Not only is Barbara Connell, CAE, CMP Fellow, the longest-tenured CMP to date; the president and CEO of Solutions by Connell is also first to have been designated as a CMP Fellow, as part of its inaugural class in 2022.

With these impressive achievements, Connell has rich insight to share regarding the CMP and what it means to the industry.

To her, event management is “a far-reaching, integrated field.” When it comes to the esteemed industry designation, Connell says, “It’s not just receiving letters behind your name; it relates to understanding how organizations work and the impact that each individual can bring to the overall health of the company.”

Events are everywhere; and event planners play an integral role in any and every industry. “Every business is affected by events and the management of those gatherings,” she says. “Staff meetings, sales meetings, educational programs, board meetings, national/international events—in-person or virtual or a combination thereof—any gathering of individuals can decide the fate of an organization.”

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Entering the Events Industry

Connell graduated from Stephens College, a woman’s liberal arts institution, with a degree in TV, Radio and Film (now dubbed Communications). She wanted to be a TV anchor in the Chicago area. As she approached graduation and began looking for jobs, she remembers, a male professor told her not to set her goals too high—Chicago was a major market, and he said she should search for starting television jobs in smaller cities. She wasn’t convinced. And, three weeks later, she achieved her high goal, landing a job in the sales department at Chicago’s CBS affiliate, WBBM-TV.

In this role, she discovered a strong interest in the organization and planning it took to put on the station’s Fall Preview, during which important advertisers would showcase fall programming and offer several days of entertainment. She later moved on to a role with Chicago Marriott Hotel on Michigan Avenue, then ventured into the association space as exhibition manager at the American Dietetic Association (ADA), known today as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

As she ascended through these roles, she says, “I always said yes to projects and opportunities, even if I wasn’t exactly sure how to execute at the beginning. I think it taught me to learn on the job and grow. It also taught me to keep acquiring knowledge throughout my career; you never know what you’ll find.”

Becoming a CMP

While working at ADA, Events Industry Council (EIC), then known as the Convention Liaison Council, began the CMP designation program. Her team sat for the very first test. And she passed.

“I didn’t understand that it was the first test given and had no idea that it would be so important,” remembers Connell. “After I received the designation, I realized that this event planning situation could turn into a long-term career. It gave me a sense of real commitment to a facet of business that I didn’t know existed until I came to ADA.”

When she took the CMP exam, there weren’t many test prep materials. But now, she says, resources are everywhere, from texts and classes, to online materials and study groups.

An Industry Leader

Earning the CMP designation solidified Connell’s commitment to the events industry. From there, she resolved to learn as much as she could about her organization and the wider industry around her role.

She joined volunteer organizations, including EIC, PCMA, Greater Midwest Chapter of PCMA, ASAE, Association Forum, and Green Meetings Industry Council (now a part of EIC). As she joined these organizations, she developed a growing commitment to bringing visibility and expansion to the event management industry and to mentoring others within it.

Her career widened not only in the events area, but also in numerous other association roles. “Assuming more responsibility over time allowed me to understand organizational development, budgeting, human resources, facility management and volunteer leadership, which led to my becoming the CEO of several organizations, including the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy,” Connell says.

Becoming a CMP Fellow

About five years ago, while sitting on the CMP Board, Connell introduced the idea of the CMP Fellow designation to a task force she chaired. “The thought that someone could be a CMP during their career is important, but what happens to those seasoned individuals after they’ve been a CMP for 15-20 years?” asks Connell. “How can they remain challenged and continue to give back to the industry? What opportunities can they pursue and bring the designation of CMP to a higher level?”

From there, the CMP Fellow designation was born, launching in 2022. To date, there are over 200 CMP Fellows, and the community continues to grow.

“The CMP Fellow designation solidified my ongoing commitment to not only event management, but to the impact of purpose and how growth is affected in each organization by decisions made and integrated,” she says.

Connell’s status as the longest-tenured CMP gives her a special insight into the way the CMP has evolved. In its early stages, it was focused on concepts such as room size, audiovisual formulas and beverage quantities. Today, she says, “[the] exam encompasses more relevant and impactful measures such as organizational integration, budget/financial impact, evaluation and global outcomes.

“Its impact has helped the field become recognized as an important component in every business. It’s gratifying to see how much the designation has grown and become a critical part of our industry as well as other industries around the world.”

Looking Forward

“Helping others understand that event management is an integral part of every business and the impact it has on the bottom line as well as the growth of a company is immeasurable,” says Connell. Every gathering, big or small, matters, Connell believes; the most important aspect is its impact.

“Every event has its moments but, for me, those that are most memorable include those times when participants refer to the outcomes as being impactful to their day-to-day lives,” she says. “Whether it’s a medical meeting for thousands, where education helps them treat patients more effectively, or a staff meeting for a few individuals, where they truly understand how best to do their job and deliver projects and services that make them feel good about their role in the organization.

“When someone recalls the event and the outcome as important, that is memorable. That’s when you know the job was done well.”

The CMP and CMP Fellow designations demonstrate that an event professional understands how to create this impact through a depth of understanding across budget, agenda development, setting, follow-through and evaluation.

“It is a true honor to hold this designation and be part of this important industry; be sure to remain committed to the field, continue learning, and mentor others so that the field is recognized and continues to grow and attract dynamic individuals and leaders,” Connell says. “Become a leader and impact the future!”

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