Planners often work long hours in the period prior to and
during a meeting or convention, and extensive travel may be
Employment is expected to grow faster than average.
Opportunities will be best for individuals with a bachelorís
degree and some meeting planning experience.
Nature of the Work
Meetings and conventions bring people together for a common
purpose, and meeting and convention planners work to ensure
that this purpose is achieved seamlessly. Meeting planners
coordinate every detail of meetings and conventions, from
the speakers and meeting location to arranging for printed
materials and audio-visual equipment. Meeting and convention
planners work for nonprofit organizations, professional and
similar associations, hotels, corporations, and government.
Some organizations have internal meeting planning staffs,
and others hire independent meeting and convention planning
firms to organize their events.
The first step in planning a meeting or convention is determining
the purpose, message, or impression that the sponsoring organization
wants to communicate. Planners increasingly focus on how meetings
impact the goals of their organizations; for example, they
may survey prospective attendees to find out what motivates
them and how they learn best. Planners then choose speakers,
entertainment, and content, and arrange the program to present
the organizationís information in the most effective way.
Meeting and convention planners search for prospective meeting
sites, which may be hotels, convention centers, or conference
centers. They issue requests for proposalsódocuments that
state the meeting dates and outline their needs for the meeting
or convention, including meeting and exhibit space, lodging,
food and beverages, telecommunications, audio-visual requirements,
transportation, and any other necessitiesóto all the sites
in which they are interested. The establishments respond with
proposals describing what space and services they can supply,
and at what prices. Meeting and convention planners review
these proposals and either make recommendations to top management
or choose the site themselves.
Once the location is selected, meeting and convention planners
arrange support services, coordinate needs with the facility,
prepare the site staff for the meeting, and set up all forms
of electronic communication needed for the meeting or convention,
such as e-mail, voice mail, video, and online communication.
Meeting logistics, the management of the details of meetings
and conventions, such as labor and materials, is another major
component of the job. Planners register attendees and issue
name badges, coordinate lodging reservations, and arrange
transportation. They make sure that all necessary supplies
are ordered and transported to the meeting site on time, that
meeting rooms are equipped with sufficient seating and audio-visual
equipment, that all exhibits and booths are set up properly,
and that all materials are printed. They also make sure that
the meeting adheres to fire and labor regulations and oversee
food and beverage distribution.
There also is a financial management component of the work.
Planners negotiate contracts with facilities and suppliers.
These contracts, which have become increasingly complex, are
often drawn up more than a year in advance of the meeting
or convention. Contracts may include clauses requiring the
planner to book a certain number of rooms for meeting attendees
and imposing penalties if the rooms are not filled. Therefore,
it is important that the planner is able to closely estimate
how many people will attend the meeting, based on previous
meeting attendance and current circumstances. Planners must
also oversee the finances of meetings and conventions. They
are given overall budgets by their organizations and must
create a detailed budget, forecasting what each aspect of
the event will cost. Additionally, some planners oversee meetings
that contribute significantly to their organizationís operating
budget and must ensure the meeting meets income goals.
An increasingly important part of the work is measuring how
well the meetingís purpose was achieved, and planners begin
this measurement as they outline the meetingís goals. Planners
set their own specific goals after learning an organizationís
goals for a meeting or convention. They choose objectives
for which success is measurable and define what will constitute
achievement of each goal. The most obvious way to gauge their
success is to have attendees fill out surveys about their
experiences at the event. Planners can ask specific questions
about what the attendees learned, how well organized the meeting
or convention appeared, and how they felt about the overall
experience. If the purpose of a meeting or convention is publicity,
a good measure of success would be how much press coverage
the event received. A more precise measurement of meeting
success, and one that is gaining importance, is return on
investment (ROI). Planners compare the costs and benefits
of an event and show whether it was worthwhile to the organization.
For example, if a company holds a meeting to motivate its
employees and improve company morale, the planner might track
employee turnover before and after the meeting.
An important part of all these different functions of meeting
professionals is establishing and maintaining relationships.
Meeting and convention planners interact with a variety of
people and must communicate effectively. They must understand
their organizationís goals for the meeting or convention,
be able to communicate their needs clearly to meeting site
staff and other suppliers, maintain contact with many different
people, and inform people about changes as they occur.
Some aspects of the work vary by the type of organization
for which planners work. Those who work for associations must
market their meetings to association members, convincing members
that attending the meeting is worth their time and expense.
Marketing is usually less important for corporate meeting
planners because employees are generally required to attend
company meetings. Corporate planners usually have shorter
time frames in which to prepare their meetings. Planners who
work in Federal, State, and local governments must learn how
to operate within established government procedures, such
as procedures and rules for procuring materials and booking
lodging for government employees.
Convention service managers, meeting professionals who work
in hotels, convention centers, and similar establishments,
act as liaisons between the meeting facility and association,
corporate, or government planners. They present food service
options to outside planners, coordinate special requests,
suggest hotel services based on the plannersí budgets, and
otherwise help outside planners present effective meetings
and conventions in their facilities.
