Event planners make the world go ‘round. Their strategic and operational skills keep the plates spinning, businesses booming and employees motivated. Too often, however, they are behind the scenes—working their magic with RFPs, checklists and KPIs while others take the spotlight.
Not anymore. Smart Meetings is celebrating the essential role these hard-working professionals play every day.
Two months ago, we asked readers who inspired them in the field. We were overjoyed at the enthusiastic response. Praise poured in for the big-picture thinking, collaborative approach and can-do attitudes of all the worthy nominees. One was described as “The Energizer bunny with a Ph.D.” Another was called out as “a clear subject-matter expert who truly disrupts the status quo of events.” We particularly liked this endorsement: “She is the planner all other planners strive to be.”
Narrowing it down to these standouts was a difficult challenge, made only slightly easier by the knowledge that we will be back to share more stories next year. And great stories we did hear. We asked our chosen few about their signature events, their visions for an ideal event industry and what they are doing to make the dream real. Many are making mentorship a priority and give their time selflessly to newbies to the industry. Others serve on boards and work to raise the bar within their organizations.
We also asked about their biggest concerns and motivators. Believe it or not, only one planner mentioned coffee. But the sense that they are making a difference popped up repeatedly. Once you have read their thoughtful responses, we challenge you to join the conversation. Tell us what keeps you up at night and gets your engines going in the morning, and tag us #MeetSmart. You just might be quoted in the next Smart Meetings story.
President and CEO
2018 Special Olympics USA
HIGH-FIVE MOMENT: Setting the stage for 4,000 Special Olympics athletes from 50 states, 1,000 coaches, 10,000 family members, 15,000 volunteers and 50,000 spectators to celebrate the joy of sports.
VISION FOR AN IDEAL EVENTS WORLD: Events need to contribute to the quality of life in a region. The event industry needs to keep that at the forefront as a measure of success. Also, in a perfect world, everyone would follow deadlines and seek to exceed expectations.
TOP OF MY TO-DO LIST: I live by my own standards of excellence, and I push my team to do the same. I am constantly looking at how we can improve.
WHAT KEEPS ME UP AT NIGHT: Public safety is always a concern, but more so these days. Any time you have a large gathering, the health and safety of vendors, personal safety and being prepared for any kind of an emergency are required. That means more planning and training, so we are ready in case something happens. Then I can just hope it doesn’t happen.
WHY WILD HORSES CAN’T DRAG ME AWAY: I believe in making the world a better place. I want to bring something of quality to an event; that is my passion, my motivation.
Director and Owner
HIGH-FIVE MOMENT: In a past role, I produced Disneyland Paris’ fifth-anniversary celebration and Tour de France. Vibe Agency is a full-service production agency that specializes in strategic content creation, corporate-events planning and destination management services. From a 20-person executive board dinner to 1,500-guest event, we work to ensure every guest takes away a memorable experience. We create immersive experiences where every guest’s senses are stimulated progressively, from when they arrive to when they leave.
VISION FOR AN IDEAL EVENTS WORLD: Qualified client briefs allow us to create more tailored proposals that help suppliers make a decision faster and move from proposal to execution of the event without delay. It’s up to us to educate about the true needs for events, so those are optimal for execution. By working in complete transparency and an ethical manner, each member of the team can leverage expertise—flowers, catering, planning, logistics, DJ, etc.—for a better client outcome.
TOP OF MY TO-DO LIST: I always focus on honing and qualifying the brief from our clients in the very beginning to make sure we can manage expectations for accomplishing their goals and dreams for the event. After that is done, we are focused on choosing the right vendors to provide the best possible result for our client.
WHAT KEEPS ME UP AT NIGHT: Making sure things happen! At Vibe we are very team focused, and it’s my job at the helm to make sure everyone is thinking bigger and looking for new ways to create a great experience or solve a problem. We work by the principle of “If you want to run fast, run alone. If you want to run far, run together.” I’m always thinking of new ways to drive that home and inspire them to never give up, but rather to think about things differently. There is always more than one way to solve a problem or create an experience that’s unique.
WHY WILD HORSES CAN’T DRAG ME AWAY: My intuition and passion for this industry. I live and breathe my job. The world is changing every day, as is our industry. We have to adjust our way of doing business, which allows for an organic expression and growth. It’s my willingness to change and adapt with the business climate that will keep us relevant in the future, and that is a pretty strong motivator to keep pushing myself.
Tyra D. Dyson, CMP
Manager, Conference Programming
Association for Professionals in Infection Control & Epidemiology (APIC)
HIGH-FIVE MOMENT: The APIC Annual Conference draws 5,000 infection preventionists (IPs) and exhibitors who support the infection-prevention industry. The purpose of the annual conference is to bring together the most qualified thought leaders in the industry to discuss best practices and the challenges facing the infection-prevention and epidemiology community. APIC’s annual conference arms IPs with real-world solutions they can take back to their facilities, providing them with new strategies for reducing infections and saving lives.
