how to become an event planner

What is Meeting Planning / M.I.C.E?

Meeting planning is a sub-sector of corporate event planning, however it often gets grouped together under the acronym M.I.C.E (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Exhibitions), which brings together a number of industry sub-sectors where the types of events are complimentary, share similarities, or are planned by the same type of event planners. Let's first examine meetings in isolation, then I'll move on to explain how this connects to the M.I.C.E sub-sector.

1. Meetings & Conferences

Meetings are just one type of corporate event—along with corporate hospitality, client entertaining, and the many different types of employee events such as incentive travel, team building / motivational events, holiday parties, and charity fundraising days. For more information on these see Corporate Event Planning.

Meetings can be used for any number of reasons and the purpose will vary from company to company. They might be used to educate and train people, to launch a new product, to discuss business strategy, to share information and expertise, or to sell something. Whatever the purpose, meetings make up the largest component of corporate event planning.

Meetings can adopt many different formats, with different types of content, and the number of attendees can be anything from 50 to several hundred—or even thousands.

These events can be either internal; meaning the attendees are all employees of the company, or external; where people from outside of the organization attend, such as clients or other organizations within the same industry.

Lincoln Dealer's meeting
Photo: Lincoln Dealer Experience by George P. Johnson

It's worth point out that in many countries the term 'meeting' is often used interchangeably with 'conference', and as such 'meeting planners' are sometimes just referred to as 'corporate event planners' or even 'conference organizers' or 'conference & exhibition organizers'.

2. Meeting Planning

When most people think of meeting planning, they imagine corporations having their annual general meetings (AGM’s)—where shareholders can put questions to the board of directors. Or they think of large law firms holding a global partners meeting, where they get together to discuss the development, strategy, and future direction of the business.

What often comes to mind is a dry old corporate event, in a hotel conference center, with a bunch of suited and booted speakers giving deathly boring PowerPoint presentations, before everyone breaks for a rubbery-chicken buffet lunch in a dreary function room

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Meetings still have to be appealing

Now, while plenty of meetings are like that, the reality of meeting planning is that it often involves putting together an entire program of events and hospitality, including entertaining content, new technology, travel & accommodation, headline acts and other entertainment, activities, excursions, famous guest speakers, corporate gifts, drinks receptions, gala dinners, and award ceremonies.

Actor Will Smith presents at Walmart's Global Shareholders Meeting
Photo: Actor Will Smith presents at Walmart's Global Shareholders Meeting by Jack Morton Worldwide

Meetings are often held in interesting locations away from the company's usual place of business, or even overseas—sometimes in luxury beach and ski resorts. They can also be rather elaborate affairs. Walmart’s global shareholders meeting for 16,000 people was hosted by Hollywood actor Will Smith and featured a performance from The Black Eyed Peas. Similarly, Google’s Zeitgeist conference has included speakers such as President Bill Clinton and TV & film producer JJ Abrams (Star Trek, Star Wars The Force Awakens), and attendees were given the opportunity to experience zero gravity ‘flights’ that mimic the weightlessness of space.

These types of meetings aren't solely the reserve of big, innovative tech brands. Whether it's the pharmaceutical, oil and gas, or motoring industry, corporates often plan meetings that have a pretty good balance between the business events—a conference or presentation for example—and the hospitality program built around it to entertain the guests.

I've worked on a number of corporate meetings in luxury ski resorts and, in addition to a three or four day conference, there was always a program of events including things like skiing (and night-skiing by torch light), firework displays, sleigh rides across a frozen lake, helicopter, hot air balloon, and train rides through the mountains, Swiss chocolate tasting workshops, dog sledging, tobogganing, restaurant dine-arounds, and numerous drinks receptions, dinners, and wine tastings—each in a different interesting location or venue, including a private members-only lodge at the top of a mountain.

Just because it's called a meeting, doesn't mean it's just about conference packs, clipboards, and PowerPoint presentations

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The Black Eyed Peas perform at Walmart's Global Shareholders Meeting
Photo: The Black Eyed Peas perform at Walmart's Global Shareholders Meeting by Jack Morton Worldwide
3. Different Types of Meetings

The term 'meeting' is a very broad term used to describe all manner of different sized events with different formats—as detailed in the list below.

However, keep in mind that the formats below only refer to the business components of a meeting. As I explained above, in meeting planning, there are typically many other factors that might make up the overall program of events. So while the business part of the event might be a conference, this could be followed by an afternoon of leisure activities, followed by an evening black-tie gala dinner and awards ceremony.

Similarly, a meeting might consist of more than one of the formats below. For example, a four day meeting might include a conference, a series of different workshops, lectures, and seminars.

