Empowering next-generation planners, embracing technology and fostering collaboration at meetings for financial and insurance audiences

Where have all the meeting professionals gone? American Hotel & Lodging Association reported in February that a whopping 67% of hotels are experiencing staffing shortages. The hospitality employee gap extends to the meetings and events side where American Express Global Business Travel found that meeting activity is back to and in some cases exceeding 2019 levels with more frequent, small meetings gaining in popularity as a way to manage dispersed workforces.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that the job outlook for meeting, convention and event planners between 2022 and 2032 is 8% growth (faster than the average job classification). About 15,200 openings are advertised in the sector at any given time, many to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or retire.

Finding new meeting professionals to manage the returning gatherings continues to be a challenge. The 2024 Global Meetings and Event Forecast survey revealed that 16% of North American respondents said they were looking for a new job because they are not happy with their workload.

American Express GBT Senior Vice President of Professional Services Gerardo Tejado called ongoing staffing shortages and elevated attendee expectations two of the myriad of intricate challenges in addition to global inflation that planners are confronted with in 2024.

How will financial and insurance companies tasked with hosting high-budget, high-impact investor and incentive events fill the leadership gap left by mid-level career planners who left during the pandemic and never returned?

Working with supplier partners, including CVBs, travel management companies and consultants is part of the solution. The American Express survey also found that a growing percentage are leveraging technology such as AI (42%), VR (41%), wearable technology (30%) QR codes (47%) and holograms (13%)—nothing is off the table.

We took a deep dive into the data and asked a career professional in the insurance meetings industry to find out what it will take to make planning investor conferences cool—and manageable—again.

Making the Career Case for Next Gen

The American Express GBT survey of 500 meetings and events professionals specifically called on leadership to push for a stronger line of communication between current industry professionals and the next generation of meeting planners. The survey noted one planner who remarked, “There are a lot of people, I think, who don’t even understand what this industry is all about and how complex and rewarding it is.”

Read More: Gen Z Meeting Professionals Navigate Industry Challenges and Hope for Future

While that call for marketing the profession more positively has been going on since before the pandemic, Maritz President and CEO David Peckinpaugh turned the conversation on its head in a conversation with Smart Meetings last year.

“I think that’s the opportunity for our industry,” started Peckinpaugh. “It’s to paint the picture of career development, of career pathing and true advancement in our industry.” The meetings industry not only offers opportunities for those reskilling but for those interested in expanding skills through cross-training.

Lighting a Fire for Interest in Event Planning

To get more insight into how recruiting is going for those crucial financial and insurance meeting jobs, Smart Meetings asked Katrina Kent, vice president of meeting management and event strategy at Liberty Mutual Insurance.

Kent sees the importance of leaders collaborating with younger planners, “I’ve seen a recent increased effort and focus on this with corporate and agency peers and partners alike,” says Kent, “By connecting more formally with emerging professionals through roundtables and in advisory council-type roles, I see a concerted effort to better include junior planners in conversations that help shape goals, and trends overall.”

Kent pointed out another benefit to engaging early and often. “By growing those relationships, we can better connect with talented professionals in their networks.”

There is a quote that has been attributed to author James Keller, “Knowledge is like a candle; when you light another candle, it doesn’t dim the first.”

Shared knowledge is never a bad thing in the meetings industry. One person’s growth can have a chain reaction that leads to new and exciting changes and advancements.

“Knowledge is like a candle; when you light another candle, it doesn’t dim the first.”

–  James Keller

Kent agrees, “The informal education and support is just as important, if not more so than the formal education. There is a lot more formal training, formal education opportunity out there than there was a generation ago. That’s a good thing,” she said.

She saw mentorships as even more important than bullet points. “It’s one thing [to] read about the ropes, and entirely another to have someone actually show you the ropes. We learn by doing,” she reminded.

A New Event Toolbox

For financial and insurance planners, some tried-and-true skillsets are still required. Kent points to three specifically:

  • Project Management
  • Collaborating and working effectively on cross-functional teams
  • Agility and flexibility.

“The meetings and events industry is dynamic. Being able to say, “Yes” to changes and constantly finding opportunity in the change leads to greater success,” says Kent.

However, a diverse bag of tricks for financial meeting planners can prove vital in the long run in moving forward future success.

Another note in the AMEX GBT 2024 Global Meetings and Events Forecast points to planners leveraging technology to give attendees the best possible experience—whether it be for registration, logistics, AI for personalized communication or incorporating 3D or VR into the mix.

Read More: Why It’s Time to Get Serious About AI for Events

“What’s great is that technology is enabling us to be more efficient. Generative AI, in particular, helps us tackle that first draft, or baseline research, or summarizes event survey output and themes which frees up more time for us to focus on innovation and experience design,” says Kent.

Next Gen Leaders

Ultimately, the biggest question is: How will this next generation of planners impact the industry?

A major part of that, as Kent points out, will be the technology learning curve.

“The next gen of event profs is key in leading the way for all of us in how to best and most effectively adapt to work with tech.”

– Katrina Kent

“This next generation has zero ties to the way things used to be done, back in the analog days. They’ve never touched a faxed registration form, and many of them have never stuffed a name badge or worked in an office five days a week. I think the next gen of event profs is key in leading the way for all of us in how to best and most effectively adapt to work with tech,” says Kent, “Additionally, I find that many of our junior colleagues are much savvier out of the gate with work/life integration and they want to be connected to purposeful work that makes a difference in the world.”

Spoken like a true leader.

This article appears in the March/April 2024 issue. You can subscribe to the magazine here.