By: Staci Kvasnik
Senior Meeting Planner
Earning one’s stripes as a CMP means so much more than adding three letters as a tag to your name. From an industry perspective, meeting planners want to be taken seriously—the job is not merely about putting up balloons in corners at an event. The test to earn certification is intentionally challenging to give weight and meaning to the title.
There is no perfect route that can prepare a meeting planner for the test; breadth and depth of experience is what will be scrutinized. Studying well in advance is a significant part of getting ready for the exam, but the overall knowledge and understanding you bring with you plays a substantial role as well. Here are some insights based on my path to earning certification and lessons learned along the way.
Building up your understanding of many different aspects of the industry is crucial to prepare for the CMP test. Furthermore, filling out the application to even get started requires various proofs and bona fides that show you have the experience to attempt the test. It can take about five years, earning education credits and fulfilling a variety of tasks and roles as a meeting planner, to be eligible for the test.
Once you fill out and return application, it can be a three month process leading up to exam day.
Rather than tough it out preparing on your own, look for a boot camp or study group online or through your local MPI chapter.
My MPI chapter in Minnesota offers a two-day boot camp, which I took, run by Denise Woods for anyone interested in earning their CMP. This included taking mock tests, based on old exams, and working with study buddies even after the two-day session ends.
The test itself is conducted at a testing center on a computer, with no access to any personal devices or material. It is much like taking the ACT for college admissions.
Among the skills you will be tested on are contract management and negotiation, vendor management, stakeholder management, and budget management. Understanding the ins and outs of hotels, such as what drives revenue at hotels and why they operate the way they do, is also important.
As a planner, you are a project manager who is typically not an expert in one area, but you are likely an expert in managing the vendors available to you. The CMP test will press you on details that you might normally delegate to others, such as handling audiovisual arrangements.
Contract and negotiation skills were among the toughest to develop, but handling international meetings is an area that few meeting planners have exposure to. Understanding how tradeshows operate, learning about drayage and shipping for large scale events are also important to study upon for the test.
Risk management is another significant area to prepare for, as well as dealing with housing blocks on a large scale. The exam aims to check your knowledge across multiple channels, so if you have experience in corporate planning but not with associations it can be a hurdle.
As with many tests, there will be vocabulary and questions on tasks you likely will not deal with in the real world, but should understand. That could include knowing how many people can fit, in theater-style seating, in a room that measures 1300 square feet. There are tools available to calculate this, but you may need to know this for yourself for the test.
Originally I came from the advertising scene, working for a health and fitness magazine; the events and meetings industry was new territory for me. An opportunity arose to plan a health and fitness tradeshow, offering me a glimpse into this meeting and events world.
Planning that tradeshow included working with sponsors and setting up booths, and it stirred my interest in meeting planning. Taking a semester-long course at San Diego State University introduced me different types of planners in the industry, from destination management companies to corporate meetings, associations, and being on the vendor’s side working for a venue or a supplier.
My formal introduction to the industry was as a program manager at a DMC, which offered me experience working with a meeting planner and serving as a liaison with vendors. The role, and others that followed, showed me more aspects of the meeting planning world, such as handling hotel contracts, travel, housing, and content management. For someone looking to earn their CMP, it is important to have exposure to as many different parts of the meetings world as you can.
Another element that helped me build up some well-rounded experience was getting deeply involved with MPI. Joining my local chapter’s education committee included planning the monthly meetings, hiring speakers, finding venues, negotiating contracts, and handling the logistics for food beverage and audiovisual. Since I did not have the full meeting planning background, this gave me some experience and exposure to what it is like to plan something.
If you succeed in earning your CMP, it can open up opportunities in different aspects of the industry that you might not have thought about. This can naturally be a boost to your career as well. Adding those three letters to a résumé may get you in the door for interviews, but it will still be up to you to land a job. Certification is a way to validate that you have well-rounded, working knowledge that covers a wide range of meeting planning elements. Good luck!
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