E-mail and listservs such as the mimlist have become people's preferred form of communication — even over a phone call. Why? What do you think will be the next level of online interaction for meeting planners?

Joan Eisenstodt: We're so busy that we need to know, sometimes on a minute-by-minute basis, that there are others going through the same thing, and others to whom we can turn for advice, assistance, and humor.

Our lives are more hectic than ever. We work long hours and weeks, sometimes overwhelmed by the demands on our time. We want interaction with our colleagues, but sometimes it's so tough to do at the end of the day when we want to take off our shoes and not talk too much! I think that's why the mimlist has been so successful.

Professional people need communities. So we use this list. Those who live in different time zones and want to communicate and exchange ideas can post at all hours and when it's convenient.

In the early 1980s, when I was president of our MPI Chapter (PMPI), we saw some demos of videoconferencing as a doomsday for face-to-face meetings. We've seen the advent of online learning and other forms of technology — but people still yearn to be in the same room to talk and share ideas.

For example, I attended the International Association of Facilitators conference last month. The improv class I took would not have been nearly as dynamic or valuable without being there with others to really see, feel, hear, and experience their responses.

What's next in online communication for planners? More direct/real-time collaboration on projects. More intercultural interaction.

Joan Eisenstodt is president of Eisenstodt Associates, LLC, a meeting management and consulting firm based in Washington, D.C. She is also List Mistress of the mimlist listserv (www.mim.com) and the IACC ListServ(www.iacconline.com).

You've just been recognized as one of the Top 500 Entrepreneurs by Working Woman. What are the greatest challenges you've faced in the 20 years since you have built your business?

Patti Roscoe: In 1981, two clients urged me to start my own business. I had no clue what I was getting into. My strengths were sales and people skills. A visit to the SBA for a loan began it all. Loyal clients and local supplier-partners — and a knack for leadership — kept it rolling along. The ability to attract and retain incredibly bright, talented people, giving them the autonomy to do their jobs and then getting out of their way, made us the success we are today.

My biggest challenge has been managing growth. Businesses reach growth plateaus and must decide if and how to grow. We've reached many and have always taken the [next] leap. One office became several and eventually led us to franchising. Each step was a risk. Entrepreneurs understand that without risks, there are no rewards. I've always been willing to take those risks.

It's been scary, exhilarating — and incredibly worthwhile.

Patti Roscoe, CITE, is chairman of PRA Destination Management Co. (www.pra.com), in San Diego.

What do you think can be done so that management truly recognizes meeting planners as professionals? How do you envision the Women's Leadership Initiative furthering the meeting industry profession?

Christine Duffy: The creation and launch of the Women's Leadership Initiative has already raised the visibility of women as a major force in the industry. Representatives from seven industry associations joined MPI to ensure that the benefits of our efforts reach as many women as possible. These associations represent 65,000 industry professionals.

We are already beginning to see educational programming geared toward women at a number of major industry events. I've had the opportunity to participate in programs in which men and women gather to discuss the opportunities and obstacles that women face in the workplace.

Industry research is the centerpiece for the program, from which we will develop education, training, and mentoring programs. By focusing on research, education, and networking, this initiative will allow more women to move into leadership roles across the industry.

Recognition as a professional within the organization will go hand in hand with demonstrating the value a meeting professional brings to her company. The Women's Leadership Initiative will help tap into the desire and techniques on how to accomplish this — and help women meeting professionals be more in control of their own destinies.

Christine Duffy is president and chief operating officer of McGettigan Partners (www.mcgettigan.com), in Philadelphia.

With so many women working, and balancing work with life being such an issue, how can companies create incentive programs with this in mind? What if women don't want to travel, or want to take the kids on an incentive trip? What are the options?

Jill Harrington: Achieving balance in life is an increasingly elusive goal. And not all women are cut from the same cloth. Companies should not assume that one woman's desire is every woman's dream.

The bottom line for companies is developing creative incentive programs with built-in flexibility and choice. Individual travel rewards allow a woman to choose where, how long, and with whom she wants to travel. If group travel is the reward choice, then host shorter group programs with the option for individuals to add an individualized travel element at the host company's expense. That's a great method of ensuring that women are part of the prestigious winners' circle and still have the opportunity to enjoy privacy with their partners.

I see the development of innovative ‘lifestyle’ programs and rewards as a huge potential growth area. A reward that offers a year of butler services would be many women's dream reward — whatever her marital or family status. Other lifestyle concepts include spa days, baby-sitting services, golf lessons, rock-wall climbing, and other activities that today's career woman may consider a luxury rather than a necessity.

Jill Harrington is executive vice president and CEO of the Society of Incentive & Travel Executives (www.site-intl.org) in New York City.

Why is it important that women who are building meeting planning careers take a global perspective?

Carol Krugman: Globalization is no longer a buzz word — it's a reality. Multinational organizations have no boundaries. As a result, the meetings we plan can take place anywhere in the world, and/or meetings at home can be attended by people from a variety of countries and cultures. Cross-cultural awareness and sensitivity are important components of everything from program development to logistics planning to negotiations with suppliers.

You can learn international etiquette in your hometown. Before my first trip to Seoul, I learned basic etiquette from the Korean family who owned a nearby store. They were delighted to share their culture and heritage, and I arrived in Seoul ready to do business without worry.

Carol Krugman is president of Krugman Group International Inc. (www.krugman.com) in St. Petersburg, Fla., and a well-known educator on international meeting planning issues.

