by By Michael J. Shapiro | November 03, 2009

Day 3 at the SMMC course: Things get serious. Our pioneering participants were faced with a full-day module on modeling a strategic meetings management program. The morning session covered the practical details and choices that must be made to design an SMMP and begin the hard work of implementation. Decisions regarding strategy, policy, meeting registration and approval, sourcing and procurement, payment and expense reconciliation, data analysis and reporting, and technology were among the crucial topics discussed. Then, using data supplied for Meditech, a fictitious health care/pharmaceutical company, participants had to apply the concepts: They built resource models during the afternoon session, and began work on a fully developed business case and funding model -- an assignment they’ll have two weeks to complete following Core Week 1.

A number of participants expressed admiration for the course atmosphere and the dedication of both the instructors and participants. "There is so much knowledge in this room," said one SMMC candidate. "It’s really a unique situation. Everyone here is serious about this. And a number of us here are competitors, but it doesn’t matter." Candidates worked together in small groups to develop resource models and refine their collective understanding of SMMP development challenges.

Congratulations to one course participant, Melody LaMonica of BCD Meetings & Incentives, who learned Tuesday night that she has been elected to the town council for Mineral Springs, N.C. LaMonica agreed that Tuesday’s leadership and communication module should serve her particularly well.

Day 3 concluded with a sponsored dinner from technology supplier Cvent -- sadly, just after this reporter had to return home. Dinner details will have to remain unreported.

Participants will spend Day 4 and 5 under the tutelage of Kathy Rust, formerly of the NBTA Groups & Meetings Committee and a member of the task force that developed the SMMC program. She’ll demonstrate to participants how to turn numbers into a solid SMMP business case.

On-Site at SMMC Core Week 1: Day 2

The bold pioneers of the inaugural SMMC coursebegan Day 2 with a module on leadership and communication, moderated by business leadership guru Karl Ahlrichs. Because the successful implementation of a strategic meetings management program requires the project leader to communicate the program's value to many different stakeholders, Ahlrichs presented a variety of strategies. Particularly valuable, and relevant, is the ability to influence without having a great deal of authority. The secret, said Ahlrichs, is to convey integrity, personal security, a sense of priority and vision -- and to use those leadership qualities to influence people.

But to really get traction, Ahlrichs added, you have to scare people. The advantage of today's economy? People are scared already. "Don't waste a good crisis," he advised. Appeal to financial officers' survival instincts when selling them on the benefits of an SMMP -- and what it could cost to not take action.

The lessons segued into the afternoon's session, module 3, on stakeholder management. "The sad truth is that today, SMM efforts fail more often than they succeed in corporate America," said Kari Kesler. "In my opinion, not paying enough attention to stakeholder management is the biggest reason."

Kesler went on to discuss the importance of engaging as many SMM stakeholders as possible, both internal and external, from meeting planners, sales and marketing to technology suppliers and customers. Listen closely to every stakeholder's needs and sell them on the benefits; if you can take control of tasks they hate to do, so much the better. "The 'what's-in-it-for-me' concept is very powerful," said Kesler.

On-Site at SMMC Core Week 1: Day 1
The National Business Travel Association's inaugural Strategic Meetings Management Certification course kicked off Monday afternoon at Emory University in Atlanta. Twenty students (along with M&C senior editor Michael J. Shapiro) are on hand for Core Week 1 of the certification program, which consists of two core weeks of education in addition to three electives.

Among the participants are nine corporate travel, meetings and/or procurement professionals and 11 suppliers who work in strategic meetings management functions. The variety of perspectives these students bring to the SMM discussion already is evident. Kari Kesler, president and chief strategist of KK Solutions and one of the certification's lead designers, encouraged an active discussion of points in Monday's SMMP (Strategic Meetings Management Program) overview. In fact, she said she looks forward to debating a few points this week about the finer nuances of SMMP development.

Monday's introductory session dealt largely with what SMMP is -- an approach to managing enterprise-wide meeting and event activities and processes -- and what it isn't, namely planners becoming more strategic in their event planning. Designers of the certification have been clear that this course isn't about meeting planning, but rather the infrastructure in which planners do their jobs. "Not every meeting planner can start an SMMP," Kesler reiterated, nor should they be expected to. In fact, she added, getting planner buy-in for an SMMP is often best accomplished by reminding them that the person implementing SMM usually isn't interested or even qualified in planning meetings. The travel, finance or procurement manager who oversees SMM still depends on meeting planners carrying out their jobs effectively.

That said, a number of the SMMC participants do have experience in meeting planning, which speaks to the increasingly overlapping roles of meetings, travel and procurement managers. Furthermore, there is certainly opportunity for planners, depending on their organization's structure, to take a career path toward SMM.