Cindy Winter, CMP, has never stopped learning. “You just have to learn to upgrade all the time,” Winter says. “No matter how much experience you have, there's always something you can learn.”

That attitude keeps her fresh in her job after nearly 38 years with the National Council on Family Relations. Based in Minneapolis, the NCFR is a family policy advocacy and research group. Because the organization has a religion and family life section, the council is eligible for RCMA membership.

Winter and her husband, Doug, are active in the Minnesota Christian Convention, an opportunity for Christians to gather in fellowship and praise, and they have used skills learned at RCMA to plan meetings for that organization.

As the family council's conference coordinator, Winter oversees an annual convention for 1,600, including 600 program presenters; a public policy convention; and, for the last three years, a work/life summit. This year's main convention meets November 19 to 24 in Houston.

Required Lessons

Her membership in RCMA is one way she picks up lessons necessary to her job. “It's a really great organization for me,” Winter says. “I get face-to-face meetings, and the exchanges are invaluable.” Those relationships are key to a meeting planner's life, she says. For example, she can call Jonathan Howe (an attorney and regular RCMA speaker) for legal advice “and immediately he says, ‘Hi, Cindy.’ That means a lot,” she says.

Winter has been the family council's convention planner since 1983 and a member of RCMA since 1989, when RCMA co-founder Leonard Wymore encouraged her to join.

She believes that being a meeting planner means being organized, planning for the unexpected, and rolling with changes when the unexpected happens. Keep records and be realistic with planning, she advises. If your convention usually registers 400 people, don't tell the host site to plan for 1,000. “There's nothing that drives anyone crazier. It makes you look bad. You don't want to go on the merits of ‘I'm a Christian’ or something like that. You want to have your ducks in a row. Be professional in everything you do or say.

“I like to think of other people first and what their needs are. Be prepared so you can help as much as possible, but not so much that you can't bend. Things will happen; you have to be able to change.”

Whatever It Takes

Also, be prepared to do whatever job it takes to make a convention work. Winter and her husband learned at a Minnesota Christian Convention that detailed specifications aren't always followed. A hotel didn't believe the couple's assertion that 400 people would show up for breakfast at the same time. Part of being prepared means showing up early, so the Winters arrived at 5 a.m. for a 7 a.m. breakfast, only to find that the hotel had one waiter and tables set up for 100. “We were ready by 7,” Winter says. “We set up tables, mixed juice, and made coffee.”

Her husband remarked later that convention planning isn't all glamour — sometimes you have to be the housekeeper and caterer. Winter remembers another convention when she had to gather toilet paper from a housekeeping cart to keep the ladies' room supplied. Which brings her to another piece of advice, “You can always see the humor in things.”

With her degree in music from Minnesota Bible College and her experience as a part-time piano teacher, Winter has occasionally filled in as a musician at events.

Setting Priorities

Winter sees conventions as facilitating fellowship, a necessity in her professional and volunteer lives. Through the Minnesota Christian Convention, the Winters speak at churches, meet people, eat meals with them, and assist them with their various needs.

When preparation and experience come up short, Winter calls on another planning tool — prayer. “I say, ‘What am I going to do now, Lord?’ and the answer will come.

“Faith is absolutely of paramount importance to my husband and me,” she explains. “Faith impacts everything we do in life. It sets our priorities.”