What personality traits do people need to be successful at incentive planning? I took a close look at the incentive professionals I know, and have come up with a few characteristics that they have in common:

They're Relationship Oriented These are people who build solid relationships with their partners on the other side of the table, such as hoteliers, destination management companies, or event producers. The success of their careers stems from the value they place on these friendships.

More Than Likely, They Started Their Careers Somewhere Else Most of the people in this profession have talents that go far beyond negotiating group hotel rates and haggling over pillow gifts. More often than not, they fell into their careers by working first in marketing, or corporate communications, or as an administrative assistant who planned an occasional event. And they chose incentive planning because they enjoyed it.

They're Highly Creative These are folks who delight in experimenting with new ideas. They're the ones who will come up with concepts like a farewell awards banquet with a Roman theme where the company president is carted in wearing only a toga.

They're Detail Oriented As one incentive organizer said to me, "I'm anal retentive. You have to be in this business." They negotiate contracts, hire speakers and entertainers, plan banquets, book airfares, oversee audiovisual, even order flowers. They're also expert at putting out fires.

They're on Top of the Trends They must be, since each year they're expected to outdo the program they put on the year before. So they stay on top of the latest industry trends, incentive destinations, adventure travel options, etc., by joining industry associations such as the Society of Incentive & Travel Executives and Meeting Professionals International.

They Take Pride in Their Work One corporate incentive planner recently remarked to me, "I consider each incentive program to be like a movie that I produce. I write the scripts, get the props, create the scenery--and in the end produce a special feeling that can never be forgotten."

They're Number Crunchers While boundlessly creative when fashioning the frills and features of an incentive trip, incentive planners can instantly affix dollar signs to every event, pillow gift, and piece of audiovisual equipment. They know exactly how to get at the biggest bang for their company's buck.

They're Deal Makers They know when and how to battle for extra rooms or food and beverage. They possess industry relationships that can greatly enhance the value of an incentive program. They revel in the art of the deal, and they have the receipts to prove it.

They're Strong Under Fire Anything can happen during an incentive program: A participant can fall ill, or weather can wipe out out an event. Experience has taught incentive professionals always to prepare for the unexpected.

They're Energetic A typical incentive professional's success is built on 20-hour days spent on-site during events, chronic jet lag, and 4 a.m. pre-conference meetings--it's just another day on the job.