The four meeting professionals you meet in heaven

essential characteristics meeting professionals

The essential characteristics of meeting professionals

If there is a heaven on earth in the event industry, there are four essential characteristics of successful meeting professionals you’ll meet there.

These four characteristics are essential because event professionals who possess and embrace them have what’s needed to thrive in our industry. And, perhaps even more important, they will love what they do.

Attention to detail

essential characteristics meeting professionals
Every successful meeting involves thinking about, planning for and executing countless details. You can create the most original, beautiful event in the world, but if there’s no coffee available on the first morning, attendees are going to complain and remember. Late buses, missing or confusing signage, poor quality A/V, and a thousand other annoyances will mar an otherwise superb event.

Details matter.

So, good meeting professionals obsess about details. Obviously, we make big detailed lists about things that are supposed to happen. But we also think about details of things that could happen. We even think about circumstances that are very unlikely—but they have happened before, so we keep them in mind. We plan for planned and unexpected eventualities.

Good event professionals are seldom late, because they hate to be late. Our lives are sometimes crazy, but we mostly have things together. (Even when they’re not, we have plans on how we’re going to get back on track.) The one career my parents tentatively suggested to me I might want to consider was…wait for it…accountancy. Because they could see I was a detail person.

We are detail people. Paying attention to details is vital to create and execute successful events. It’s an essential characteristic for meeting professionals. But attention to detail is not enough…

Creativity when things don’t go according to plan

essential characteristics meeting professionals
Any experienced meeting professional will tell you that the chances that everything will go according to plan A — what was supposed to happen — for an event is minuscule.

That’s why good event professionals have plans B, C, D… that cover the things that they know from experience might go wrong.

Many times, when things don’t go according to plan A, a backup plan is put into place, and the event goes on smoothly (at least as far as the participants are concerned).

And then there are the times when something completely unexpected happens. The wrong winner for Best Picture gets announced at the Oscars. A hurricane prevents timely delivery of your beautiful signage. A Thanksgiving Day Parade giant Barney balloon explodes.

A pandemic.

However much we plan, experienced event professionals know that completely unexpected “stuff” will happen.

And that’s why good event professionals need to be creative when things don’t go according to (any) plan.

It’s not a coincidence that a surprising number of folks in the meeting industry have a theatrical background. Live theater, whether you’re on or behind the stage, provides a nightly opportunity for things to go wrong; things that need to be fixed or smoothed over right now. The show must go on.

I am rarely responsible for the logistics of the meetings I design or facilitate. And I have been awed and impressed by the creative solutions devised by the poor souls who are responsible in the moment for fixing something out of kilter. I’ve surprised myself with the creative approaches that popped into my head when a session I was facilitating went wonky. But the brilliant ways I’ve seen event professionals respond when faced with the unexpected — well, I’m glad it wasn’t me in charge.

Attention to detail, and the creative ability to solve unexpected problems get you a long way towards being a great event professional. But there’s more…

Great communication skills


I’m indebted to veteran event professional Dan Cormany for adding “great communication skills” to this set. He was kind enough to tell me I possessed this quality when I spoke to a class he was teaching at the Florida International University’s Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management. He also said he thought it was essential for good meeting professionals.

I agree.

To have great communication skills, you need to be able to listen well, and have empathy for the people you’re with. You have to pick up on the verbal and non-verbal clues they provide about how your conversation is going. And you need to be able to respond appropriately, in ways they can hear you. People have written books about how to do this. It’s a difficult skill, but one that can always be improved with practice.

And it’s a great skill that will positively impact every aspect of your life.

I’m still working on it.

We’re almost there, but there’s one more characteristic that is, in my opinion, the most important of all…

Love being with people


If you don’t love being with people, all sorts of people, it’s going to be hard to be a great event professional.

Yes, everyone is flawed. We all have personality aspects that are sometimes hard for others to deal with. And there are people around whom it’s best to avoid, if you have a choice.

Although many meeting professionals are extraverts who get energy from interacting with others, there are many who need introvert-style downtime in their lives (including, during meetings). Regardless, both extraverts and introverts can love being with people.

Our industry, by definition, is people-centric. People can be amazing, frustrating, fascinating, challenging, delightful, and, once in a while, frightful. Good event professionals are capable of finding and connecting with the positive aspects of even the most difficult folks they meet. And, yes, loving them as people, even in the midst of turmoil.

I try to do this.

I don’t always succeed, but, nevertheless, my heart is there. And I know many great meeting professionals who strive to wear on their sleeve how they love being with people.

Yay for us!

My journey is our journey

Twenty years ago I was a successful, independent information technology consultant. If you had told me then that I’d leave that career (my fourth) to write a book about meeting design that would catapult me into the heart of the meeting industry, I’d have said you were crazy.

What has surprised me during this journey is meeting so many meeting professionals I like along the way. Those of you who are passionate and committed to this industry will know what I mean. I am like you, and I like you, because we share the fundamental joy of the experience of bringing people together in ways that work.

We don’t usually enjoy all the backbreaking preparation needed to make the meeting happen. It’s the excitement and pleasure we get from creating a great experience for people, in the moment, that makes it all worthwhile.

You folks who share this joy with me are my tribe. We are lucky to be in this heaven on earth community of meeting professionals.

I’m glad I know some of you, and am always happy to meet more. Feel free to reach out to me if you feel the same way.

Do you agree with this set of qualities? Are there other essential characteristics of meeting professionals you’d like to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Facilitation, rapt attention, and love

facilitation rapt attention and love Perhaps you’re wondering: what’s the connection between facilitation, rapt attention, and love?

Why am I drawn to facilitation? I’ve often heard an uneasy inner voice that wonders if it’s about a desire or need for control and/or power. And yet I know through experience that when I am facilitating well, I have influence but no real control or power.

Then I read this:

“Freud said that psychoanalysis is a ‘cure through love,’ and I think that is essentially correct. The love is conveyed not so much in the content as in the form: the rapt attention of someone who cares enough to interrogate you. The love stows away in the conversation.”
—Psychotherapist and writer Gary Greenberg, interviewed in “Who Are You Calling Crazy?”, The Sun, July 2016

Facilitation is not psychotherapy (though sometimes it may have similar results.) But they both have something in common when performed with skill: the gift of listening closely. And that gift of rapt attention is given out of love—not of the content but through the form.

Though I sometimes want to be in (illusory) control, I am drawn to facilitation out of love.

Why are you drawn (if, indeed, you are) to facilitation?

Photo attribution: Flickr user alphachimpstudio