The Ambidextrous Organization

Savvy meeting professionals are leading from within their functional areas. They have the ability to continually improve their efficiency and current processes while also focusing on where the innovation growth for their events are in the future. They keep one hand working on today and one hand working on the future, so to speak. They ask higher-level questions of the various conference programming elements instead of just waiting for information to be given to them to be slotted into the schedule. They ask questions like, “What the big goal of this general session, these topics, and this party? How will we know if we succeeded? What will the audience do during these conference elements? What’s the bigger issues we want to help our customers grasp and understand? Is this in the best interest of the paying customers?”

As a functional, task-focused meeting professional, how has your role evolved in the past few years? Where do you see the role of conference professional going in the future?

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  1. Couldn’t be more excited about this post, Jeff. Thanks for putting it together. The role of the successful meeting planner of tomorrow needs to be first expanded within our own minds — we have an incredibly powerful role in shaping both strategy and application of bringing our organizational visions to life in the face-to-face space. For years, it hasn’t been enough to rest on our laurels, but inertial sustained us there nonetheless. It’s tomorrow’s strategy that will suffer without the leadership investment in meetings today. My career started quite functionally, but I was fortunate enough to have been supported in my efforts to bring greater content strategy and design innovations to my role. By the time I left daily association work, I was no longer a meeting planner, but an experience designer and executive producer. The most positive functional role I undertook was that of chief innovator and connector, helping our internal divisions better leverage the annual meeting to create alignment with overarching strategic goals, deliver member education that had sticking power, and bring visibility to mission-driven initiatives that were getting lost in the noise.

    Great post, Jeff! Thanks again 🙂

  2. Sarah Moore says:

    As a professional planner event, everything I can say is that “It’s all about the details” No one could make it better than a Professional, they all know your needs and will be on top of every single piece of the puzzle in order to accomplish the entire event.

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