Education Checklist – Getting Started

By Charlene Roth-Diddams, Broad Solutions, Calgary, Alberta

The true mark of an event professional is their constant desire to “do it different and do it better”. What this means is we are always on the steep end of the learning curve. Striving to develop, enhance and refine our skill sets. Successful event professionals recognize that we never really achieve excellence, because as we reach one plateau we suddenly realize the next level of where we need to go in order to remain on the leading edge. Driven by a curiosity that can never be satisfied, event professionals delve into a variety of subject matters and find ways to apply this information into the production of our next event.

Across Canada a variety of post-secondary institutions are offering courses, certificates and diplomas in Event Management, and/or related fields. Choosing a program can be an overwhelming task as each school is competing for your education dollars. Programs are offered in a class room setting and on-line, instructors are recruited based on availability and expertise, content is determined through consultation with the post-secondary institution and the event industry. Sometimes the information is specific to the local region and sometimes the information is crafted to represent a more national flavour. In some situations the program offers a full range of information that provides the student with a comprehensive understanding of the fundamentals of the event profession, and sometimes only segments of the industry are addressed. How do you choose the best program for your?

Start by asking some questions. First ask yourself some questions, and then ask the programs you are interested in some questions. It is through this series of questions that you will gather the information you need in order to make a good decision for yourself.

The first step is to take a personal inventory and decide what you can bring to the industry and what you need to refine in order to be successful. Consider some of the following examples:

1. Why am I interested in pursuing a post-secondary education targeted to the event professional?

Perhaps you already are an event professional and you are seeking ways to refine your skills. Then you will want to search for a program that offers a more advanced level of instruction. Or you may want to consider a school that offers seminars that cover the specific topics you require.

Perhaps you are new to the industry and don’t really know where to start. Then you will want to find a program that offers a comprehensive overview of the industry and will provide the opportunity for you to meet others who are active in the event professions on a local level.

Answering the question WHY is a very difficult process and requires that you be honest with yourself as you address your skill sets and what it is you hope to accomplish in the short and long term.

2. What kind of learner am I?

Currently in Canada, a variety of programs are available both in a classroom setting as well as on-line. On-line learning is not for everyone and careful consideration needs to be made when making this choice. To be successful on-line the student needs to be self-motivated and technologically comfortable. It is a fabulous opportunity for students that may not have a program that is geographically close, or for those whose work and/or family commitments prevent them from attending an in-class program.

A classroom setting is a great way to meet a future network of support and industry expertise, the network that every event professional requires. The business of events is about people, how we manage them, how we build programs for them, and most importantly how we interact with them and how they interact with each other. Attending an in-class program provides the opportunity to meet and assess your current and future competition and to assess your personal skills in terms of managing people and situations. Not a skill set to be underestimated in the business of events. The primary benefit of an in-class program is the opportunity to ask the questions that you need answers for in the immediate. Not only will the instructor be able to advise you but classmates as well will arrive with a wealth of knowledge and information.

3. What are my skill sets?

Different aspects of the event professions require different skill sets. Take the time to do a personal inventory and know what it is you bring to the industry and what it is you need to refine in order to achieve success. It is also important to know what it is you don’t want to do, identify those areas that if you never had to do it again life would be so much better. Once you have completed this personal inventory carefully review the course descriptions of the programs you are considering. With a background in Accounting do you really need Bookkeeping 101? If you are a strong linear thinker, organized and detailed, would a creative writing class or a design and decor class be important additions to your repertoire.

It is really important to remember that the industry of events forces us to use the skills we have, refine and improve these skills and then move out of our comfort zones and develop skills in areas that may not come naturally to us.

Now it’s time to think about the questions you should be asking the post-secondary institution about their program. You will be investing not only your money but your time, as with any business venture maximizing your return on investment is dependent on how you invest your resources, time and money.

4. How long has this program been in place and how often is the material updated?

Event Management as an industry is relatively new to Canada, but has been growing and evolving quickly over the last few years; things have changed just as quickly. When selecting a program it is important to consider the timeliness and relevance of the material that is being presented. A program that has a long standing history may be an excellent resource, however it may also be outdated and presenting information that is no longer considered relevant. You will want to ask two questions: How long has the program been in place and how often is the material updated?

5. Are the instructors currently active in the industry?

Enrolling in a program where the instructors are active in the industry is a sure way to receive current and immediate information. Find out what is really happening in the industry and your local area, what are realistic job opportunities, what types of events prevail, what are the current trends in your community, province or in Canada. Conventional wisdom suggests “those who can do, those who can’t teach”. In many programs across Canada this is not true, instructors have been supporting the post-secondary institutions and their event related programs because it brings increased credibility to the industry, it is a tremendous recruiting source for potential employees, and historically sound training opportunities have been limited. When a program is instructed by individuals that are currently active in the industry schools are quick to identify the experience these individuals bring to the classroom. Don’t be discouraged if the instructor is a Conference and Meeting Specialist and you are interested in becoming a Wedding Planner. The fundamental principles of good event management will apply they are simply instituted differently.

6. Are the instructors leaders in the industry?

Don’t be afraid to ask what kinds of credentials or credibility the instructor has. What are their professional designations? What professional associations do they hold memberships in? Have they accepted leadership roles within their companies and/or professional associations? Why would any of this be important? Leadership demands the ability to support, train and educate. Your instructor should not only be able to demonstrate these skills in a classroom but within the industry as well.

By asking and finding the answers to these six questions two things will happen. The first is you will find you suddenly have more questions that need answers before you can select the best opportunity for you. Second, you will be in a position to invest your resources (time and money) in a program that will provide you with highest potential return on your investment.