by Elizabeth Zielinski, CMM | February 19, 2014

When I first entered the meetings industry, being strategic meant knowing your attendance history, or how much money you saved by planning the break more efficiently. But it wasn't long until the talk started about getting that metaphorical "seat at the table," which was intended to teach planners how to become strategic business communicators, and thus create more relevance and job security for their roles.

Now, it's mostly assumed that meeting professionals are expected to play a strategic role in their organizations. But I find that the education available regarding how to do that has significant gaps. Specifically, how does a meeting manager who has some experience but is not yet considered senior in the field make the early transition steps to becoming more strategic? The education I have seen usually is targeted to senior planners and is focused on restructuring their past habits in a fundamental way. But if you are at the beginning of that learning curve, how do you form good habits that won't need to be restructured later, but rather can be expanded upon as your experience and autonomy grow?

• First, you need to seek information about your organization. What are its business goals (not the meeting goals), what are its philosophies and what are the market conditions affecting what it does? Each of these questions applies to your meetings in some way. Picture your meeting as the tool that is used to fix, adjust or rebuild the machine that is your organization. You can only do that if you truly understand how that machine works in the first place.

• Next, don't think of any of your meetings as standalone events. Meetings are communication, and each one is part of a continuum of what came before and what will come next. Think about how past meetings supported your organization's stated purposes, or how they didn't. Think about where you would like to be organizationally when you start planning the meeting that comes after the current one. How will you get to that place?

• Look beyond what you think of as your part in things. In any organization, there are many different roles and tasks, but only a few strategic goals. All the roles and tasks should advance those goals. And all the roles and tasks have some impact on both inside and outside stakeholders. Knowing what that impact is, and seeing that larger picture, is a fundamental part of thinking strategically.

Strategy is a big topic, and one that is learned over the course of years in any industry. But it begins by shifting your perspective from the present toward the future. It's as simple as that. Tactical meeting planning can sometimes make it hard to look beyond the here and now, but taking a broader world view even in those moments will lead you down a more strategic path.

Senior professionals, what are some of the early lessons you learned as you became more of a strategic thinker? Newer professionals, what else would you like to know about making the shift? I'd like to know. Comment below, or by email to Or, you can tweet me @E_Zielinski.