Not Too Busy to Succeed

Ann Barnes and Laurie Smith, displaying their certificates with pride.

Ann Barnes and Laurie Smith, displaying their certificates with pride.

Ann Barnes and Laurie Smith are busy people, both of them wearing many hats within their departments and often working late into the night and on the weekends. That is the life of meeting planners…always on call, but both Ann and Laurie decided they were not too busy to further their skills and become Certified Government Meeting Professionals.

The Certified Government Meeting Professional (CGMP) designation is for meeting planners and suppliers whose work is often bound to the regulations and guidelines of federal law. The certification is a testament to the planner’s commitment to improving the quality of the events they organize and is recognized in the industry as one of the best ways to enhance one’s knowledge about government meeting standards.

“There was a lot to learn; we really had to apply ourselves,” said Barnes.

Barnes is the Office and Logistics Manager for the American Indian Institute (Aii) and is one of three employees in the department. Aii has several conferences and trainings annually and Barnes does many things to help them run smoothly, including logistics, processing contracts, purchasing, negotiating and making sure the budget stays in check. Aii is committed to grant writing and many of the federal grants that include conferences and trainings often require a CGMP to be on staff.

“We are often looking to apply for grants at the institute, if it involves meeting planning, I wanted to be qualified for that,” said Barnes. “It is something I wanted for myself.”

Smith is the Projects Director for ConferencePros and says that her job is similar to Barnes’ position at Aii. Smith plans conferences and events for departments at OU and outside agencies. Some of those outside agencies include the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office, which is why she says it’s so important for her to have the CGMP designation. Conference planning for government agencies is very different than planning with the general population, according to Smith. The statutes and laws are different, travel claims are handled differently and there are even specific guidelines on seating charts and who speaks first when dealing with military entities.

“The certification lets government agencies know that we are aware of all the guidelines they have and that we are able to stay in check with them,” said Smith. “We have a lot of clients that have government money but they don’t always have all the necessary information for event planning and how it affects their budgets.”

The Test vs. Rest

Barnes and Smith chose to take the exam in conjunction with the Society of Government Meeting Professionals 2014 National Education Conference, held in Portland, OR. The training course leading up to the exam was three days, followed by the three-day conference, which allowed very little time to rest during their down time.

“We thought that since we’ve been doing this a while, it would be easy,” said Barnes. “But after the first day, I realized it wasn’t going to be quite as easy as I thought. We were in class from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and then stayed at the hotel all evening to study in groups. After that, we returned to our rooms to keep studying. We had three pretty intense days and the fourth day is the exam.”

The high intensity studying between courses wasn’t all they had to handle. The daytime training sessions often covered different material than the training manual did, which nearly doubled the material they needed to know. And the expectations for the exam were not any easier. A score of 85 was required to pass. The participants were not allowed to bring any personal items at all inside the room except for a pencil, and chaperones were required if a bathroom break was needed. Smith and Barnes both said the exam was harder than they expected.

“The test was very tricky. One little word makes the difference between getting a question right or wrong,” said Smith.

Barnes agreed, adding, “It was really a critical thinking test. There may be more than one answer that’s correct but you had to decide which one was the most correct.”

Bigger and Better Things

Smith and Barnes were relieved to realize they were not alone, many other participants sitting for the exam were no better prepared and many of them were government employees. Smith and Barnes had expected those participants to have a leading edge but that was not the case. During their study groups, the pair realized that everyone shared the same anxieties and even though they had quite a hurdle to cross, they both walked away with a newfound respect for their field and for others who work in a different capacity, such as sales directors and catering managers of hotels.

“It was interesting to hear their views. As outside meeting planners, we come in and we want everything for our events,” said Barnes. “But their point of view was that the planners come in and just want everything for free! When you hear their side, it made me realize it’s their business too. It made me more understanding.”

In looking toward the future, both Smith and Barnes say they are excited to use their new certification and hope that it will bring bigger and better things to Outreach. Smith is optimistic that this will bring new business to ConferencePros and Barnes plans on putting her skills to use in Aii’s upcoming events. Smith is even planning on sitting for the Certified Meeting Professional exam, which will be just as intense as her CGMP.

“Just filling out the application takes hours. And that’s just the application to sit for the exam,” said Smith. “But I am going to start studying for it.”

While they both worked hard and have had some time to bask in their success, they will have to get recertified in three years and keep up their continuing education in the meantime. This means they can add a few more items to their already busy schedules. But they aren’t complaining at all.

“It was a wonderful experience,” said Barnes. “It definitely made me a more confident conference planner.”

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