Arlene Sheff, CMP, knows first-hand what it's like to be an executive secretary and have to spend much of her time organizing meetings. Now the president of her own meeting executive firm, Meetings Etc. in Irvine, Calif., she's often asked by companies to train employees whose jobs include planning meetings. So she has come up with a course called "FUNdamentals of Meeting Planning," focusing on techniques and strategies to simplify the meeting-organizing process.

"Most companies nowadays plan their own meetings, whether they have a meetings department or not," she says. "I used to have to do it when I was an executive secretary. I also worked in a company's advertising department and did the meeting organizing there, too.

"When I give training for secretarial associations, many of these people have had little or no training in how to plan a meeting," she continues. "They really want the information, because they want to be able to do their jobs well. But the problem is that when it comes to having to a plan a meeting, there's a whole list of things that they don't even know they don't know."

Sheff's specialty is teaching the ins and outs of dealing with hotels, especially when it comes to planning food and beverage. In that area, a little training can immediately affect the bottom line, she says. "On one or two continental breakfasts, you can save more than what it costs to train a person to organize meetings effectively," she says.

Sheff's colleague and fellow professional meeting executive, Bonnie Wallsh, CMP, delivers the "FUNdamentals" program in the eastern part of the country. Like Sheff, Wallsh, who runs her own meeting-executive firm in Charlotte, N.C., has been seeing more companies training their employees in meeting planning.

"As companies merge, you're finding meeting-organizing departments are getting downsized," Wallsh says. "And even if a company does have a meetings department, it's often so lean and mean that they have to outsource a lot of their work. Thus, more and more secretaries and administrative assistants are doing the meeting planning--and all too often they're not prepared."

Wallsh has struck up co-training partnerships with two hotel chains to deliver the course to employees of the chains' corporate clients. She says that involving hotels in the training process has been helpful. "The hotels like the training, because if they are able to deal with knowledgeable planners--trained organizers--it takes less of their time, and that saved time can be used to sell more meetings. They also know that meetings planned by a knowledgeable person are much better organized and successful, and that makes the hotel, along with everyone else, look better."