When it comes to helping event and meeting professionals elevate their conversations, their careers and their events to a more strategic level, Jessie States, CMP, CMM, talks the talk and walks the walk. She is the Director of the MPI Academy for Meeting Professionals International, where she leads and advances MPI’s professional development strategy, developing and managing MPI’s portfolio of educational products delivered through all channels, including live and digital events, educational experiences, professional certificate programs and through educational partnerships.
WorkTrip: We have heard you tell audiences, when speaking at industry events, “don’t be a line item, be an asset.” What did you mean by that?
Jessie: We are specifically focused here at MPI Academy, on how we can elevate our industry and the professionals within it, from not only the important logistical elements of designing and deploying an event experience, but also elevating them to the role of strategist and consultant within their businesses. Meetings are a business tool. Within that business, how are we using that tool to help create real business value for our organization? So, we are specifically interested in how to educate the marketplace on the utilization of this business tool, and how to ensure that meeting and event professionals are leveraged as strategists and consultants within those organizations to help them further their business goals and objectives.
WorkTrip: What are some of the biggest challenges you see meeting and event professionals face as they try to do just that - rise to the level of strategists or consultants?
Jessie: Part of that challenge is often organizational and goes back to not truly understanding what it is that their events are meant to accomplish. So, it is necessary to have the right conversations with leaders, executives and/or business owners to clearly understand what they want to accomplish, including what kind of behavior change they seek with their meeting or event attendees. Truly getting down to that can be difficult for a lot of meeting or event professionals. They have to move past responses like “we always hold this summit” or “we always do this event this way” to understand the true purpose behind the meeting or event. Then, they can design the meeting or event purposefully in order to accomplish something.
WorkTrip: We hear from a lot of meeting and event professionals that they are so bogged down with the tactical elements of their job, that they don’t even have the time to think or act strategically. What advice do have for them?
Jessie: It’s so hard and there is so little time. Sometimes you are given last minute meetings, or you are juggling 10 meetings at one time. The bottom line is that you can’t design a successful experience unless you know what that experience is designed to accomplish. And, you can’t make great decisions unless you know what kind of success your organization or clients are looking for. Once you know that, you can make the decision to say no to some things and yes to other things. You are then in a much better position to make decisions about time, money and other resources. All of those can be filtered through one question - “what is our meeting designed to accomplish?” We have to find a way to make time for this particular conversation, even if that seems difficult to do. It empowers us to set better priorities, make better decisions and design better experiences.
WorkTrip: Do you have any advice specifically for young meeting and event professionals starting out in their career?
Jessie: If you are new to your career or company, that can be the best time to have these kinds of conversations. No precedent has been set yet. There are no preconceived notions about you and how you do your job. You are in a supreme position to empower yourself and to leverage your role in an organization to be much more than an order taker.
WorkTrip: Do you have any advice that might help meeting and event professionals better manage some common traits that might be considered both a blessing and a curse – i.e. detail oriented, a get-it-done mentality, a tendency toward perfectionism, people-pleasing, etc.
Jessie: I think that because we are so detail oriented and because we do an incredible amount of logistical work related to the experiences we are responsible for, we simply aren’t having the right conversations with our senior leaders.
I teach a Women in Leadership class, and one of the leaders told me a story about overhearing her boss and CEO having a conversation. Her boss said “we should really bring in the meeting professional to discuss this” and the CEO responded with “she just really orders the transportation and the menus, right?” She went to her boss, explaining that she was devastated about how she was perceived. She explained that she did so much work around the strategy of the meetings, following industry and economic trends, etc. Her boss told her that he knew that about her, but pointed out that she never talked about any of that to the executive team. The only interaction she had with them was about transportation and menus! That was an eye opener for her. She realized that conversations about transportation and menus could be had over email, but that when she was in the room with executives she needed to be talking about strategy, and how her design was going to impact attendee experience and business goals.
That is something we as individuals, and an industry, need to be more cognizant of. How do we articulate not only the value of our meetings, but our value within our organization? We need to convey the strategy behind what we are doing, and talk about how we measure the success of our meetings and events against the KPIs of our organization. If you don’t know what those KPIs are, ask! You need to have a seat at that table. We have to understand that meetings are a business tool, that we are trying to elicit some kind of behavior change, whether that is efficiency, loyalty, etc. How do we equate that to value? How do organizational efficiency or loyalty equate to lower employee turnover or higher customer retention?
WorkTrip: You mentioned that the MPI Academy offers a number of programs that are tailored to help professionals rise to the next level. Are there any specific programs you would like to highlight?
Jessie: We do offer a Meeting and Event Strategist Certificate program that really walks people through what we just talked about. It literally will take you through identifying stakeholders, understanding and increasing financial acumen, to understanding the business value of your meetings and how to articulate that. Here is a link to learn more about that strategist program: https://www.mpiweb.org/education/certificate-programs/meeting-event-strategist
You can learn more about other MPI Academy certificate programs at https://www.mpiweb.org/education/certificate-programs, and upcoming webinars at https://academy.mpiweb.org/mpi/pages/webinars
WorkTrip: What other resources would you recommend event and meeting professionals take advantage of?
My first recommendation would be that they join the right industry association for them – whether that is MPI, IAEE or any of the other wonderful organizations in our industry. Finding the right organization is critical to meeting the right people and gaining the right knowledge you need to excel in your career. Active involvement in those groups can provide invaluable leadership training and skills that you can’t get anywhere else. You might not have an opportunity to work closely with the CEO of your own organization, but could work closely and learn from the president of your local chapter.
WorkTrip: Do you have any other advice on how meeting and event professionals can get started down a more strategic path?
Jessie: We have actually created this list of questions to help them feel more comfortable about having more strategic conversations.
- Why are you holding this meeting?
- What are you trying to accomplish?
- Is there a central theme? Why?
- What are your goals?
- What are the challenges to these goals?
- What are the opportunities during this meeting?
- What do you want people to learn? How do you want them to apply this learning?
- What kind of support will you provide that will reinforce their learning post-meeting?
- What kind of learning tracks should you include? What are the objectives for each?
- What are the business objectives for and meeting objectives for everyone involved?
- What financial criteria will measure success?
- What non-financial criteria will measure success? How will they be prioritized?
- As a result of this meeting, what will people know? What will people feel? What will people have?
- What will people do? What will people think?
- What was the most successful meeting you ever attended? Why?
- What are the essential ingredients or elements of a successful meeting?
WorkTrip was created to lessen the pains associated with planning, executing and traveling to trade shows, meetings and events; and very importantly, to free you up to focus on what really matters. Let us know what else we can do to help.
If you would like to learn more about how other event planners are using WorkTrip, check out our case studies at https://www.worktrip.com/posts/tag/case-studies. To learn more about what WorkTrip has to offer, visit https://www.worktrip.com/features.