David Wellington Finch, CMP, is the manager of meetings and trade shows at Amgen. He has over 20 years’ experience as an association, independent, and corporate meeting planner, and has planned meetings, trade shows, and special events in over 30 countries in North and South America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.
Q. What class do you teach?
I teach International Meeting Planning, and I’ve been teaching that at SDSU for about 14 years.
Q. What does your class cover?
The two main objectives or outcomes that I want students to learn and know about are: First, how to be a global citizen. To dispel those notions of the ugly American, and foster cultural understanding through the meetings you’re producing, and to understand the role the United States plays. I want students to become diplomats. Secondly, for them to not make the same mistakes that I have made, and to take what they already know about meeting planning and take it to the next level. My class is an advanced course, we cover budget estimates, and students should already know the nuances of negotiating contracts, selecting food and beverage, and selecting sites. And, international meetings take it to another level because there are many different layers and complexities, languages, time zones, and cultures. All those aspects layered on top, just add to the complexity of planning and meeting internationally.
Q: Do you have any in-class activities?
Yes, I have a couple of pop quizzes. I provide case studies that students have to read. They partner with another student and come back with a solution. One exercise is conducting a risk analysis on an actual program. They determine potential risks and how to be prepared to handle them. Every section that I cover has a respective checklist or handout. For instance, when we’re discussing food, beverage, and menu selection, I have a handout that talks about the various differences and times that meals are served in various parts of the world. For example in Latin America they don’t start dinner until much later in the evening.
Q: Any class highlights worth mentioning?
A lot of stuff that I have experienced over the years, by trial and error, is why I thought this class would be particularly useful for people. There are pieces and nuggets across the course that people find applicable. For example, I highlight resources through the U.S. State Department, which is a free resource. Most people don’t even think about using that resource before going to Barnes & Nobles and spending $20 on a guide book. I received feedback from students that that type of information is useful.
Q: Can you tell me a little about yourself and why you’re considered an expert in this field?
I’ve been in this industry for over 20 years and my degree is in international relations. I’ve lived overseas – in France and Austria – and went to school in Canada for a semester. My first job was with the international trade association. When I left D.C. after about ten years, and moved to California, I worked at a local San Diego meeting planning company. As an international project manager, all I was doing was international meetings. I asked the program administrator at SDSU why there wasn’t a course on international meeting planning – since it was up-and-coming, and a lot of companies were expanding globally. I thought the class would be very useful. I developed the course based on my years of experience – hands-on and in the field, managing programs all over the world: Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, and Asia. I think the only continent I haven’t been on is Antarctica.
Q: What is meeting and event planning?
It’s the ability to bring people together. We hear scuttle in the industry during down-turned economies, regarding how face-to-face meetings are going to disappear. That is just never going to happen. There is a business need and necessity to hold product conventions, get products to markets, bring sales forces together, and bring management people together. People need to meet for a reason – meeting fosters dialogue and communication. It’s a true business function and it’s the cost of doing business.
Q: So, what is the future of meeting and event planning?
I think with technology advancements and virtual technologies and applications, we will be able to do our jobs from any corner of the planet. I think the future is headed toward using technology as much as it is applicable. Gone are the days of the manual data entry and hand-written registration forms, or picking up the phone to select a site. We’re even looking at, from a cost perspective and an IT perspective, what kind of applications and technologies can we deploy out in the fields. For example, we just did a basic test program with iPads. And, all materials that we used to print, ship, destroy, shred, have gone away because it is all digital. That helps our environmental sustainability objectives as well.