Being an event professional is such a unique career.

One day you could be sitting at your desk watching a demo for exciting new event management software and the next you could be on a plane to an amazing company-wide retreat that you planned in a tropical location!

And even more unique is the fact that there is no one single path that will get you there.

There are two different ways to get where you want to be as an event planner — by gaining experience and by racking up event planning courses, planning certifications, and certificate programs (yes, these are different, and we’ll explain how later!).

But if you’ve ever looked into these, you’ll know the choices are positively overwhelming.

That’s why, in this guide, we’re going to help you cut through the noise by recommending the top 15 certifications and other designations for leveling up your event management career — as well as a few more tips for setting yourself apart in this competitive field.

Event planning certifications and certificates — what does it all mean?

It’s important before you step foot into the world of event design and management education that you realize one thing — certifications and certificates are two different things (in the U.S. anyway).

Certifications come from professional associations, the most recognized of which we’ll dive into later in this article. Earning a certification puts you in the rank of “certified event planner.” Certifications are the highest level of event planning education and designation that event professionals can receive.  

Certificates, on the other hand, signify that you’ve completed an event planning course with a school or program, whether it’s recognized by the industry or not.

While there isn’t really such a thing as a registered event planner in the U.S., a certification will be more recognized in the industry than a certificate. However, that doesn’t mean certificates or any other type of ongoing education have no value — often these programs help planners keep their skills fresh or specialize in niches, both of which can help level up their careers.

Do I have to complete event planning courses to be an event professional?

As we mentioned earlier, there really isn’t any one set educational or work path for those who want to go into or get better at event planning.

So, no, you don’t have to take any event planning courses or even have an event planning certification to work in the field.

However, just like in plenty of professions, continuing your education certainly has its upsides.

Let’s talk about those next.

Here’s why modern event planners should pursue an event planning certification

Simply put, investing in event planning certifications and event planning courses is good for your career.

Why?

Well, at the most basic level, investing in education shows that you’re willing to invest in yourself as well as the event industry.  This sends a strong signal to potential employers and vendor partners that you are committed to and passionate about your role, which is an ideal reputation to have should you ever be looking to switch companies.

In addition, gaining more knowledge means you can take on different and more specialized types of events. This is especially valuable today as companies are looking for event professionals with deep knowledge of virtual and hybrid events and heightened safety protocols.

Some employers will even support workers who choose to continue their education by rewarding them with a salary bump. If you’re interested in increasing your pay grade with your current company, continuing your event planning training (which you can start doing today with Socio Academy) is an achievable way to do just that.

15 Event planner certifications and other designations that will help you level up your career

Event management professionals at the QC Event School report seeing more multi-certified event planners in the industry than ever before.

If you’re interested in making an investment in your career and outpacing others in your field so you can work on the types of events you love, here are the best designations to consider.

3 Top industry-recognized event planning certifications

First, let’s dive into the event planning certifications that are the most widely recognized and most likely to open doors in your career.

1. CSEP: Certified special events professional

A CSEP certification is issued by the International Live Event Association (ILEA — formerly known as the International Special Event Society) and is internationally recognized and respected when it comes to event planning.

To get this certification, event planners must take an exam after they provide proof of at least three years of employment planning events.

2. CMP: Certified meeting professional

The CMP certification is for professionals who specialize in meeting, convention, and exhibition planning. This internationally recognized certification is issued by the Events Industry Council (EIC) and the eligibility requirements are rigorous.

To even apply to take the exam, candidates should be already employed in event planning, have at least three years of full-time event planning under their belt (or less if they’ve earned a relevant scholarly degree), and have recently completed 25 hours of industry-related continuing education or 200 internship hours.

3. CMM: Certificate in meeting management

A CMM certification, issued by Meeting Professionals International (MPI) and currently administered by Indiana University faculty, is reserved for management-level meeting and event planners.

Considered the highest level of professional development in the industry, getting a CMM is akin to getting a mini graduate degree. The course to earn a CMP is highly academic and includes reading, taking classes, and completing a final project. Applicants must have at least a decade of experience in the event management space.

7 Event planner designations that are relevant for 2021 & beyond

In this section, we want to introduce you to several especially timely designations that can help position you as a modern and relevant event professional in today’s world, where virtual and hybrid events are gaining prominence.

1. VEMM: Virtual event & meeting management

Issued by the Event Leadership Institute (ELI) in partnership with MPI, this multi-week course and certificate are for current event management professionals who would like to broaden their knowledge of event planning in the virtual space.

2. DES: Digital event strategist

A DES certificate, granted by the PCMA Digital Experience Institute, will help event planners earn global recognition as business event professionals in a digital-first world.