VISION FOR AN IDEAL EVENTS WORLD: My vision for an ideal events industry would be to see more diversity and inclusion. There should be more opportunities for women in positions at the executive level, as women make up a huge portion of the events industry, but there are not many who hold executive-level positions. In addition, there is a very noticeable disparity among African Americans being acknowledged and selected for awards and recognition. In many trade publications and professional organizations, African-American planners are underrepresented. My vision is to see more African Americans being recognized for their contributions to the industry, and to see more women planners overall in executive-level positions.
TOP OF MY TO-DO LIST: Members of the Black Meeting and Event Professionals Facebook group and I have been on a mission to support each other in these efforts by nominating each other for awards and recognition. We are constantly sharing information and encouraging each other to apply for chapter positions when there is a call for committees and board members, so we can be part of the selection process for awards and recognition. We celebrate each other when one of us gets nominated for something or gets acknowledged in any way, no matter how small. We create dialog and provide advice to advance in the industry. We have also started training calls to discuss trending topics and best practices within the industry, so we keep a competitive edge. Therefore, this honor is so special and means so much to me and my colleagues, because, when one of us wins, we all win and can be encouraged about future opportunities.
WHAT KEEPS ME UP AT NIGHT: Details. I am such a perfectionist, and I spend a lot of time making sure things are presented in excellence; I review, review and review again to make sure nothing slips through the cracks. I admit I am a little OCD; it’s an occupational hazard. Since I am new to my current position, my biggest concern is having enough time to learn everything I need to know to accomplish my goals, exceed expectations and excel.
WHY WILD HORSES CAN’T DRAG ME AWAY: Knowing that every day is a new day, and I can be better and do better than the day before. I also listen to inspirational music to put me in positive mindset to start my day.
Sharon Essig, CIS, HMCC
Principal Meeting Planner
Maple Grove, Minnesota
HIGH-FIVE MOMENT: I am currently working on the Summer Sales Meeting for 141 people from Boston Scientific’s Corporate Accounts Division. We try to leave a positive footprint in the city where we meet. We are running a Superhero 5K Fun Run to raise funds for Camp Odayin, for children with heart disease. Boston Scientific will match all funds raised for our event. We want to be superheroes for kids with heart disease.
VISION FOR AN IDEAL EVENTS WORLD: I dream of a day on which all planners feel supported by one another and the industry as a whole. I love to see senior planners paying it forward by supporting those beginning in the industry. I appreciate the fresh, new ideas newcomers can bring to an event, and the knowledge and balance senior planners bring, as well.
TOP OF MY TO-DO LIST: I am mentoring employees within Boston Scientific who are new to the meeting-planning industry, and those who wish to break in to the meetings industry.
WHAT KEEPS ME UP AT NIGHT: I try my best to have my ‘t’s crossed and ‘i’s dotted to ensure I can sleep, but it’s the little details that make attendees feel special. I want everyone to feel welcome and special.
WHY WILD HORSES CAN’T DRAG ME AWAY: I am motivated by making a difference, and feeling as though I’ve contributed to the greater whole.
Director, Diversity and Talent Development
HIGH-FIVE MOMENT: Our annual national sales meeting brings together sales, leadership, in-store and international teams to celebrate the accomplishments of the past year and launch into the new year with strategies and tactics that drive business performance. It’s a weeklong program that includes a 100,000-square-foot vendor expo, more than 30 breakout and training sessions, an 1,800-person recognition dinner, three separate general sessions and a fun-filled off-site event along with many opportunities to network, swap stories and best practices, and refocus on AutoZone’s culture and values.
The highlight is when 3,000 AutoZoners in dress code (gray shirts, black pants) celebrate Wow! Customer Service in a pipe-and-drape covered, LED-lit hall, filling the space with sound and energy, yelling our pledge in unison: “A-U-T-O-Z-O-N-E! Who’s #1? The Customer! Who’s the Best! AutoZone! AutoZoners always put customers first! We know our parts and products. Our stores look great! We’ve got the best merchandise at the right price.” With one voice, they show why AutoZone’s success is unmatched after 39 years.
VISION FOR AN IDEAL EVENTS WORLD: Our opportunity is to be positively customer-focused, willing to share learnings and best practices to raise everyone up; and be engaged with, and care about, front-line employees, from on-boarding to active talent development throughout their careers. I envision an industry that really cares about people, knowing that the bottom line benefits when customers are happy and satisfied.
TOP OF MY TO-DO LIST: I currently chair Memphis Tourism and am a voting member of the Memphis Cook Convention Center transformation construction committee—to keep planners’ and customers’ needs in the forefront of the design and redevelopment of our city’s 40-year-old convention center.
WHAT KEEPS ME UP AT NIGHT: During an event, I think about what-ifs and contingency planning for crises, weather and last-minute program changes. Right now, I am excited about the changes happening in Memphis.
WHY WILD HORSES CAN’T DRAG ME AWAY: Taking care of AutoZoners and seeing them live the pledge—putting customers first, caring about people, embracing diversity and striving for exceptional performance.
Mindy Gunn, CMP, CMM
Vice President, Meeting and Event Planning Manager
HIGH-FIVE MOMENT: Among the hundreds of meetings I spearhead every year, the highlight is a series of recognition events to honor the organization¹s highest-performing team members (top 3 percent), who are nominated for their incredible contributions. Our team masterfully works to ensure each honoree feels genuinely appreciated from the moment they learn they are being recognized all the way through the gathering¹s finale. Along with some key vendor partners, we reward these employees by incorporating data management, RFID technology, multimedia production and interactive experiences, culminating in an unforgettable awards ceremony that celebrates how fortunate the company is to have these individuals on board.
VISION FOR AN IDEAL EVENTS WORLD: All parties involved, from suppliers to planners and clients, work seamlessly in tandem to achieve the best possible experience for everyone. Relationships are the No. 1 priority in our line of business. If you can trust your partners, together you can achieve anything and work toward a common goal, which ultimately brings us all closer together.
TOP OF MY TO-DO LIST: I believe in being honest and transparent with my event goals; everyone is a stakeholder, from my team to the vendors, to my internal partners. At my events, I empower every single person to have ownership over what I am confident they are best at doing, which results in all of us collectively exceeding our goals in the most efficient manner.
WHAT KEEPS ME UP AT NIGHT: Other than the residual effects of the energy drinks consumed throughout the day, I find myself constantly focused on our attendee experience. What more can I do? How can we make the event even more memorable? And while those thoughts constantly consume my free moments, I also have to remain vigilant on ensuring we maintain focus on information security and risk management, which always needs to be top of mind.
WHY WILD HORSES CAN’T DRAG ME AWAY: After two decades of constantly improving upon what I can to deliver my best in my career, I can confidently say I would not be able to accomplish my ideas without having a fantastic team as committed to providing superb event experiences as I am. They would do anything for me, our team members and customers to help us all triumph.
Cynthia J. Graddy, CMP, HMCC
Manager, Meetings & Professional Development
National Dental Association
HIGH-FIVE MOMENT: The NDA Annual Convention (we just celebrated our 105th annual convention) is a convening of more than 1,500 oral healthcare professionals: dentists, hygienists, dental assistants, dental students and corporate representatives. The primary purpose is to provide stellar continuing education, networking and business-development opportunities in an environment that fosters collegiality, develops new relationships and extends the goodwill of the oral-health profession. Simply put, we ensure that the millions of patients serviced by our members receive the highest quality of care provided by the best oral-health professionals available.
VISION FOR AN IDEAL EVENTS WORLD: Our continuation of an industry that embodies the word hospitality. We are truly ambassadors of our communities, countries and the profession. I sincerely hope that we continue to be lifelong learners and provide all we touch with an experience that is first-rate and of the highest quality. May we continue to inspire people to love the experience of being introduced to other cultures and places, and leave every place we visit better off for us having been there.
TOP OF MY TO-DO LIST: I introduce myself to new planners and suppliers and offer my help to them with anything they need. Not only does this create beneficial relationships and, many times, lifelong friendships, but it also allows me to learn from them as well. We must create a community of common interest, and that common interest is the continued success of our profession.
WHAT KEEPS ME UP AT NIGHT: The same thing that keeps every planner up: going over the minutia of meeting details. I try to ensure that our program offerings are responsive to the needs of our membership and the communities they serve.
WHY WILD HORSES CAN’T DRAG ME AWAY: A grande quad caramel macchiato with extra caramel and whipped cream. No, seriously, I am in constant awe of the fact that I get to do what I love for a living. I am well aware I am truly one of the lucky ones.
Vice President, Global Accounts
Greenville, South Carolina
HIGH-FIVE MOMENT: We had an 800-person, direct sale annual incentive group in Jamaica at the Hyatt Ziva and Zilara. One of the coolest receptions was a bubble reception at their pool area. It was a combination of great food, great music and an atmosphere that was almost dream-like.
VISION FOR AN IDEAL EVENTS WORLD: Better partnerships between intermediaries working hand-and-hand with hotel partners to create world-class events for the end user. Really working together to create that “wow” memorable experience.
TOP OF MY TO-DO LIST: Life is all about relationships, and I work on those every day, and value and trust the partners who have the same philosophy.
WHAT KEEPS ME UP AT NIGHT: Revenue management and financial maximization philosophies at select major hotel brands. I am always focused on taking care of my customer. Every day I wake up thinking about how to create value and deliver world-class service.
WHY WILD HORSES CAN’T DRAG ME AWAY: My wife, kids and family.
Stephanie Jones, CMP, CAE
Senior Director, Conferences and Events Management
Water Environment Federation
Upper Marlboro, Maryland
HIGH-FIVE MOMENT: Water Environment Federation’s Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC) is the largest of its kind in North America and offers water-quality professionals from around the world the best water-quality education and training available. Registration ranges from 22,000 to 25,000 attendees, with more than 1,000 exhibitors and 300,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space. WEFTEC recently celebrated its 90th anniversary in Chicago, where the first event took place.
VISION FOR AN IDEAL EVENTS WORLD: First, we need more diversity and inclusiveness in the industry, particularly on the boards that represent the industry, with awards that recognize and celebrate talented individuals in the industry, and in positions that influence the future of the industry. Through diversity and inclusion, we can bring individuals together to share their unique viewpoints and spark innovation. Innovation will be a key driver of success, both for the industry and for our own individual events.
Second, I would like to see the historical role of a meeting planner change within organizations. We are well beyond the traditional duties of focusing only on event logistics. Meeting planners should embrace and acknowledge that we are business-events strategists, and our input to fulfill our organizations’ mission and strategy is sufficient evidence that we deserve a seat in the C-Suite. Each event we plan is part of the organization’s overall business strategy, and we should be advising leadership on how the events we plan help further the organization’s purpose.
TOP OF MY TO-DO LIST: I am actively looking for opportunities where I can bring my unique perspective and expertise to the forefront to spark innovation and support my diverse cohorts to do the same. Recently, I sat on PCMA’s Education Conference committee, where the program featured content that aligned with PCMA’s new Ascent program. This program seeks to empower those challenged by gender, sexual origination, race, ethnicity or disabilities to find success in the industry. I am also a current ASAE Diversity Executive Leadership Program scholar and serve as a mentor to young professionals.
WHY WILD HORSES CAN’T DRAG ME AWAY: WEFTEC turns 91 years old this September and is the major revenue generator for the organization. What keeps me up is how to sustain and grow revenue, while maintaining relevancy amid the disruptions we see happening in the industry; particularly, the changing demographics of our members and attendees, as well as how technology may affect the trade show of the future.
Senior Vice President
HIGH-FIVE MOMENT: My team contracts more than 300 meetings per year for various associations and corporate customers. Each meeting is unique, and we work hard to understand what the desired outcomes are for each event for our end-user customer and, ultimately, the attendee. In the morning, I may be working on a hotel contract for a high-end resort where CEOs of major media companies will be attending. For this meeting, we want to keep costs in line, but they are not the top priority in the planning process. Later that day, I may be working on another contract for a health-care association that provides training for workers helping low-income patients; every dollar spent is closely monitored and needs to be justified. My day varies because the customer’s needs dictate the site selection and hotel-contracting process.
VISION FOR AN IDEAL EVENTS WORLD: I reminisce for the good old days when the hotel sales manager worked on property, and she knew all the ins and out of the hotel. In today’s marketplace, so much is done via electronic RFP and email that you no longer have that personal connection. I enjoyed having lunch or drinks with a hotel sales manager to get to know the person and build a relationship with them to assist with future bookings. I would like to go back to more face-to-face meetings and even a phone call instead of email all day.
TOP OF MY TO-DO LIST: I try to avoid hotels that have a central sales office and no property sales manager. If I am forced to utilize a call center, I copy my national salesperson on all correspondence, as they can assist with the negotiations and know the total revenue and my buying power with that particular chain. For on-site inspections, I make a point to meet the general manager, who can step in during a difficult negotiation or be a resource if something goes astray the day of the meeting.
WHAT KEEPS ME UP AT NIGHT: The hotel business is robust, and I see a lot more added fees or additional costs being put into contracts. A good example is how in a large East Coast city, the union contract calls for a $10 porterage fee for all groups that have rooms and tax billed to their accounts. Most of the arriving attendees do not use this service, as their bags are on wheels, and they would rather just go to their room themselves. My job is to work with the hotel to reduce costs in other areas to compensate the attendee and the customer for this added fee. Hotels are getting very creative in what they are trying to insert into contracts, so you really need to monitor closely.
WHY WILD HORSES CAN’T DRAG ME AWAY: Boot camp three days a week wearing my heart monitor. If I don’t make my target heart rate, I get a nasty email from the fitness company saying I missed my quota for the day.
Lynette Owens & Associates
HIGH-FIVE MOMENT: An annual insurance incentive for 900 people on Fourth of July at an iconic location—historic Waldorf Astoria New York—featuring a fireworks program on the Hudson. It includes visits to The National September 11 Memorial & Museum and patriotic events where all qualifiers and guests were overwhelmed by this amazing country!
VISION FOR AN IDEAL EVENTS WORLD: It will continue to provide a means for all group and travel participants to experience a memorable, rewarding and safe travel experience. In the more than 30 years I have been involved in this industry, I’ve experienced many changes, thanks to the hard work and efforts of great leaders in the hotel and travel industries and superb media outlets such as Smart Meetings!
TOP OF MY TO-DO LIST: I continue to build memories for all qualifiers and participants to share for many years to come. My entire career has been focused on the insurance incentive market, my highly ethical and loyal clients. I have built an enormous group of dear friends and colleagues, which I could never replace. My vision is to continue this effort on their behalf!
WHAT KEEPS ME UP AT NIGHT: Safety and staying highly creative! To create that “wow” factor that is so important to this industry, you always have to stay one step ahead.
WHY WILD HORSES CAN’T DRAG ME AWAY: Taking care of the needs of my dear friends and clients. I wake up knowing that our clients’ qualifiers will be rewarded for their hard work, so they can stay motivated!
Sej Pandya, CMP
New York City
HIGH-FIVE MOMENT: On my first day of a new job, we had a large trade show in Boston coming up in two months, and I was told we had no venue. I have never worked so hard to source a space in a day, while also making sure to create an experience. The purpose was to continue building relationships with the clients, but for me it was to come up with a way to bring the city and experience into one. I sourced the Cheers Bar. Clients walked in and saw look-alike cast members sitting at the bar, greeting them, and they loved every minute of it, from the pictures to the memorabilia they received.
VISION FOR AN IDEAL EVENTS WORLD: In an ideal world, companies would not underutilize their events team and consider them order-takers. They would understand that we bring value and should have a seat at the table when discussing the event as a whole, instead of just managing the logistics. We create experiences; we know what excites the audience; we know what technology to use to elevate those experiences. And, most of all, we bring in the brand and can tie it into every element of the event, creating the “wow” factor.
TOP OF MY TO-DO LIST: Going above and beyond what is being asked by coming up with content ideas along with ways to incorporate technology—from great speakers to upgrading registration using technology. I’m always looking for ways to raise the bar.
WHAT KEEPS ME UP AT NIGHT: Making sure I have every detail of every event covered. I want to give my all to every aspect of my life.
WHY WILD HORSES CAN’T DRAG ME AWAY: My two girls—showing them that passion, hard work and consistency will open doors and unleash confidence, which is much more satisfying than just a paycheck.
Director of Meetings and Travel
HIGH-FIVE MOMENT: One event that particularly demanded more flexibility and “cooperation with natural elements” was hosting a beachside Super Bowl Party for 2,200 participants in Cancun. All night wind patrol and a tempering of adrenaline levels was required in the preparatory phase as the Caribbean winds mercilessly beat against beach bleachers, pinatas representing the respective teams graciously made by a local charity, and the LED screen suspended from the Jacuzzi. In the end, the event was seamless—even blanketed by a full moon—the menu, seating, viewing, tattooing stand and interactive participation exercises were appreciated by invitees.
VISION FOR AN IDEAL EVENTS WORLD: To conserve time, a streamlined flight registration and embarking process overriding TSA security screening measures for frequent, registered travelers would be instituted. Upon arrival at our destination, room assignment and key access would be granted via an app. Requests for meeting rooms and their oversight as well as sleeping room services for cleaning, bar additions, etc. would be robotically managed. Streams of communication within AV (simulcast, virtual meetings, regional, remote access) would be technically enhanced and cost efficient for all. To reduce carbon imprint, foods would be produced on-site or only locally. Transport would be provided via renewable, alternative energy sources. Allegis Group embraces face-to-face interaction as an important core value. Thus, a hybrid of the above would be in alignment and complement our meeting process. Communication with our sales force and CSM would still require some face-to-face as well as technology. Genuine relationships, trust and respect within the hospitality industry are built on face-to-face interaction and are needed to be successful.
TOP OF MY TO-DO LIST: In order to maximize human and capital resources, Allegis Group has implemented the Cvent tool in its entirety from sourcing to budgeting. We utilize Concur to permit self-governing of flight confirmations for each training, meeting and incentive trip. Upon assessment of these strategies, we now have the ability to positively impact the productivity and financial ramifications within the organization—and most importantly continue to provide “world class service” to our customers.
WHAT KEEPS ME UP AT NIGHT: With explosive global technological growth and industry access available to virtually anyone, the interpretation of delivering exceptional services is getting lost. The standards of service are inconsistent systemwide, often lacking respect for the stakeholders and an unmotivated embrace to “go the extra mile.” Our consumers are now seeking experiential rewards rather than materialistic ones and deserve uncompromising service, “an experience etched in memory.” As meeting planners who rely on partnering with others to deliver exceptional value, the endeavor to give my best can be challenging if others don’t have a desire to do the same.
WHY WILD HORSES CAN’T DRAG ME AWAY: I am impassioned to be a part of the Allegis Group. My commitment to the standards of integrity, professionalism, corporate diligence and community outreach motivate me beyond measure. I am aware and most grateful to have been afforded a career trajectory with such varied and interesting opportunities for both professional and personal growth.
HIGH-FIVE MOMENT: PayScale User Compference is a curated event for 750 human resources and compensation professionals to come together to learn, network and collaborate. Content is focused on how compensation impacts business as a whole and, of course, the bottom line. I am proud and honored to say that in just three short years, this program has grown by 200 percent, with no signs of stopping.
VISION FOR AN IDEAL EVENTS WORLD: I look forward to a day that includes widespread collaboration, networking, innovation and mind-sharing. It is an industry where event planners come together to share resources, new ideas, trends and best practices in a sustainable manner that allows each and every event—large or small—to outshine the last.
TOP OF MY TO-DO LIST: I am investing time and resources to attend conferences focused on continuing education in our industry. I am actively working on building my network of resources, contacts and ideas—and at the same time sharing my experience and knowledge. Learning new things, making connections and cultivating relationships with like-minded people is my passion. There is no end to how our industry and its technology will continue to develop, and I’m determined to grow alongside that progress.
WHAT KEEPS ME UP AT NIGHT: The rate at which this industry is changing and developing. I feel like it’s impossible to consume, digest and apply all the information. My goal is to maintain Dynamic Event’s reputation of being on the cusp of event technology and innovation. I want to ensure that the technology we recommend to our clients fits their needs exactly. I want to be confident in my knowledge of event technology and be able to utilize all the amazing tools we have at our fingertips to make amazing memories for my clients. Each event is different; each client is different; and I believe there is a tool out there for everyone.
WHY WILD HORSES CAN’T DRAG ME AWAY: There is so much truth to the quote, “Love what you do, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I am so passionate about the events industry and so thankful that I get to wake up every morning and spend my day with purpose and passion. That, and my Goldendoodle, Wilson, are what get me up in the morning—and keep me going through the night!
Ben Quigley, CMP
Director, Meetings & Industry Events
Food Marketing Institute (FMI)
Arlington, Virginia, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
HIGH-FIVE MOMENT: The FMI Midwinter Executive Conference is an invitation-only event that brings together more than 1,000 C-suite-level executives in the global food retail industry. This premier event provides the opportunity to connect the most prominent food and supermarket retailers with top industry suppliers and food manufacturers. FMI Midwinter creates a complete experience for the attendee with a mix of high-level education, world-class entertainment, strategic business meetings, networking opportunities, leisure activities and fundraising events.
VISION FOR AN IDEAL EVENTS WORLD: I foresee a day that is inclusive, challenges attendees and planners, and acknowledges the past, but is always moving forward with fresh ideas and strategies. Especially with new technology, I think our industry is one that should be in constant change, quick to adapt and looking for continuous improvement. I also think the main driver of the industry should be the overall attendee experience—not budgets or staff workloads. We should constantly be examining the best way for us to bring people together for a meeting.
TOP OF MY TO-DO LIST: I think it is imperative to share ideas, strategies and best practices within the industry, and I try and do this on a regular basis. Being able to have an open dialogue with other planners about trying new things or providing feedback on what has worked or hasn’t worked is important to me and the success of our events. I’m happy to share my ideas and embrace the ideas of other planners. While it is easy to do something just because that is the way it has always been done, I try to find new and progressive ways to keep meetings fresh and improve efficiencies.
WHAT KEEPS ME UP AT NIGHT: I’m constantly concerned about making sure we are delivering on the promise to make the attendee experience the best possible. I hope that we can beat budget and that attendees walk away with a great ROI and want to return the following year. Trying to be forward-thinking and trying to create new event features with limited budgets is also a concern. Additionally, attendee safety and security can cause anxiety. Of course, on site at an event I always worry that my alarm won’t go off when it is supposed to. This causes me to lose sleep because I think I will oversleep!
WHY WILD HORSES CAN’T DRAG ME AWAY: Relationships and people! Being a part of a great team makes getting up each morning worth all the stress. Working with brilliant and dedicated staff members on my team and the other departments across the organization is very rewarding. Also getting the chance to partner with destinations, properties and vendors that are just as invested in the success of our events as we are is amazing. It is exciting and gratifying to be able to see an event come together from the earliest planning stages to being on site. Being able to move all the puzzle pieces to form a great event and seeing it completed and successful is a great feeling. You can truly see all your hard work pay off.
Mendee Rock, LNHA, M.Ed.
Vice President, Membership Services
Georgia Health Care Association
HIGH-FIVE MOMENT: GHCA/GCAL Winter Convention and Trade Show provides education and networking opportunities to approximately 800 long-term and post-acute care professionals with a 150-booth trade show. Our most recent event occurred during Atlanta’s January snow and ice storm. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal had instructed everyone to stay off the roads. Schools and most Atlanta businesses closed. We had to go into immediate emergency management to salvage the event and provide value to our exhibitors, sponsors and attendees.
Through unique partnerships and communication strategies with key stakeholders, and constant communication with our participants through our event app, event management system, phone calls and impromptu live meetings, we managed to hold engaging sessions even when original speakers failed to show; and a successful trade show when exhibitor move-in was on a day that travel was discouraged. One of our greatest moments was when one of our exhibitors agreed to speak to the attendees about his experience traveling through inclement weather to be there, and his own dedication to our event and our attendees over the course of 20 years. This was a shining moment that highlighted the value that our participants see in our event and the people who come together for It. That was an emotional moment that highlighted mutual appreciation, respect and a level of loyalty to our association’s mission and values. It spoke volumes about our success when, truly, the expectation was for people to stay at home.
VISION FOR AN IDEAL EVENTS WORLD: A better tomorrow is built on a high level of teamwork, based on trusting relationships—to create the ultimate experience for all participants. When snow and ice struck our event, we experienced the reality of just how important trusting relationships are to teamwork. These relationships do not form magically. They require a willingness to engage in constructive conflict with one another; admit mistakes, weaknesses and concerns; and have a collective sense of responsibility and accountability for the end results.
TOP OF MY TO-DO LIST: One thing I discovered a long time ago is that a professional cannot plan a successful event without advice and support of the people who will attend. With the significant impact of weather to our exhibitors and sponsors, we formed a special work group out of our main event advisement committee to assist with how we can add value to our next Winter Convention and Trade Show. Naturally, they want meaningful conversations with the right people. One approach we are taking is to redefine how we categorize our attendees, exhibitors and sponsors by completely taking everyone out of the label boxes we have used for years and giving us a fresh perspective by defining common professional interests.
WHAT KEEPS ME UP AT NIGHT: The one recurring theme that we stay focused on is value. How can we bring value to our events? Everyone involved in our events invests resources, especially their time, their talents and their money. Not only do I want our team to be able to create and deliver enhanced and enduring value, but we also have to be able to communicate powerful messages regarding that value before the event, during the event and after the event, so that everyone can take advantage of the experiences we are offering.
WHY WILD HORSES CAN’T DRAG ME AWAY: I am passionate about the people I serve. I remind myself every day that they have battles, struggles and challenges, and through our events, we have the opportunity to lift them up, encourage and inspire them. I work for an organization that I can believe in, staffed by a high-functioning team of individuals who contribute their expertise to see that our projects succeed. Certainly, I am not alone when I say there are times when I am not as engaged as other days. When that happens, I have created relationships with the people I work with who help to keep me and our projects strong and moving forward.
Rebecca L. Wakefield, CMP
Montvale, New Jersey
HIGH-FIVE MOMENT: Every event is its own signature event in the sense each event has its own personality. It is a “wow” moment when the curtain goes up and the meeting begins, due to the collaboration and hard work of your team.
VISION FOR AN IDEAL EVENTS WORLD: I want to impress on newer industry members the importance of networking with peers and other dedicated professionals in the field. Get involved in industry associations, especially MPI.
TOP OF MY TO-DO LIST: I am president-elect for the MPI New Jersey Chapter and have been involved in the chapter for many years, wearing many different hats at different times of my career.
WHAT KEEPS ME UP AT NIGHT: While this does not actually keep me up at night, I am always concerned about the safety of my meeting attendees, and any risk that may arise during an event. The world is moving a lot faster these days, and you need to be prepared as much as you possibly can.
WHY WILD HORSES CAN’T DRAG ME AWAY: I truly enjoy my career and putting all the pieces of the meeting together, and then seeing a successful event come to fruition. You are only as good as your last event, so you are constantly being challenged.
Heather Lynch Walters
President and Owner
Elm Planning, LLC
HIGH-FIVE MOMENT: In addition to corporate meeting planning, Elm Planning specializes in pharmaceutical/biotech medical meetings. Our signature event was a worldwide series of investigator meetings for a new therapy regimen for cancer, spanning 17 days in five international cities—Athens and Thessaloniki on mainland Greece; Heraklion, Crete; Tel Aviv; and Sydney. As a full-service planner, we coordinated every aspect of the logistics for the meeting, from sourcing, travel and visas to on-site support and planning for the 300 participating physicians from 12 countries, and 20 client employees. The success of these meetings led to our client exceeding projected new patient enrollment and participation in the initial phase of the clinical trial.
VISION FOR AN IDEAL EVENTS WORLD: Deep-rooted relationships between the external planner and client based on trust is the ideal. At Elm Planning, we pride ourselves in understanding and anticipating the unique needs of each client and event by listening and drawing upon our experience to share what works and won’t work.
TOP OF MY TO-DO LIST: Despite being the founder, Elm is not an “I,” but a “we,” a family. We are successful due to the absolute best and most experienced team in the industry. We want our team to be self-sufficient, with the ability to build client relations and empowered to use creativity to do what’s right for our customers.
WHAT KEEPS ME UP AT NIGHT: I never want to become “the boss,” where I am viewed in a negative light by the people who work with me. It’s my hope that our people look forward to work each day, knowing they are making a difference for our customers. I’ve worked very hard to build a company based on teamwork and trust, where our people are always encouraged and supported to grow professionally. I’ve worked to ensure our team loves what they do and share in Elm’s success.
WHY WILD HORSES CAN’T DRAG ME AWAY: The relationships we’ve built with our clients. There is no greater feeling than when a client transitions to a new company and brings us with them to plan their events and meetings. We get to continue our partnership while we work to build new long-lasting relationships with a new team.
It motivates me every day to strengthen relationships and live our values, so that Elm is truly a valued partner and the first call someone makes when they advance to a new organization. It’s a tremendous source of pride that this has been the sole way we’ve grown, and it’s all due to high standards, values and the Elm team.
Kerri L. Wawrin, CMP
Westfield Center, Ohio
HIGH-FIVE MOMENT: An internal recognition event and celebration of success for the 50 Top Achievers in new business production during the last quarter of 2016 and first quarter of 2017. Our independent insurance agents represent many companies, but excel with us. The objective of the event was to wine and dine, cater to the agents, make them feel special and rewarded, and to provide them further incentive for the coming year’s production with Westfield. The overall reward was a three-day, two-night event on the campus of Westfield Insurance in Westfield Center. They traveled to dinner at MAPS Museum via luxury coaches and heard an address from retired Lt. Col. Rob ‘Waldo’ Waldman, The Wingman. It was the ultimate recognition and celebration.
VISION FOR AN IDEAL EVENTS WORLD: We need appreciation and understanding of the strategic nature of the job by all nonindustry professionals who partner with event planners. Events are a medium of marketing. Event planners take an intangible idea and make it come to life through tangible personal experience. This does not occur without design-thinking, business aptitude and agile project management skills. We are professionals and experts at our craft.
TOP OF MY TO-DO LIST: I work diligently at trying to change the mindset and create a paradigm shift through my daily work and my involvement in industry groups, such as ILEA and MPI, as well as through mentorship of young professionals and recent graduates entering the industry. I challenge old-school thinking, processes and approaches whenever I encounter them. We must know our value to be of value.
WHAT KEEPS ME UP AT NIGHT: Perpetuation of the industry through the engagement of technology. As technology advances, it becomes even more important to show that event planning is strategic and tactical, not just task-oriented. The more we align with our customer’s and business partner’s key performance indicators and meet their expectations and ROI using technology, the less of a threat is it that we will be replaced by technology—and therefore can perpetuate the industry.
WHY WILD HORSES CAN’T DRAG ME AWAY: Knowing that every day is different and new. Every day is part of the learning curve of life.
Vice President, Meetings, Marketing and Communications
Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA)
HIGH-FIVE MOMENT: CADCA’s National Leadership Forum is a four-day training event packed with opportunities to learn the latest strategies to fight substance abuse and hear from nationally known prevention experts, federal administrators and concerned policymakers. The Forum brings together more than 3,100 prevention professionals representing coalitions and public and private organizations from all regions of the country and internationally. Our “wow” moment is the National Leadership Awards Luncheon, where we celebrate individuals and organizations who have made a major impact in the field with all the style and flair—from table settings to florals—of a formal event.
VISION FOR AN IDEAL EVENTS WORLD: An ideal events industry is one where suppliers and planners work collaboratively to build strong, flexible partnerships that keep pace with organizational growth and change. For our industry to truly thrive, creativity and resourcefulness must be cornerstones, and we need to build excitement about working in this field with next-generation planners.
TOP OF MY TO-DO LIST: Communication, communication, communication! The key to maintaining mutually effective partnerships is communicating beyond the point of contracting, particularly when events are booked out years in advance. Having regular and consistent touch points with your supplier counterparts not only strengthens relationships, but also enables all parties to better address shifts in an event.
WHAT KEEPS ME UP AT NIGHT: We’ve built it…will they come? As planners, we instinctively know how to project, budget, plan and then build in contingencies for all those plans! But predicting attendee behaviors and patterns is an ever-evolving science, affected by an infinite number of variables. As skilled meetings professionals, we know how to structure effective events that mitigate against attendance dips, but it’s always a concern.
WHY WILD HORSES CAN’T DRAG ME AWAY: Mentoring the next generation of meetings professionals. I have been fortunate to work with talented individuals on both the planner and supplier sides; have learned a great deal; and have been able to produce some amazing events! I enjoy sharing that knowledge base with others and watching them take our industry to the next level.
Patricia F Zollman, CMP, CMM, HMCC
Senior Director, Global Accounts
HIGH-FIVE MOMENT: I have about 25 clients I work with to source locations for their meetings and conferences. I have been doing this for 21 years now, and it is always a good feeling when you can partner with hotels and clients to find that location that works for their budgets and fulfills their goals and objectives. I love problem-solving and supporting the client through their whole process. I even love negotiating and working the contracts. When the hotel says to the client, “Wow, this is a great contract,” I know I have done a good job.
VISION FOR AN IDEAL EVENTS WORLD: I would love to see the 1980s mentality go away in buyers and sellers, and have us all look at each piece of business as if we were doing business and each of us getting what we need. We are all in this profession together, and partnership needs to really mean something. We need to walk in each other’s shoes to see the value of the services we are all providing, and treat each other with respect. We live in an age when we need to make sure that our conferences are secure from data breaches as well as from all outside threats. We are no longer the party planners of long ago. We design experiences and contribute to the learning of all the delegates. We need to provide attendees with a safe, inclusive experience by considering everything from meals to bathroom choices.
TOP OF MY TO-DO LIST: It is really making sure that what the client is concerned about is included on the RFP right from the beginning, so the ideal location is in sync with the client’s vision.
WHAT KEEPS ME UP AT NIGHT: Having enough time in the day to do everything I want and working on my volunteer activities as well. I teach a CMP class in Northern California and started the classes in Arizona. I work on the sponsorship program with PCMCNCC and helping CalSAE with Seasonal Spectacular and Elevate.
WHY WILD HORSES CAN’T DRAG ME AWAY: Getting to work with my amazing clients in an industry that I love.