A Meeting and Event Planner is Also a Project Manager



It was March 15, and as a Certified Meeting Planner, I was getting ready to sign a contract with a Washington, DC-based national association to organize their annual conference. Of course, you all know what happened next—COVID 19, lockdowns, and meeting cancellations. Like many of my peers, my profession as I knew it collapsed, and many meeting professionals became unemployed. I operate a third-party meeting planning company, and consequently, many contracts dried up, which led to me having to lay-off, my employees. It was a sad time, not just for me but for our industry as a whole. 

Like many people, I went into shock, followed by denial and depression, before finally accepting that the situation wouldn’t disappear overnight. So what was I to do next? First, I took the opportunity to clean out my office. I got rid of files and documents that no longer serve me. I cleaned out my e-mail, re-organized folders that I had neglected, and deleted many others. Then what? I’m never one to stand still for very long, and I knew that the pandemic offered me an opportunity to do something different. I made a list of all the required skills I possess as a successful meeting planner, and I realized that there are way more than meets the eye:

We are master jugglers because we manage so many tasks simultaneously. We are magicians because we make things happen behind the scenes. We are accountants because we create and manage meeting budgets and contract negotiators because we ensure we get the best and fairest deal from our vendors. We are knowledgeable in the different types of insurance required for each event and risk-management procedures because we always have to be prepared for what can and will go wrong—always having a plan B and C in our back pockets.  We make sure that we are up to speed with the event venue’s emergency procedures so that we can help to protect our attendees should the need arise.  And we are psychologists, so we recognize when an attendee or sponsor needs extra special care and attention.  All of these tasks have deadlines, and many of them are dependent upon each other. 

So, what did I learn from this exercise? I’m a project manager who happens to have experience as a meeting professional.  It became apparent that I can transfer these skills and diversify into offering my expertise in other project management areas.  A project is about delivering a quality product on time and on-budget.  There are many ways to achieve these goals, and there are many tasks involved in getting to the finish line.  We need to be excellent communicators and have the ability to prioritize; we must recognize when things start to slip or go over budget and make adjustments; we have to manage and motivate teams to their best potential. It’s essential to have good people skills, be an active listener, and recognize when a team member is struggling and needs additional help.

I have run my own business for over twenty years, employing other meeting professionals and managing hundreds of meetings and events, so I knew I had what it takes to be a good leader and project manager. But I knew I needed something more to prove that I have the knowledge to transfer and broaden my experience into a wider field.

I registered with Freelance University and took their project management certification course.  It is an excellent course and delves into PM’s various methods, from the traditional Waterfall method to the Kanban, Agile, Scrum, and Lean methods.  Each method has its own merits and advantages depending on the type of project. 

For instance, the Waterfall method is a series of steps that follow one another along a straight path. It’s the oldest model to date, and it requires comprehensive planning from the outset to map out the phases, tasks, and deadlines. It’s ideal for linear-type projects with a series of steps and tasks to be completed before moving onto the next phase. It’s still a popular method, but it tends to be more rigid and sometimes challenging to make changes and adjustments midstream. However, it’s easy to repeat this method and is ideal for building spec homes or power plants.

The Agile methodology is a popular process. This method allows for more flexibility and speed. It allows for larger projects to be split into smaller projects that can be done simultaneously without having to follow a linear sequence. It’s a bit like cooking a turkey at Thanksgiving; you have to cook the turkey and have it ready by a specific time while preparing all the other side dishes simultaneously. This method is ideally suited for product launches. 

The Scrum or “modern” method is ideally suited for short-term projects or short projects and cycles. The project is broken down into several parts and involves daily sprints managed by the Scrum Master. The Lean method is ideal for repeatable projects and has a specific workflow like blog posting or ad campaigns. The Lean method tends to release the project plan and then continue to work and improve upon it.

Finally, the Kanban method, first introduced by Toyota, is a visual board system that breaks down the project into smaller parts, each represented by a card with well-defined steps. It’s a very user-friendly method and works very well with virtual teams and people who don’t need a lot of oversight.

The PM certification course has given me the knowledge and the confidence to tackle various project management challenges. Additional benefits included online training and recommendations for the various PM software tools available, like Trello, Asana, and more. Inspired by the course’s knowledge and details, I was further inspired to take additional classes, for instance, social media management, online business management for small businesses, WordPress, SEO, and more.

December 22, 2020

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Linda Nelson, CMP

Certified Meeting Professional from Events Industry Council, and holds a Certificate of Project Management from The Freelance University.