aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

I am NOT a Meeting Planner

Posted by Ellen on October 5, 2008

A couple of weeks ago, I received a postcard promoting a couple who could provide an entertaining and motivational presentation for my next MEETING.

In my lexicon, meetings are business-oriented, have a defined agenda of topics to be addressed and decisions to be made. Meetings lead to action items. The types of meetings I’m thinking of are:

  • Web course development meetings with Web developers, graphic artists, instructional designers, editors. 
  • Meetings with clients to identify what the course will cover.
  • Meetings with the company leadership to discuss anticipated revenue goals over the next quarter.  

Meeting planners are uniquely qualified, highly-detailed, “Is that the worst you can throw at me?” types of people who understand the appropriate ratio of Diet to regular drinks; the best layout of coffee urn, cream carafe, spoons, napkins, and trash bin so the refreshment line doesn’t get clogged up. All that, and they will keenly negotiate a hotel contract to get the maximum number of comped suites, and the best rate on AV, all based on an almost always dead-accurate attendance estimate.

What meeting planners do is very different from what I do. My work begins well before the meeting planner is involved: developing events around what our members need and want to know; defining the educational objectives and actionable outcomes; finding the best qualified facilitators, trainers, or speakers to cover the content; organizing the flow to make sure enabling objectives lead to terminal objectives; and on and on.

Even if the same person covers all of these responsibilities, planning effective educational content is not the same thing as planning an effective meeting.

“Why do associations always blur these lines?” I asked a colleague.

She smiled at me, her patience so far intact. It wasn’t the first time she had to explain to me what seemed to others to be so obvious: many associations don’t have separate educational events. Many associations have one in-person gathering each year, and it combines the business meeting with a special speaker.

Oh! So that explains the postcard.

How would you describe your event? What’s the intended outcome of your annual gathering? Other events? Are they meetings? Educational sessions? Do you provide both?

Whether you’re a meeting planner or the director of education in your association, or handle the responsibilities of both, you need to be clear about the purpose event (make business decisions? train attendees on the latest regulatory requirements in the industry?). The purpose drives how the content needs to flow — will you need guest experts, motivational speakers, discussion facilitators, or content trainers? Will you need a combination? How much time do you have? What sorts of handouts or take-aways can you provide your attendees? What environment do participants need to be engaged with the content?

Got all that? Okay, now it’s time to think about the meeting planning elements…. how should the room be arranged? Should their be a podium? Lapel mic? Refreshments in the room or just outside?

If you handle everything from content development through the final details of the room set-up and F&B, it’s easy to think of yourself of having one job.

No wonder things are blurred. Focus on the two areas of expertise you’re working within: education/training and meeting planning. You probably won’t be able to convince your CEO or ED that you need double pay, but defining yourself as filling two roles will enable you to be even more effective in each. And that, my friend, means your members will benefit even more from your professional expertise.

Are you a meeting planner? And education professional? Both? What do you think? How do you balance the two?

2 Responses to “I am NOT a Meeting Planner”

  1. […] finance, office management, membership/recruitment, and meeting planning positions (no, these are not to be confused with education professionals) before bringing aboard an education […]

  2. […] a meeting planner? Don’t get me wrong — I’m not attacking meeting planners. See “I Am NOT a Meeting Planner” from 2008 for more… Just be sure you know when you’ve got to wear which hat if you need […]

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