Virtual Edge Institute's first class of meeting professionals is working toward achieving the Digital Event Strategist certification.

Which was none too soon for Kerry Crockett, CMP, CAE, executive director of the United States and Canadian Academy of Pathology. Crockett — who is among the inaugural class of 50 industry executives working through 16 online learning modules in preparation for DES certification — admits to feeling a sense of urgency about virtual and hybrid events. “It’s imperative that I learn to speak the language of virtual technology so that I can move our organization forward,” she said. “In many ways, it’s not even so much about being certified as it is about learning the information.…If we don’t learn this, we’re going to be left behind fast.”

The culmination of more than a year’s worth of work, the DES education program represents “a milestone for the industry,” said Michael Doyle, Principal, Michael Doyle Partners. “We’ve been building the educational components of this program over the past year. It involves dozens of subject-matter experts and hundreds of hours of expertise. The goal is to increase the industry’s virtual expertise, enhance the caliber and status of digital engagements, and establish standards of practice within the industry.” 

Tipping Point

Several recent surveys point to the fact that a majority of meeting professionals think that virtual and hybrid events will become an increasingly important part of the meetings mix. For example, in a study commissioned last year by the IMEX Group to explore the future of the global meetings industry, 57 percent of 765 survey respondents from 68 countries — representing the full range of sectors served by business events and a wide cross-section of the meetings industry itself — said that they believe that the most important roles for live events in the next decade will be event designer, learning architect, and digital strategist.

And in a recent Convene epanel survey, more than half of meeting-planner respondents said they had already added or are planning to add a hybrid extension to their in-person events. Crockett falls into the latter category. “We’re dipping our toes in the water at our March Annual Meeting by livestreaming our plenary sessions,” she said. “Eventually, we’d like to have a strong hybrid program with live-streaming and on-demand content available for our members.”

Stephanie Pfeilsticker, CMP, CMM, virtual strategy manager, event planning and field recognition for Thrivent Financial — as her title suggests — joined the first DES class with more virtual-event experience under her belt. But she has been “primarily self-taught via networking with other digital meeting professionals,” she said. “I’m thrilled to see VEI create a benchmark of learning. Now we can all begin to speak the same virtual language to build a foundation to advance the digital community.”

Getting in on the Ground Floor

In order to be accepted into the DES program, meeting professionals must meet specific industry prerequisites. The program offers 16 online learning modules and a final exam. Certification costs include a $175 application fee, $595 for modules, and $325 for the final exam. Scholarships funded by Freeman and bxb Online can cover the entire cost, however, as they did for this first class of students.

Donna Sanford

Donna Sanford is the founder and former publisher of Expo magazine.