If you've heard anything about the recent Meeting Professionals International Professional Education Conference in New Orleans, I'll bet you've gotten wind of the keynoter. If you cared to find out, you probably also heard about excellent workshops and fun networking events, but chances are the first thing, and perhaps the last thing, you heard about was CNN anchorwoman Lynne Russell and her, shall we say, unusual ideas on self empowerment. OK, just a sample: According to Russell, there's nothing that 20 minutes at Victoria's Secret can't fix. Say what?

I'm not as shocked at Russell's opinions as I am that MPI gave her the floor without having a solid handle on the message she planned to deliver. We all make mistakes, but MPI is supposed to be teaching us how to run a conference, not how not to.

That may be a bit harsh coming from someone who didn't actually make it to the PEC this year, but this is the second time in the past six months that MPI has had to apologize to its constituency. Attendees at an educational event it sponsored during the IT&ME show in October actually got their money back because the event was not up to standards.

Here's some advice for MPI: Stick with strategic issues. With new Web-based tools, the event planner's role is changing fundamentally. And the new issues are not simply which application service provider to work with or how to do research on the Internet. Planners need to think strategically about integrating meeting attendee data with customer relationship management systems. They need to look ahead to expectations of the next generation of e-learners. They need to consider the security issues around Web-based meeting systems. (Did you hear about how hackers broke into the online registration information from the Davos World Economic Forum and stole attendee information? Look for our story in the next issue with advice on how to prevent such a disaster.)

Even if Lynne Russell hadn't strayed into the lingerie department, where was she headed? Event planners, whether they're involved in sales meetings, incentive programs, training events, user conferences, or other events, play a critical role in a corporation's or association's marketing efforts and internal and external visions. It's serious business.