Leading and Learning From the Next Generation of Meeting Profs

“We understand the importance of connection; we understand the importance of culture,” said David Peckinpaugh, Maritz president and CEO, reflecting on meetings’ return to F2F (face-to-face) amid dawning young talent during our Smart Chat Live! last week, “How to Nurture the Next Generation of Meeting Professionals.”

Peckinpaugh opened with a contextualizing anecdote from his youth, illustrating the impact his grandfather’s professional lessons had on Peckinpaugh’s understanding of perseverance and what he called “incredible patience.” It is this calculating patience and intentional connection by meeting professionals that is leading the industry back to resiliency post-pandemic.

To hear the full conversation, listen on demand.

Now, industry leaders are opening doors to encourage, engage with and invest in new faces in meetings and hospitality. In Tuesday’s webinar, Peckinpaugh addressed how to be a competitive and clued-in recruiter and leader, how to prepare the next generation for meetings and how to prepare the industry for the next generation of talent.

Look Before You Leap

At a time like this, when uncertainty lingers and the world works to regain its pace, gauging risk of change is challenging. Whether you’re thinking about leaving your company or you shifted career paths, the pandemic forced us to take risks, Peckinpaugh explained. Yet, making a big move now is a big risk.

First, Peckinpaugh suggested you do the math. If your move is financially driven, have a clear idea of what kind of “impact on [your] take-home compensation” you want your next salary to have. Consider the values of other companies and their cultures. As Peckinpaugh pointed out, there is currently widespread reassessment of company values and business models within the industry, and you don’t want to end up in an even less healthy corporate culture.

“Make sure it’s an educated move, not an emotional move,” Peckinpaugh said. “Are you running toward an opportunity? Are you running away from something?” When you run prematurely, you miss things, and you might end up missing the way things were, he pointed out.

Read MoreDavid Peckinpaugh: Peck at the Plate

A Pivotal, Pivoting Precedent

Redefining and then establishing a true work-life balance came hand-in-hand with new expectations, values and standards. “The one thing that we all learned is what’s important in life,” Peckinpaugh remarked. The pandemic set a new precedent for us, and that’s part of what has made it so pivotal. It revealed what’s not working at our jobs, businesses and throughout industries (think major sustainability initiatives) and now, both values and standards are changing as healthier work cultures germinate through flexible work environments.

“The number one thing I hear from prospective employees, new employees and even our existing workforce is, ‘What are we doing that’s having an impact and making a difference in the world?’” Peckinpaugh noted. “But…that reassessment process is ongoing—it’s not a short-term thing.”

Peckinpaugh also observed that there’s been a flip in “the balance of leverage…. The employee has much more leverage; and I think, as employers, we have a lot more pressure on us to provide answers and a path forward that fulfills the goals and objectives of our workforce,” noting that he sees this as a positive challenge.

Impassioning Young Talent

“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.

Peckinpaugh urged prospective and experienced professionals alike to “take advantage of this crisis”—the experiences we create (including at the office) should both reflect the lessons we’ve learned and exemplify what we find wonderful about events to prospective new talent. “You see the passion in newcomers into the industry,” Peckinpaugh said. “It’s our responsibility to continue to create opportunities to continue to fill those goals and objectives that they have.”

Advice for Prospective Meeting Profs—and the Seasoned Planner

“The exciting thing for me about this industry is you can really pursue just about every passion you might have, in one way or another,” reflected Peckinpaugh. And, given how critical career advancement is, Peckinpaugh asserted, the events industry stands out for its eclectic approach as a “resource of experiences.” But it takes a “Servant-Leadership mindset” to make those experiences successful.

“Understand what the various segments are; if you can get into a good training program that moves you around to difference areas…those are great opportunities to learn different disciplines within meetings and events,” suggested Peckinpaugh.

Peckinpaugh noted that it’s OK to pick your foot up off the steppingstone when you’re ready, and it’s important to know when that is.

This industry also likes to mentor. Major meetings organizations such as Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) and Meeting Professionals International (MPI) have a number of programs for prospective industry professionals, said Peckinpaugh. However, “there’s a sort of personal responsibility for individuals to reach out and find a mentor” when they need one, he said.

Conversely, as planners, ask yourselves how you might mentor incoming talent or share your network with them as they develop skills and careers. This great ‘reskilling’ centers around digital skills, Peckinpaugh explained. But foundational skills like interpersonal and communication skills, empathy, as well as good written and verbal communication will prove to be as crucial as ever in the business.

As far as retention and leading these young professionals, Peckinpaugh recommends “[re-engaging] in an active mentoring program within your company… or informal gatherings for social opportunities.” They don’t have to be company-wide—try by department, he recommended.

Industry Reach, Vision and the Battle for Talent

“Everything that happens in the world affects meetings, [and] …everything in meetings affects the rest of the world,” said Peckinpaugh. He discussed how meetings, their makers and those in attendance have a global reach that goes beyond our own industry and touches others.

‘Meetings mean business’ has a whole new ring to it now that we intimately understand the power of meeting. Not only that but, post-pandemic, companies and their recruitment processes have grown more global while employees are increasingly nomadic. “We need to talk to those who aren’t familiar with our industry, whether that’s local, regional, state or federal government officials,” asserted Peckinpaugh.

Now, according to Peckinpaugh, politicians and business industry leaders alike are committing to F2F. “We’ve got to do a better job of messaging,” Peckinpaugh said. “I think it starts on the high-school level.”

Peckinpaugh believes the “battle for talent” is here to stay. Where meetings bring personal and professional balance, mentorship and hands-on opportunities, there we will find the leaders in the next generation of meetings.

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