What are the most important attributes you think a meeting planner should have? What qualities have helped you most in your career?

Sandy Biback: I believe everyone on the team makes a project happen. That's first and foremost. I'd be nowhere without the people around me.

Also important is the ability to nose around and research. You can't say, ‘Gee, I need this, but I don't know where or how to get it.’

Stick-to-it-iveness is important. So are imagination and creativity. Everybody's looking for the ‘Wow!’ factor and to create more experiential meetings. If you can't bring out your own imagination or your client's imagination, then you're not doing yourself any favors. I once lost a contract because I was considered too creative. I thought, ‘That’s fine; actually, I'm glad I'm not doing business with you!'

You also have to be able to understand your client. And more than that, you have to put yourself in the shoes of the person who will collect on the deliverables. How will they feel when they come in from another city? How will they feel at the registration desk? What does it feel like to be in a strange hotel? How can you create an environment in which they can leave as many concerns as possible behind?

You can't be afraid to move beyond your comfort zone. I try to build relationships. I believe in mentoring others and in my own continuous learning.

Sandy Biback, CMP, CMM, is owner of Imagination+ Meeting Planners Inc. in Toronto. She is also the 2000-2001 MPI Meeting Planner of the Year.

During your 22 years in the industry, you have taught many women and helped even more. Why is it important for women to mentor other women — yet why is it still so uncommon? What can this industry do to help?

Margaret Moynihan: Women should be mentoring other women because we have many of the same challenges regarding male/female negotiations, male/female interaction, female issues/work/life balance, etc. I'm not sure why it is so difficult, other than women think that they can do it all.

PCMA and MPI should start mentoring programs allowing women to mentor with other women or men — leave the choice up to them. These organizations can also start a buddy program for new members — this will enable the shy ones to ask for a mentor.”

Margaret Moynihan, CMP, is director of global conference & travel groups for Deloitte & Touche in Wilton, Conn. She was MPI's 1997 International Planner of the Year.

What are some of the most important issues you have faced as an independent meeting planner? How can independents further their careers, build their businesses, and stay networked?

Chris Pentz: I went through a major adjustment when I left the corporate world and moved to an environment of n=1. Sure, I could still go get coffee, but I knew I wouldn't run into anyone on my way. Self-discipline and initiative helped!

It was a major learning experience, as I learned to balance doing the work and running the business, where issues such as cash flow and marketing took on new meaning.

As an independent, it is critical to keep the big picture in mind: You have to look out for your career because no one will do it for you. It's quite easy, when money is short or work too plentiful, to let professional associations' memberships lapse or to decide you really don't have time to dedicate to your continuing education. But remember that this investment in your profession is what will help you sustain your business! You will get back all the things needed for a successful business: name recognition, networking opportunities, learning experiences, potential clients, and even good friends!

Chris Pentz, CMP, is president of Pentz Group Communications (www.pentzgroup.com), in Levittown, Pa.

With so many part-time meeting planners out there, why is there still the perception that planning a meeting is something you can squeeze into your day? What can people do to educate their higher-ups on the importance of doing it right?

Robin E. Craven: Unfortunately, because most people do not recognize meeting and event planning as a true profession, there is an assumption that anyone can do it. Education is the answer.

What would you do if you were asking for a raise? Justify your worth. Show your supervisor how much work you do, how efficient you are, how much money and time you save the company, etc. It's the same with meeting planning. Collect data that describes what you do as well as demonstrates the numerous resources available to help you do your job better. I recommend the following:

  • Document meeting expenses. Identify those that you, the planner, directly control.
  • Document your time and that of any staff members. Having a time log is a real eye-opener.
  • Join an association if you don't belong to one already.
  • Network like crazy.
  • Read books and magazines on meeting planning. Share them with your supervisor. Identify and use meeting planning Web sites. Share them, too.
  • Get a certification. A certification designation is a great stepping stone for professional excellence.

What we do has value. The bottom line is all the players in our industry need to champion it.

Robin E. Craven and her partner, Lynn Johnson Golabowski, launched Alliance LLC Meetings Management in January 1997. They are also partners in MeetingsCoach (www.meetingscoach.com) and co-authors of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Meeting and Event Planning.

Let's say a woman will be sworn in as chairwoman of MPI 10 years from now, and you'll be in the audience at the World Economic Congress (MPI's summer meeting) cheering her on. What would you hope will have changed in the meeting industry in the 10 years since you served as chairwoman?

Evelyn Laxgang: All of us will better balance our work and personal lives, if we so choose. I envision a future in which we give ourselves permission to enrich our lives without sacrificing advancement in our careers.

And speaking of those careers, everyone who is sitting in the audience with me at the WEC 10 years from now has earned their CMP or CMM certifications or is on the learning track to do so. In 10 years, more women will be vice presidents or CEOs of their own companies, or have strategic positions within large organizations.

We will not have to continually explain that our work directly affects the bottom line, and the business goals of the organization, and that we are not, and never were, just party planners.

Won't we all be amazed at how much technology changed our lives during the last 10 years? We will routinely conduct virtual site inspections on our computers and conduct Internet meetings for preliminary negotiations. We will all carry wireless devices that will make our lives easier on the road. And these devices will become jewelry — colorful works of art.

Evelyn Laxgang, CMP, is chairwoman of the board, MPI, and director of strategic programs and events at Motorola in Schaumburg, Ill.