Minnesota is known for many things—its lakes, its bikeability, its vibrant arts scene—but the population of event-planning professionals is just as noteworthy, if less visible. The Minnesota Chapter of Meetings Professionals International (MPI MN) is the ninth largest in the world. Robert Payne, regional director of sales and marketing, CSM Corporation, is partly responsible for that.

A graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth, Payne majored in accounting and became a CPA. He later worked as a buyer with a number of retail companies, then moved into hospitality in 2008. Payne joined MPI MN in 2009; initially, he volunteered on the membership committee and later moved up to the board of directors. Currently, he is the president-elect.

“It’s a strong base of meeting planners and suppliers, and we share a passion for the meetings and events industry,” Payne says.

Established in 1978, MPI MN connects planners, suppliers, and students throughout Minnesota. The organization boasts an average of 160 attendees at monthly meetings; special events are attended in even greater numbers.

Involvement in MPI MN is self-driven. Members can do as little as attend monthly meetings to network and take advantage of the educational opportunities, or go further and join a committee. “It’s what you want to put into it,” Payne says of MPI MN membership. “As a volunteer, you can have hands-on experience, plan educational events, or work on membership, sponsorship and fundraising. There are so many career enhancement possibilities through the organization. You’re growing yourself along with 450 other chapter members.”

MPI MN has had a recent increase in the number of members, a development Payne attributes to reaching out to organizations and corporations to recruit new members. When a new hotel opens up, he reaches out to find suppliers to add to MPI MN’s roster. To retain members, Payne ensures they know the value of the membership, from the educational content of the meetings to the marketplace visibility for suppliers’ products. MPI MN has also been reaching out to other organizations to collaborate on events, such as a joint meeting with the International Special Events Society (ISES) at the James J. Hill Center.

Payne particularly enjoys serving on the board. “It’s a big responsibility,” says Payne, who adds that being nominated for the board was a highlight of his involvement with MPI. “Every board meeting we had, our mission was that the chapter be positioned better.”

While Payne isn’t likely to sit back and declare “mission accomplished,” he is proud of the progress MPI has made. “We have a really engaged chapter,” he says.

The CDC defines close contact as within six feet or less, for 15 minutes or more with someone who tests positive for COVID-19. At gatherings of many kinds, contact tracing is used to trace the people that someone has come into contact with, before they learn that they have tested positive. This allows the people that the sick person came into contact with to be aware of the situation, and to make health-informed choices. 

 

With restrictions across the country in a state of constant flux, not everyone is ready to jump back into meeting in person. While some planners are eager to get back to “normal,” the long-term adjustment to new protocols and potential risks make some hesitant to gather.

While wearing masks and social distancing can help keep attendees safe, intentional design choices—such as including natureinspired elements and materials and plenty of plants—can also help calm attendees.

 

For Andrea Mokros, Minneapolis-based public relations executive and independent event consultant, the last decade has been a whirlwind. From serving as special assistant to President Obama and director of strategic planning for then-first lady Michelle Obama, to welcoming newcomers to the Bold North as the vice president of communications and events for the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee, Mokros shares the key takeaways that inspire her work today.