Cisco Live stage and screens
Photo: Cisco Live by George P. Johnson

When people refer to a corporate 'meeting', this might include:


Lectures

Which consist of a single presentation, although the number of attendees could still be in the hundreds or thousands. Lectures are usually educational in nature and last for a session i.e. a morning, afternoon, evening, or less.

Seminars

Which are also educational in nature and bring together several participants, usually involving more than one presentation. These typically last for one day or less.

Workshops

Which are more of a hands-on experience for the attendees and might include demonstrations, activities, and collaborations. These typically last for a day or less or are part of a larger event, such as a conference.

Conferences

Which are meetings where people from a company or industry get together to discuss a particular topic, exchange views, fact find, problem-solve, or open up an issue for debate. These usually run for at least one day, often more, and can range in size from small groups under 100 to several hundred or even a few thousand.

Conferences typically feature keynote speakers giving talks and presentations and may also include ‘break-out’ sessions; smaller meetings, talks, or one-on-one sessions programmed around the main conference. In the context of meetings and corporate event planning, conferences are generally hosted by a particular company and are aimed at an invited group of either external clients, suppliers, dealers and/or associates or, alternatively, internal employees / partners.

These can either be ‘stand-alone’ events or the main business component of a corporate meeting—along with a program of other activities and hospitality events. Corporate conferences are typically free for the invited guests to attend, or heavily subsidized by the host company. The events are held for marketing and communications purposes, rather than for the host company to make money directly from the event.

Another type of conference also exists, sometimes informally referred to as a ‘commercial conference’, which is marketed to a broader audience of companies within a specific industry. The companies that attend are not necessarily directly related to, or in business with, the host company. These are generally for-profit events, where attendees purchase tickets and pay for their own travel and accommodation—or else they might be included in a package price. These conferences can either be ‘stand-alone’ events or combined with a convention, exhibition, or trade show. We’ll look at these in more detail in the section on Conventions and Conferences.

Congress

Which are much larger, usually regular, meetings that represent a profession or other group, where decisions are made through discussion, debate, and voting. These usually last more than one day and can consist of hundreds or thousands of attendees. A congress might also include a conference and/or exhibition.

Conventions, Trade Shows, and Exhibitions

Which are large events where like-minded people, often from a particular industry or other group, get together to learn and network. Often these feature manned stands/booths in a large exhibition hall and may also include other components, such as conferences, workshops, and seminars.

Technically, a meeting is defined as having no exhibit component according to the Convention Industry Council. Therefore, a meeting which includes an exhibition would really be a convention. However, in reality it just comes down to how the event hosts choose to name/position their event. So, sometimes you'll come across an event that's billed as a meeting but also has some form of exhibition.

Although these types of events are often grouped together along with meeting planning, they also make up an entire sub-section of the events industry so we’ll look at this sector in more detail in the Conventions and Conferences, which also includes Trade Shows and Exhibitions.

M.I.C.E

As I mentioned previously, although meetings are one type of corporate event, they often get grouped together under the acronym M.I.C.E (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Exhibitions) which brings together a number of industry sub-sectors.

This is largely because of the similarities and over-lapping nature of these four types of events. In fact, not only are these events complimentary to one another, they are often planned by the same type of event planners—commonly known as meeting planners.

Meetings & Incentives

Meetings that take place in out of town locations or overseas, which involve a program of events and activities, travel, and accommodation, are often very similar in format and structure to incentive travel programs (which I'll look at in more detail in the Incentive Travel sector of the industry, which also includes Destination Management).

 

Corporate meeting evening dinner event
Photo: Corporate meeting evening dinner event by ACCESS Destination Services

The main difference is the purpose of the event; meetings are typically to educate, train, discuss, share, or sell, while incentive travel programs are generally to reward. As such, there are a greater number of fun / social events, activities, and excursions, and less—if any—business meetings or formal presentations involved in incentive travel programs.

Certainly from a meeting planner's perspective, there is not a whole lot of difference between what goes into organizing an incentive travel program versus a meeting. This is why a lot of meeting planners work on both corporate meetings and incentive travel programs.


Conferences & Exhibitions

Similarly, some meetings and conferences will include a trade show or exhibition—or vice versa (which technically makes them a convention). Therefore, a meeting or event planner who works in this sector will often be experienced in—and responsible for organizing—both types of events. In fact, in many countries outside of the USA, these types of meetings planners are often referred to as 'conference & exhibition organizers'.

I'll look at this in more detail in the Conventions and Conferences sector of the industry, which also includes Trade Shows and Exhibitions.




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