In the beginning, there was the part-time meeting planner.
Back in the early part of the last century, whenever a sales meeting needed to be planned, the director of sales took care of it -- or he handed it off to his administrative assistant. Part-time planners have been around as long as the meetings industry has existed. As the 20th century moved on, and planning evolved into a profession, with associations, certifications, and accepted best practices, part-time planners didn't disappear. Salespeople, human resource directors, marketing professionals, and administrative assistants continued to plan meetings alongside the army of professional meeting planners organizing events all over the world -- and they're still at it today.
Here's what today's part-time planner needs to do to stay effective.
LEVEL 1: PREPARATION
1. Be Ready to Assume the Role
Administrative professionals, executive assistants, secretaries -- no matter what title they may hold, these professionals provide administrative support in a business setting and their tasks often include planning meetings, events, and conferences.
"Organizing events is no longer a nice-to-have skill set for assistants -- it's a must-have that businesses expect," says Lucy Brazier, CEO of Marcham Publishing, publisher of Executive Secretary Magazine and an international speaker and conference chair.
Meetings should be viewed as project management opportunities. "An administrative professional can be a great facilitator or huge roadblock to a successful event," says Julie Perrine, founder and CEO of All Things Admin, a company dedicated to developing and providing training, mentoring, and resources for administrative professionals worldwide.
Perrine, who started her career as a secretary and has held a wide range of titles as an administrator, has experienced firsthand the success that can be achieved when effective planning skills are in place. "An administrator's role can make or break the success of the meeting they are helping to coordinate," says Perrine. She adds that these events must be managed like projects, not just tasks.
2. Take Advantage of Educational Programs
Meeting planning associations, as well as industry conferences, are a way to gain education and build a strong network of resources. Not only are there organizations like Meeting Professionals International (MPI), which offers courses like Basics Boot Camp: Meeting Fundamentals, but the International Association of Administrative Professionals and the American Society of Administrative Professionals also provide educational opportunities.
3. Stay Current
Industry publications (like Successful Meetings), websites, and blogs provide information and education on the latest meeting planning trends and best practices.
LEVEL 2: DOING THE JOB
4. Customize as Much as Possible
Customized forms, templates, and checklists that Perrine has developed throughout her career have allowed her to be proactive instead of reactive. She has created checklists pertaining to site tours, participant lists, travel/hotel arrangements, meeting rooms, food and beverage, and the agenda. (Visit here for a copy of Perrine's meeting questionnaire.)
A similar punch list has proven to be invaluable to Dr. Robert Hollon, executive director of the Association for Science Teacher Education, where planning the annual conference is one of his many responsibilities. His checklist, he points out, "is integrated with a list of contract must-haves, like clear force majeure clauses, attrition language [when fewer attendees book in the host hotel room block than planned], non-performance statements, and the like. That way when I am negotiating and facilitating our conference, it is less likely that I will miss something."
5. Find Tactical Partners
Lindsay Griffiths, director of global relationship management at the International Lawyers Network, an association of more than 5,000 attorneys across 67 countries, plans anywhere from two to four international conferences a year. This is but one of the many hats she wears. Focused on developing a unified message for these independent firms, her other responsibilities include education, marketing, implementing a social media strategy, blogging, recruiting, onboarding new members, and managing collateral materials. By not being afraid to ask for help, Griffiths has excelled as a part-time planner.
"I am very detail-oriented and like to be involved in every aspect of our conferences, but I have learned to leverage that by working with local destination management companies [DMCs]," notes Griffiths. "I leave the actual running of our conferences to these on-site providers. They manage transportation, tours, and other aspects, plus they can get access to things that you wouldn't be able to get on your own."
Convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs) and destination marketing organizations (DMOs) also have helped Griffiths by providing insider information and, more importantly, saving her a great deal of time at no cost. That is a win-win. Instead of making numerous calls to potential hotels, convention centers, and off-site venues, one call to the CVB or DMO will result in RFPs, bids, proposals, and help with negotiation.
This gives Griffiths time to focus on facilitating networking, which is what she considers the most important part of her events. "We build unique cultural experiences into our conferences to help our delegates bond," she says about activities such as spending an afternoon immersed in the Maori culture of New Zealand, cycling through the rice paddies in Vietnam, and learning Thai dancing in Bangkok.