Location: Vero Beach, Fla.

RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATION: EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, FLORIDA STATE ASSOCIATION OF FREE WILL BAPTISTS INC. AND PASTOR AT THE RYANWOOD FREE WILL BAPTIST CHURCH

The Rev. Randall (Randy) Bryant doesn't know how many full-time pastors have their CMPs, but he suspects there aren't too many.

Bryant was ordained to preach in 1977 and has been a pastor in the Free Will Baptist Church since 1979. For the past 27 years he has been the pastor at the Ryanwood Free Will Baptist Church in Vero Beach, Fla. He is also the executive director of the Florida State Association of Free Will Baptists — a position he's held since 2002. However, his affiliation with the association goes back more than 20 years, and so does his career as a meeting planner.

“Up until 1990, our state association had always met in our local churches. In 1990, we decided to go to a hotel/conference center format for the meetings,” says Bryant. At that time Bryant was serving as clerk for the association and editing the monthly publication. “Since I needed to stay up on the information, I was included in the committee that worked with the hotel. From that point on things just sort of snowballed and I evolved into the meeting planner.” He had no background or training as a planner at all. “I just learned on the fly.”

Earning the CMP

Fifteen years later, after gaining a wealth of experience and honing his skills on the job, Bryant decided to take the CMP exam and become a Certified Meeting Professional.

“Two people within our national association have CMPs — Jack Williams (director of communications, Free Will Baptist College) and Melvin Worthington (executive director emeritus, National Association of Free Will Baptists). Both of them encouraged me in that direction,” he explains.

The key benefit of having a CMP is the credibility that comes with it. “When they see that you are a CMP, they take notice that you know what you're talking about,” says Bryant. “That's the biggest thing — the credibility within the meeting industry.”

Bryant plans about six meetings peryear ranging in size from a 30-person Pastor's Retreat to a 400-attendee annual meeting. The association also runs two Christian Workers' Conferences in the fall and a Seniors Summit once a year for senior citizens. As the lead meeting planner for these events, he handles all site selection, negotiations, and on-site logistics. That's in addition to everything else he does as pastor at Ryanwood and executive director at FSAFWB, of course.

For the annual meeting, the group typically signs three-year contracts with a property. Not only does it allow the association to get better rates, the familiarity with the hotel makes the planning process easier. “We try to keep the meeting about the same distance from the two farthest extremes of Florida,” he says. For the next three years they will be meeting at the Jacksonville Marriott.

RCMA Benefits

Bryant became an RCMA member in 2000 after being introduced to the association by his aforementioned colleagues at NAFWB. He has attended almost every meeting since. “There is much to be gained from RCMA,” says Bryant. He particularly values the networking opportunities at the RCMA annual meeting. “I have cultivated working relationships with CVBs, hotel personnel, and other planners,” he says.

The educational sessions are also a draw. “The tutorials through the years have been a great help in legal and budget matters. I also gain encouragement from the RCMA personnel and the fellow planners during the conferences.”

Challenges and Advice

In all his years on the job, Bryant has learned much about the profession, but the most important piece of advice he would give to others is to stay flexible. “If you're too rigid in your approach and in your planning, you will stay frustrated. No matter how detailed you are in your planning, something inevitably will go wrong or surprise you,” he says. “You'd better be able to roll with the punches and adjust.'”

The biggest challenge of recent years is attendance. “Just about everybody I have talked to has seen their numbers drop in the last couple of years, most likely due to the economy,” explains Bryant. “So you can't always go by your past history.”

To avoid attrition, he has been lowering the size of his room block. “You have to lower the room block and hope that if you are still short that the hotels will be kind,” he jokes. He has found that hotels are very amenable to working with planners since many properties are facing their own budget issues.

Another challenge is making partners in the meetings industry understand the religious aspects of his meetings. For example, there is no alcohol at the meetings Bryant plans. “A lot of people don't always make connections with some of the standards that you have for your meetings.”

Any parallels between his two professions — pastor and meeting professional?

“I think there's a lot of carry-over, particularly when it comes to relating to people and working with people,” he says. “The same thing goes with coordinating volunteers for your meetings.”

Bulletins:

  • Hotels are expected to see a 4.1 percent increase in revenue per available room this year compared to last year, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report released in September.

  • The 474-room Sheraton Nashville Downtown Hotel completed the final phase of a multimillion-dollar renovation in September, less than six months after the massive flood that damaged the city.

  • The Colorado Convention Center received LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification in September from the U.S. Green Buildings Council, which said the center had cut carbon emissions by 26 percent.

  • The Hyatt Regency Phoenix has undergone a $15 million, top-to-bottom renovation. The downtown hotel is adjacent to the convention center and has 693 guest rooms.