Beth Surmont, today a proud CMP Fellow, says that during the very first Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Women in Engineering International Leadership Conference, she witnessed the monumental impact events can have firsthand.

“A young woman stood up and tearfully shared her story. She was an engineering student who was ready to quit college, but after attending our event she was inspired and planned to continue on. I was struck by the realization that my work had changed the trajectory of this individual’s life,” Surmont says. “In turn, she may engineer a solution that may save millions of lives. That is the power of events. I truly believe that bringing together the right people, in the right ways, can prepare us for a brighter future.”

Today, Surmont, also holding an FASAE and CAE, is the vice president of event strategy and design at 360 Live Media. She has been a CMP since 2008, and was a member of the inaugural class of CMP Fellows in 2022.

Becoming a CMP

“I am from a generation of planners who fell into this work,” Surmont says. “There were no schools or courses to prepare me, so I had to rely on the industry to teach me.” As she got to know the industry better, she found that credentials were a key asset. She first heard of the CMP while working at IEEE, where many of her colleagues already held the credential, and others were working toward it. “We would celebrate every time someone earned theirs,” she remembers.

Surmount found herself eventually deciding to pursue the credential as well. “I felt it was important to help me move up in my career. It was not only a way to ensure I had the formal training, but it was recognition that I knew what I was doing,” she says.

Test Prep Tips

Having been a solo studier all her life, Surmont relied on using flashcards and taking notes while reading to prepare for the exam. Still, the biggest piece of advice she would offer to future CMPs is to ask for help.

You don’t have to work through it on your own. There are programs, online courses and boot camps that are designed to help you,” she says, strongly recommending Joanne Dennison, CMP, who has a master’s degree in education and is an educator in the meetings and events industry, whose company hosts CMP classes and networking opportunities for CMPs and future CMPs.

Surmont also makes an important point regarding practice tests, saying, “If you haven’t taken a test in a few years, you can forget how to do it. Lots of online courses have practice tests to help you regain that muscle memory.”

Finally, she says, treat yourself with grace. “Don’t take it overly seriously. It’s important but it’s not life or death. If you don’t get it the first time, you can always try again.”

The CMP Fellow

EIC introduced the CMP Fellow designation in 2022 to recognize existing CMPs who stand apart and have made significant contributions to the industry. Surmont, as part of its inaugural class, says, “I wanted to become a CMP Fellow because it is a great recognition of my service to our industry, and I think it also highlights how much I care about events. I think it is important to recognize the people who consistently give back and who are leading the way in shaping our industry.”

To those who someday hope to become CMP Fellows, Surmont says, service is important. “You can start now by joining an association and volunteering on committees. Try writing an article or submitting a session. Make time to give back, and you will be recognized for it.”

Looking Forward

When she was growing up, Surmont wanted to be a writer. Storytelling remains her passion—in a different way. “Being able to look at an event like a story helps me create a cohesive and meaningful experience,” she says. “I can shape every moment to lead them to discovery and outcomes. Through event design, I’ve been able to merge my love for storytelling with my talent for planning great events.”

Planners have power to bring people together, and together, people solve problems, generate ideas and inspire one another, Surmont says. But, as we move forward, especially after the somewhat tumultuous past few years, the industry must change with the times. “We have to design for action, not just passive listening. We have to be intentional about connecting people and create ways for the right people to connect over the right conversations at the right time,” she says. “This is the way we can address the challenges in our world.

Change is happening, every day. Surmont sees, in particular, a stronger focus on strategic thinking. “It used to be all about logistics and details but now planners are expected to do that and provide long-range thinking, smart decision-making and organizational guidance for elevating the ROI of their events.”

She says the industry takes inclusivity and accessibility more seriously than ever—“[It] is vitally important to the audience experience.”

As it did for that young woman who stood up at the IEEE Women in Engineering International Leadership Conference and had her drive reignited to continue with her studies, meetings really do change lives. “Events are where ideas are born, where relationships are forged and where leaders are inspired to make tomorrow a little bit better than today,” says Surmont. “And I feel so incredibly lucky to be a part of this.”

Read More: CMP Spotlight: Get to Know Allyson Gee, CMP Fellow