By Mary Tucker, IAEE Sr. PR/Communications Manager

Janet Sperstad, CMP, Program Director at Madison College has extensive practical and academic experience in the exhibitions and events industry. She created the United States’ first Associate Degree in Meeting and Event Management at Madison College in Madison, Wisconsin and was instrumental in the development of a graduate program in meeting management through the Copenhagen Business School. Additionally, Janet has worked extensively with Canadian government and international cohorts to develop job standards and certification frameworks that have advanced the profession of global meeting and event management.

She represented the events and exhibition profession to the U.S. Department of Labor, resulting in the establishment of the industry as its own business sector. This volunteer work produced the Hospitality, Tourism, and Events Industry Model, an occupational standard identifying key competencies for those working in meetings, events and exhibitions. Notably, her college was selected as an “Industry Champion” for this model due to contribution and forward-thinking actions. She currently chairs the Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) Governance Commission and serves as Immediate Past Chairperson of the IAEE Faculty Task Force. She also co-authored IAEE’s Art of the Show Instructor’s Resource Guide, and serves on the Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau Board of Directors. She has been a valued member of IAEE, MPI, and PCMA for many years.

Janet’s commitment to the industry earned her the Outstanding Achievement in Industry Leadership Award in 2015, which recognizes an individual(s) who has made an extraordinary personal or professional commitment that materially contributes to the advancement of the exhibitions and events industry. This recognition demonstrates how voluntary leadership can enhance or change the industry.

You created the first U.S. Associate Degree in Meeting and Event Management. What are your thoughts on how the industry has developed academically, and is there anything you would like to change or see develop further?

It’s great to see more and more meeting and event management degrees offered. This means that academic institutions not only see the business opportunity in offering them but that our field is a viable, career sustaining field. Academia is not as nimble as people would like, and yet when it moves it does not go back. Investing in the infrastructure to develop degrees is very costly. It is more than promotion and offering courses.

For the future, my hope is that degrees are offered in the School of Business and align to marketing, business, project management and leadership. Many of our degrees are currently entwined with hospitality, and having it connected at this point shifts the lens to a commodity-based product rather than a business-result product. Events are not produced to bring business to hospitality companies; they are produced to create business for the hosting company. Viewing events through the School of Business lens shifts the core competencies of curriculum, student demographics and career pathing.

You have passionately advocated for recognition of the industry as its own sector by the U.S. Department of Labor. What inspired you to pursue this endeavor and how will this recognition benefit members of the industry?

The truth – exhaustion, frustration and IAEE Vice President of Learning Experiences Marsha Flanagan, M. Ed. As a veteran in our industry I am exhausted explaining just what event professionals do. All of my career – from Seminar Coordination to Director of Education to Program Director for our Degree – I get, and I’m sure many of you have also, the crazy look on people’s faces when you say you are in the event management field. If not insult to injury is enough, they ask, “that’s a job?” If I was Lewis Black, I would answer with a few precious words that I would not be able to write here. As we know, event and exhibition management is not only a job but a career with sustainable, living wages. Back in the early 2000s I was working with Marsha on a project called “Career Pathway” that benchmarked event management competencies, skills and titles. Before the completion of the project, the plug got pulled and it went silent.

Zoom to 2014 and I got a call from the U.S. Department of Labor to help out on the Hospitality, Tourism and Event Management Workplace Competency Model. After jumping for joy and saying yes, I called Marsha and we set once again our goal to define the competencies of event and exhibition management, and set our industry apart as its own sector – and we did. Having the event management field called out as its own sector with defined competencies gives backbone to our profession. HR professionals, governments and organizations use the U.S. Department of Labor model to identify professionals and the work they do. This benchmarking lays the foundation for professionals to be categorized correctly in their companies, promotions, job classifications and – while it may sound silly – not have to scan industry trade magazines to help HR write their own job description and benchmark what they do.

Where do you think the evolution of the industry will take it next? If you had complete control over the “next big thing” in the industry, how would you shape it?

Complete control?! Not sure I want that but if I had a magic wand, I would put more of the people who are doing the work of event management in CEO and senior leadership positions. Our industry is built on the backs of many, many women who have been doing amazing work as business owners, event and exhibitions owners, and event and exhibition professionals and that voice is very small in leadership for our industry. Bringing in the female voice and perspective will allow young women to see what is possible and change the life of the next generation of female event professionals.

You recently completed your Executive Masters in Neuroleadership. How do you plan on applying neuroscience to your work in the industry? Do you have any tips to offer members of the industry interested in using neuroscience in their exhibitions and events?

Neuroscience is a field that has so many applications; I’m seeing it applied to marketing, politics and economics, to name a few. Here’s the deal: everyone walks into a meeting with a brain, right? That brain that is brought in is a social brain. It responds to stimuli in context of social settings. Data is just that – data of history, what’s happened. To project into the future takes more cognitive areas than just using (our brain’s) data center. Data either confirms or rejects our hunches and ideas. Our emotions, and biases, influence our decisions more than data. We look for data to confirm those ideas. I believe what this means for live events and exhibitions, is that we have the most potent tool available to influence and shape people’s decision making and beliefs. No other medium has the power to persuade like live events – because of our brain. Our brain can compute information faster than any computer. Bringing people together is a powerful moment to shape the future, drive innovation and create solutions to big problems.

You have been widely recognized throughout the industry as an innovator, leader and undeniable champion for exhibitions, events and meetings. Where will your next adventure take you?

My next adventure? I’m not sure; but what I am sure about is that I will keep doing what I’ve always done – challenge myself and our industry to define event management as a design discipline requiring skills in the social sciences, executive leadership, and cognitive sciences. I know that the professionals within our field have the power to unleash human capacity to contribute to a better tomorrow.

The 2016 Call for Nominations for the IAEE Awards is now open! Visit for more information about the various award categories and their corresponding criteria as well as submit your nominations for deserving colleagues whose outstanding efforts merit recognition.

Posted by Elizabeth McQuade

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