Meeting planners in small organizations perform a wider range
of duties, with perhaps one person coordinating an entire
meeting. These planners usually need to multi-task even more
than planners in larger organizations.
In large organizations or those that sponsor large meetings
or conventions, meeting professionals are more likely to specialize
in a particular aspect of meeting planning. Some specialties
are conference coordinators, who handle most of the meeting
logistics; registrars, who handle advance registration and
payment, name badges, and the set-up of on-site registration;
and education planners, who coordinate the meeting content,
including speakers and topics. In organizations that hold
very large or complex meetings, there may be several senior
positions, such as manager of registration, education seminar
coordinator, or conference services director, with the entire
meeting planning department headed by a department director.
The work of meeting and convention planners may be considered
either stressful or energizing, but there is no question that
it is fast-paced and demanding. Planners oversee multiple
operations at one time, face numerous deadlines, and orchestrate
the activities of several different groups of people. Meeting
and convention planners spend the majority of their time in
offices; but during meetings, they work on-site at the hotel,
convention center, or other meeting location. They travel
regularly to attend meetings and to visit prospective meeting
sites. The extent of travel depends upon the type of organization
for which the planner works. Local and regional organizations
require mostly regional travel, while national and international
organizations require travel to more distant locales, including
travel abroad. Working hours can be long and irregular, with
planners working more than 40 hours per week in the time leading
up to a meeting and fewer hours after finishing a large meeting.
During meetings or conventions, planners may work very long
days, possibly starting as early as 5:00 a.m. and working
until midnight. They are sometimes required to work on weekends.
Some physical activity is required, including long hours
of standing and walking, and some lifting and carrying of
boxes of materials, exhibits, or supplies. Planners work with
the public and with workers from diverse backgrounds. They
may get to travel to beautiful hotels and interesting places
and meet speakers and meeting attendees from around the world,
and they usually enjoy a high level of autonomy.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Meeting and convention planners can qualify for their jobs
through a variety of methods. Many migrate into the occupation
from other occupations when they are given meeting planning
duties in addition to their other duties. For example, an
administrative assistant may begin planning small meetings
and gradually move into a full-time position as a meeting
and convention planner. Others with a variety of educational
or work backgrounds may seek out meeting and convention planning
positions. Although there are some certification programs
and college and university courses in meeting and convention
planning available, a large proportion of the skills needed
is learned on the job and through experience.
Many employers prefer a person with a bachelorís degree,
but this is not always required. The proportion with a bachelorís
degree is increasing because the work and responsibilities
are becoming more complex, causing employers to prefer workers
with more formal education. Planners have backgrounds in a
variety of disciplines, but some useful undergraduate majors
are marketing, public relations, communications, business,
and hotel or hospitality management. A few schools offer courses
or degree programs in meeting and event management. Individuals
who have studied hospitality management may start out with
greater responsibilities than those with other academic backgrounds.
Because formal education is increasingly important, those
who enter the occupation may enhance their professional standing
by enrolling in meeting planning courses offered by professional
meeting and convention planning organizations, colleges, or
Others enter the occupation after working in hotel sales
or as marketing or catering coordinators. These are effective
ways to learn about meeting and convention planning because
these hotel personnel work with numerous meeting planners,
participate in negotiations for hotel services, and witness
many different meetings. Workers who enter the occupation
in these ways often start at a higher level than those with
bachelorís degrees and no experience.
Meeting and convention planners must have excellent written
and verbal communications skills and interpersonal skills.
They must be detail-oriented with excellent organizational
skills, and they must be able to multi-task, meet tight deadlines,
and maintain composure under pressure in a fast-paced environment.
Quantitative and analytic skills are needed to formulate and
follow budgets and to understand and negotiate contracts.
The ability to speak multiple languages is a plus, since some
planners must communicate with meeting attendees and speakers
from around the world. They also need computer skills, such
as the ability to use financial and registration software
and the Internet. In the course of their careers, planners
may work in a number of different, unrelated industries, and
they must be able to learn independently about each new industry
so they can coordinate programs that address the industryís
Entry-level planners, depending upon their education, generally
begin by performing small tasks under the supervision of senior
meeting professionals. For example, they may issue requests
for proposals and discuss the resulting proposals with higher
level planners. They also may assist in registration, review
of contracts, or the creation of meeting timelines, schedules,
or objectives. They may start by planning small meetings,
such as committee meetings. Those who start at small organizations
have the opportunity to learn more quickly, since they will
be required to take on a larger number of tasks.
To advance in this occupation, planners must volunteer to
take on more responsibility and find new and better ways of
doing things in their organizations. The most important factors
are demonstrated skill on the job, determination, and gaining
the respect of others within the organization. Advancement
based solely on education is uncommon. On the other hand,
education may improve work performance, and therefore may
be an important factor in career development.
