“Managing Meeting Pros, Part 1” (Corporate Meetings & Incentives Magazine Story)

“Managing Meeting Pros, Part 1”
By Bob Andelman
Corporate Meetings & Incentives
September 2006

Are Meeting Professionals a tough crew to manage? You bet.

Because they are on the road so much, there can be communication and comp-time issues. They are expected to work all kinds of crazy hours — so how can a manager possibly compensate them for that? Then there is the pressure-cooker environment, and Type A personalities, and occasional sleep deprivation.

We decided to approach five experienced meeting department managers to explore how they manage it all and keep their staffs — and themselves — sane.

On our panel:

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JULIE JOHNSON, CMP, CMM, DIRECTOR, EVENTS & INCENTIVES, LENNOX INTERNATIONAL WORLDWIDE HEATING & COOLING, Richardson, Texas — Her staff of four manages 150 meetings a year.
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PAMELA WYNNE, CMP, CMM, MANAGER OF CORPORATE MEETING PLANNING, EDUCATIONAL TESTING SERVICE, Princeton, N.J. — Wynne oversees strategic sourcing, contract negotiations, cost analysis, billing and reconciliation, and tracking of expenses for about 800 meetings per year with six full-time planners.
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MICHELLE BERRIOS, CMP, SENIOR MEETING PLANNER, KAISER PERMANENTE, Oakland, Calif. — The majority of her company’s 600 to 800 meetings each year are handled by a staff of six in the national corporate meeting department.
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PEG WOLSCHON, CMP, CTP (CERTIFIED TOUR PROFESSIONAL), MANAGER OF MEETING SERVICES, TENET HEALTHCARE CORP., Dallas — Wolschon runs a fairly new department with about 115 meetings on the books for 2006, a number that is likely to reach 200 by year’s end. (Peg left her position as this article went to press.)
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DEBBIE RICCIARDELLI, CMP, MANAGER, SALES OPERATIONS, ESPRIT PHARMA INC., East Brunswick, N.J. — Although she recently moved to Esprit and now is the sole planner, in her previous positions with Odyssey Pharmaceuticals and Watson Pharmaceuticals, she ran 15 to 25 meetings per year, ranging from five-person meetings to semi-annual meetings for 300 people, usually handled by herself, an additional full-time planner, and two or three ad hoc planners.

CMI: What’s different about managing a meeting planning department versus other departments you have managed?

WYNNE: I find it to be a lot harder than managing a department where people are at their desks all day. Usually someone is out, and we have to fill them in later, either via e-mail or by calling them. I try to take into consideration the different learning and communication styles of my staff, but it is much harder to do that with a staff that is multitasking.

RICCIARDELLI: It’s not easy to “grade” a meeting planner’s performance. Other jobs can be measured more objectively, with facts and figures.

With meetings, unless you are at the planned function, you often have to depend on the feedback of the attendees to determine how well things were executed. If a meeting did not go as well as I would have liked, we will have more than enough people comment on it. If the meeting goes well — as 99.9 percent of them do — the way I get feedback is to ask everyone with whom I cross paths about it.

JOHNSON: I used to be a regional director of sales for a hotel corporation and had even more staff than I do now, but I don’t see much difference. Everyone in every job is under some pressure to excel and to attain his or her objectives. Managers must put themselves in their employees’ shoes and recognize the pressures that are inherent.

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