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Hot Tips: Getting Started

Industry Pros Share Guidance on Breaking into Meetings & Events Planning

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We all know having contacts can be priceless when exploring a new career. They can help open doors, share an insider's take or simply provide a sympathetic ear. If you are interested in a career in events, meetings or conventions, but don't know where to start, don't worry. Three industry pros share the wisdom of their years.

Volunteer. Just like any other field, the more experience you can bring to the table, the better - and volunteering is the perfect way to test the waters. Tracy M. Leaman with DC's Events to a T elaborates, "It doesn't matter where, choose whatever cause matters most to you. Help plan events, sit on committees, help at your child's school, your church, at your current place of employment. It is all valuable experience that will help you learn the ins and outs of how to plan events."

Network. Greg Jenkins, partner and co-founder of California-based Bravo Productions, cites another important reason as to why volunteering is an ideal place to start, "…it provides opportunities for networking. My big break came by serving as a gopher on a Super Bowl in the early 80s. Prior to that, I got involved in a number of different types of events for professional development - from parades and Grand Prix races to jazz festivals and PBS telethons… start slow and grow."

Join. You don't need to be a full-fledged meeting planner before you can become a member of one (or more) of the many respected associations of the events world. Not only will it allow you to see and be seen, it provides a wonderful learning environment as well. Tracy M. Leaman concurs, "…being a part of an association is invaluable. They provide continuing education programs to make sure you are always up-to-speed on the latest trends…"

Research. Before you're even hired, it's a good idea to become as familiar as possible with the meetings and events industry. If you're worried about expense, don't be. In the computer age, most magazines post their editions (or at the very least their top articles) online for complimentary viewing. But, if your budget allows, invest in one or two industry guides. Author Greg Carter shares 30 years of industry experience in the book "Meetings Made Easy."

Carter explains, “For those individuals that would like to explore event planning as a career, you need to know that the hotel event/convention business is a unique industry. It is extremely important to gain a basic understanding of the business including hotel operations, terminology and sales concepts before assuming it is the right career for you. To get started, read a meeting planning primer or concise reference manual to give you an idea of what you will encounter while planning meetings. Industry articles will also give you a feel for what event planners face each day.”

Be Real. As Carter advised, know what you're getting into before you jump in. Landing a job you regret is a waste of time and resources, yours and your employer's. Greg Jenkins provides this final bit of caution, "…if you enjoy a 9-5 job, the event and meeting industry is probably not for you. The hours and days are quite erratic and can be long and exhausting."

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