Glenn Reighart has had three distinctly different careers: retail management, sign language interpreting, and finally, meeting planning. For Reighart, Meeting Professionals International's 2005 International Planner of the Year, the third career has been the charm.
Since becoming a planner 13 years ago, Reighart, 46, has worked for four associations, including his current employer, the National Community Pharmacists Association, Alexandria, Va. At NCPA, Reighart manages a staff of five and has an annual meeting budget of $3.2 million. He plans four meetings each year including NCPA's annual convention, which attracts about 3,500 people.
MPI cited Reighart (CAE, CMP, CMM) as a “dedicated mentor and champion of education.” In an interview with AM, Reighart discusses giving back, keeping meetings relevant, and the most daunting thing he's ever done.
AM: How did you get started in meetings?
Reighart: I was the director of the interpreting service for a school for the deaf in Washington, D.C. I was involved in planning events originally from the point of view of making sure that the interpreting services would go smoothly. Later, I was asked to become involved in planning a wider variety of events and eventually, somebody said: ‘You're really good at this. People do this for a living. You ought to check it out.’ I did. I resigned my job and got an internship in the meetings department of an association. I joined ASAE, MPI, and PCMA and started going to any seminar, workshop, or convention that I could attend to learn.
Initially, I worked at a consulting firm and I was placed as a temporary planner with the Nursing Association of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists [which later became the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses]. Six months later, when the planner there resigned, they hired me. I was there for 10 years and then went to the National Association of School Psychologists for two years, and the American Psychiatric Nurses Association for 7 months before coming to the National Community Pharmacists Association earlier this year. They've all been in the medical arena, not by choice, but by happenstance. Once you have experience in a certain area, people kind of look to you in that arena.
Q: Why the series of moves?
A: I moved from the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses because, after 10 years, I was ready for new challenges. I left NASP for an offer I could not refuse. I wasn't looking at all. My boss, who recruited me there, was fired by the newly electedpresident the month after I started. After that, I got out as soon as I could. Each position I have held has provided greater remuneration, opportunities, and challenges.
Q: What role has education played in your career?
A: I was tapped by the MPI Potomac Chapter president to serve as the chair of the program committee. Planning meetings for meeting planners is one of the most daunting things I've ever done: They have very high expectations of themselves and others. They know how things should be done and expect their own professional development opportunities to be planned and executed accordingly. Program content and delivery, adherence to principles of successful adult education, and networking opportunities are key.
I then served as the treasurer, president-elect, and finally president of the Potomac chapter, and it was a great experience. I felt I was able to make a lot of contributions, but I also learned a lot in the process. Once I got my CMP, I coordinated CMP study groups here locally, and I also taught some international courses as well. It's been very gratifying to give back.
Q. What was your toughest challenge as a new planner?
A: Trying to book function and sleeping room space for meetings on which I had very little history and therefore limited negotiating strength.
Q: What is the toughest challenge in the profession right now?
A: The biggest challenge is making sure you're providing the right blend of programming so that attendees want to participate in your event and are getting a good return on their investment. It's a mixture of what you think they should be taking away, what they think they should be taking away, and what they personally want to take away. Those three things, in my experience, are sometimes different from each other. It's also important to have a good mix of the networking and social opportunities.
Q: What advice you would give someone starting out?
A: No. 1, join a professional organization, meet people, and learn as much as possible. Become involved in those organizations as a volunteer because it is through your actual participation, as opposed to simply being an attendee, that you get the most out of your membership.
Q: How does it feel to be a male in a female-dominated profession?
A: I know that there are a lot more women in the planning profession than men, but it is not something that I think about on a daily basis. I think a part of the reason for that is because, on the supplier side of the meeting industry, it's much more balanced so, on a daily basis, I interact with a fairly equal number of men and women. Having worked for two nursing organizations, where the membership and staff is 90-plus percent female, I was more aware of the male-female discrepancy, but in the meeting industry, I really do not feel it.
I think the industry is changing — men and women both are becoming more involved in aspects of the meeting industry that are nontraditional for their genders. For example, you see more men as planners and more women as general service contractors. Perhaps the industry or society in general is becoming less hung up on gender roles in the workplace.
Q: Where would you like to see the profession go?
A: I think our industry is in adolescence, meaning that we have come from being thought of as party planners and coffee cup counters to strategic thinkers who have an impact on the bottom line. We have a way to go to more effectively influence senior decision makers, but we're on the right track.