Question of Event Qualifications

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Qualifications are a hot topic for PCOs, whether new to the industry or seasoned experts.

As commission increasingly gives way to management fees in the events, meetings, incentives and conferences industry, the role of formal qualifications is complex. How much of what PCOs do is learned in a formal institution, gained from experience, the result of association activities, or part of a natural flair for creativity and business?

Pieter Swart is a business events strategist and managing director of Conference Consultancy South Africa. He has a Certification in Meeting Management (CMM) and is a Certified Meeting Professional (CMP), is a member of the Tourism Program Advisory Board in the Department of Tourism at the University of South Africa, in addition to the various industry associations in which he is an active member and the multiple awards he has won.

Event Qualifications


He says, “The Experience Economy has been coined by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore in the Harvard Business Review, 1998 as an emerging economy. Today, almost 20 years later the design of experiences is fundamental to meeting or event planning. Experiences are what people remember, whether good or bad. To design an experience that supports an event objective, thorough knowledge is required of the audience to address their needs and match their expectations.”

Mobilising audiences into action requires an understanding of the application of human senses and influences on emotions, Pieter explains. “Only when a person is touched at an emotional level will he or she respond or engage and, if planned correctly, will the desired outcome be achieved. These are subjects of studies in humanities and neurosciences and core to the work of a contemporary Professional Conference Organiser (PCO). A PCO is therefore much more than a booking agent and deserves much more than relying on commissions from facilities or third-party suppliers to make a living,” he maintains.


“Successful PCOs are students for life and invest significant resources in continuing professional development simply because they have to. The world is rapidly changing, technology advances at a rate never seen before and all culminate in progressive experiences, each setting the benchmark for the next and the PCO is expected to keep up and even lead innovation,” he notes.

Pieter raises a critical point: “There is no single qualification that is a perfect fit for an organiser.” Instead, he believes organisers of different events need different skill sets.

“We can however agree that the fundamentals of event management remain the same, but applied differently for each event. PCOs need a diverse toolbox to practice their vocation. This toolbox is made up of 9 knowledge domains, 28 skill sets and 84 sub-skill sets. Qualified PCOs have studied event management, their knowledge is tested and verified. Because we operate in a global environment, internationally recognised standards are favoured,” he adds.

Read Issue 11 for more information about event qualifications:

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