3. EDA: Event data analysis certificate

MPI’s EDA course helps professionals modernize their event management skills by teaching methods of collecting and creating insights from event data. This helps make sure they can more effectively report to stakeholders, measure ROI, and improve upon future events.

4. SEPC: Sustainable event professional

The SEPC program presented by EIC is a new effort to help event professionals increase the sustainability and positive social impact of their events.

5. IES: Inclusive event strategist

An IES designation from MPI ensures that event planners always have inclusivity for attendees top of mind when it comes to event design and execution.

6. ECC: Event crisis communications designation

Another offering from MPI, the ECC certificate program will teach event managers how to effectively communicate, coordinate an emergency response, and determine the future of an event if a crisis strikes.

7. PMED: Pandemic meeting & event design certificate

From ELI and MPI comes the cutting-edge PMED certificate, which is focused on event design in the wake of COVID-19 and how the pandemic may forever change the way we plan events when it comes to risk management, safety protocols, cancellation clauses, and much more.

5 More niche programs for event planners

Finally, if you’re looking to break into or level up your experience in key business sectors, check out these niche programs to see which aligns best with your goals.

1. CMP-HC: Certified meeting professional-healthcare

A subset of the CMP from EIC, the CMP-HC program was created to enable event professionals in healthcare meeting management to set themselves apart in this growing specialty.  

2. CCEP: Collegiate conference and events professional

The Association of Collegiate Conference and Events Directors-International (ACCED-I) offers the CCEP certificate program that outlines the professional standards and recognizes the best of the best event professionals when it comes to managing collegiate-level conferences and events.

3. CEM: Certified in exhibition management

The CEM designation by the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) was created to help exhibition managers around the world tailor their educational experience to best meet their career goals.

4. CGMP: Certified government meeting professional

The CGMP certificate from the Society of Government Meeting Professionals (SGMP) is the highest recognition for event planners and suppliers for the U.S. federal government. In fact, many government contracts now dictate that event workers have completed the CGMP program.

5. CTSM: Certified trade show marketer

Exhibitor Media Group offers the university-affiliated CTSM program to give trade show planning professionals an outlet for learning more about marketing, networking, receiving credit for their expertise, and more.

event management professionals

3 More ways to set yourself apart after all the event planning courses

In addition to pursuing recognition for your skills, there are a few more things you can do to really stand out from other event professionals.  

1. Grow your experience alongside your education

For many of the above programs, having experience is key.

While education is important in the event planning world, it’s still second — a close second — to experience.

So while you’re striving to snap up more and more of those certifications and certificates, remember that you must keep building your work experience along the way.

At the end of the day, all that recognition is meant to show that you’re skilled at event planning — and most of that skill is the result of real-life experience in the field.

2. Develop your online credibility

Especially as the event industry adopts more and more online elements, it’s important that your online presence is up to snuff.

Aside from your social media accounts, your website is the best way for potential employers and partners to get to know you online.

That means you need to devote some time to making sure your professional website doesn’t just look good but also includes important details, such as:

  • Your preferred niche(s)
  • A list of services
  • Some pricing details, if possible
  • Any work samples you have
  • Testimonials
  • Contact information
  • Your certifications, of course!
people judge event planning business based on website

3. Get familiar with industry-leading event planning software

And last but not least, one of the best ways to impress as an event management specialist is by arming yourself with in-depth knowledge of a powerful end-to-end event management platform.

Socio’s event platform helps event pros handle the entire event planning and management workflow with a whole host of features, the highlights of which include:

Get familiar with industry-leading event planning software
socio analytics

Aside from offering the most comprehensive and user-friendly event software in the industry, we also support all those event professionals who are looking to level up their careers with Socio Academy.

Browse and enroll in any of our digital courses and step up your game when it comes to both virtual and hybrid events of all sizes.

Which event planning preparations will you pursue?

Being an event pro in this day and age is of course about experience, but it’s also about education.

While you’re pondering which educational programs and credits are best for you, don’t forget another important element of your education — getting to know the ins and outs of advanced event software.

With Socio, you can advance both parts of your education.

Check out Socio Academy to evolve everything from your vendor negotiation skills to your tricks for keeping attendees engaged in the age of  “Zoom Fatigue.”  

And get familiar with Socio’s powerful platform by requesting a free, customized demo right now to see what it feels like to grow your event planning career in just a few clicks.

Olivia VanCuren
Olivia VanCuren

Content Marketing Specialist @ Socio. Words enthusiast. Passionate about events that foster meaningful connections.