As meeting and convention planners prove themselves, they
are given greater responsibilities. This may mean taking on
a wider range of duties or moving to another planning specialty
to gain experience in that area before moving to a higher
level. For example, a planner may be promoted from conference
coordinator, with responsibility for meeting logistics, to
program coordinator, with responsibility for booking speakers
and formatting the meetingís program. The next step up may
be meeting manager, who supervises all parts of the meeting,
and then director of meetings, and then possibly department
director of meetings and education. Another path for promotion
is to move from a small organization to a larger one, taking
on responsibility for larger meetings and conventions.
At least two universities offer bachelorís degrees with majors
in meetings management. Additionally, meeting and convention
planning continuing education programs are offered by a few
universities and colleges. These programs are designed for
career development of meeting professionals as well as for
people wishing to enter the occupation. Some programs may
require 40 to more than 100 classroom hours during a period
of one semester to two years for a certificate of completion.
The Convention Industry Council offers the Certified Meeting
Professional (CMP) credential, a voluntary certification for
meeting and convention planners. Although the CMP is not required,
it is widely recognized in the industry and may help in career
advancement. In order to qualify, candidates must have a minimum
of three years of meeting management experience, full-time
employment in a meeting management capacity, and proof of
accountability for successfully completed meetings. Those
who qualify must then pass an examination that covers topics
such as adult learning, financial management, facilities and
services, logistics, and meeting programs.
With significant experience, meeting planners may become
independent meeting consultants, advance to vice presidents
or executive directors of associations, or start their own
meeting planning firms.
Meeting and convention planners held about 43,000 jobs in
2004. About 30 percent worked for religious, grantmaking,
civic, professional, and similar organizations; 17 percent
worked for hotels and other accommodation establishments;
9 percent worked for public and private schools, colleges,
universities, and training centers; 6 percent worked for governments;
and 6 percent were self-employed. The rest were employed by
convention and trade show organizing firms and in other industries
as corporate meeting and convention planners.
Employment of meeting and convention planners is expected
to grow faster than the average for all occupations over the
2004Ė14 period, due to growth of business, the increasing
globalization of the economy, and increasing use of electronic
forms of communication to bring people together. There will
also be some job openings that arise due to the need to replace
workers who leave the workforce or transfer to other occupations.
Opportunities will be best for individuals with a bachelorís
degree and some meeting planning experience.
As businesses and organizations become increasingly international,
meetings and conventions become even more important. In organizations
that span the country or the globe, the periodic meeting is
increasingly the only time the organization can bring all
of its members together. Despite the proliferation of alternative
forms of communication, such as e-mail, videoconferencing,
and the Web, face-to-face interaction is still a necessity.
In fact, new forms of communication foster interaction and
connect individuals and groups that previously would not have
collaborated. By increasing the number of human connections,
electronic forms of communication actually increase the demand
for meetings, which may offer the only opportunity for these
people to interact in person.
Industries that are experiencing high growth tend to experience
corresponding growth in meetings and conferences. For example,
the medical and pharmaceutical sectors in particular, because
of their high growth and their knowledge-intensive natures,
will experience large increases in meeting activity. However,
these increases will spur employment growth of meeting professionals
in medical and pharmaceutical associations rather than in
the industries directly. Professional associations hold conferences
and conventions that offer the continuing education, training,
and opportunities to exchange ideas that are vital to medical
and pharmaceutical professionals. Unlike workers in some occupations,
meeting and convention planners can often change industries
relatively easily, so they often are able to move to different
industries in response to the growth or declines in particular
sectors of the economy.
Partly because of bioterrorism and homeland security issues,
Government agencies are now holding more meetings than ever.
Private security and insurance companies also have increased
their meeting activity. Because the Government increasingly
outsources its non-core functions, this increased activity
may spur demand for independent meeting consultants or workers
in private meeting planning firms rather than increasing employment
of Government meeting planners.
Demand for corporate meeting planners is highly susceptible
to business cycle fluctuations since meetings are usually
among the first expenses to be cut when budgets are tight.
For associations, fluctuations are less pronounced because
meetings are generally a source of revenue rather than an
expense. However, since fewer people are able to attend association
meetings during recessions, associations often reduce their
meeting staffs as well. Associations for industries such as
health care, in which meeting attendance is required for professionals
to maintain their licensure, are the least likely to experience
cutbacks during downturns in the economy.
Median annual earnings of meeting and convention planners
in May 2004 were $39,620. The middle 50 percent earned between
$31,180 and $50,790. The lowest 10 percent earned less than
$24,660, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $65,060.
In May 2004, median annual earnings in the industries employing
the largest numbers of meeting and convention planners were
Business, professional, labor, political,
and similar organizations
Meeting and convention planners work to communicate a particular
message or impression about an organization, as do public relations specialists.
They coordinate the activities of several operations to create
a service for large numbers of people, using organizational,
logistical, communication, budgeting, and interpersonal skills.
Food service managers
use the same skills for similar purposes. Like meeting and
convention planners, producers and directors coordinate a
range of activities to produce a television show or movie,
negotiate contracts, and communicate with a wide variety of
people. Travel agents also use
similar skills, such as interacting with many people and coordinating
travel arrangements, including hotel accommodations, transportation,
and advice on destinations.
Sources of Additional Information
For information about meeting planner certification, contact: