Meeting and convention planners organize events, seminars, and conferences for businesses, organizations, professional associations, and other groups. Meeting and convention planners may be employees of the institutions they service, may work for conference centers or hotels where events take place or for professional associations that regularly hold conventions.
Meeting and convention planners follow a series of steps for ensuring that an event is successful. Initially, planners may poll an organization’s members to get an idea of the goals of the meeting and the purpose of the convention. Planners then research and identify meeting venues, taking into consideration the needs of their employer or client in terms of size, convenient location, nearby lodging or amenities, and transportation to and from the event, in addition to the overall event budget. Once a location has been approved, meeting and convention planners arrange the event dates; arrange for exhibit space and technical equipment; schedule speakers, workshops, lectures, or dinners; secure catering; organize support services; coordinate taxi or shuttle services from nearby airports; and negotiate special lodging rates for attendees.
Planners often continue to work while a meeting or convention is in progress, helping to greet attendees, providing printed schedules and programs, troubleshooting any issues, and generally ensuring that everything proceeds smoothly. At the close of the event, meeting and convention planners conduct and collect surveys created to measure the meeting’s success and collect ideas for improvement. Meeting and convention planners often specialize in particular fields, such as professional association, corporate, or government events, or they focus on specific details of planning, such as food and beverage, registration, logistics, or content.
In some cases, virtual, teleconferencing, or web-based meetings take the place of face-to-face events when the cost of travel is prohibitive. In these cases, meeting planners may still have a role in scheduling and coordinating participants and interfacing via technology.
Meeting and conference planning requires strong research, organizational, and problem-solving skills, as well as attention to detail and tact. Additionally, multilingual skills are a great asset, particularly at international events.
Most meeting and convention planners work in a fast-paced environment where they are on their feet for extended hours, and often on weekends. Numerous deadlines and extensive travel are common features of the job.
Education, Training, and Essential Skills
A bachelor’s degree in marketing, public relations, communications, business, hotel, or hospitality management is helpful for a career as a meeting and convention planner, but is not required by most employers. Formal and continuing education in meeting management and planning is offered by most universities, colleges, and vocational schools.
Many planning professionals enter the career through a position that requires meeting planning skills, such as an administrative assistant, hotel marketing and sales employees, caterers, or hospitality professionals. Candidates with planning experience have a competitive edge over inexperienced individuals, even those with college degrees.
New employees typically receive on-the-job training, working under supervision on parts of the overall planning process and taking on more complex duties as they gain experience. Individuals who want to progress quickly should look for positions in smaller organizations, where there are more responsibilities distributed between fewer employees.
All meeting and convention planners should be strong multi-taskers who work well under pressure and deadlines, have analytical and mathematical skills in order to handle budgets and negotiate contracts, and have excellent written and verbal communication skills.
Advancement and Professional Development Opportunities
Meeting and convention planners often advance within an organization by taking on increasing responsibilities or by transferring to a larger employer. Seasoned planners who devise new strategies to improve their organization’s services enhance their chances of advancement or can start their own independent consulting businesses. Planners can also compete for higher-paying positions by enrolling in professional development courses, pursuing a formal degree, and by earning additional certifications and credentials.
The Convention Industry Council (CIC) and the Society of Government Meeting Professionals (SGMP) both offer industry-recognized professional designations for meeting and convention planners.
Outlook and Income
Overall, the employment rate for meeting and convention planners is expected to increase by 16% over the next decade, driven by the international expansion of businesses and subsequent need for regular meetings amongst geographically-diverse constituents. Even with teleconferencing options, the industry recognizes that in-person meetings are still indispensable. Meeting and convention planners with significant experience or a bachelor’s degree and some experience will have the best prospects.
Annual median salaries for meeting and convention planners are about $44,000. The highest median salaries are associated with positions in management; scientific and technical services; and business, professional, labor, political, and similar organizations. Slightly lower salaries are paid by colleges, universities, and schools; traveler accommodation companies; or other services.