Dionne Bishop, CSEP

Founder/CEO, Events by Dionne Inc. 

Just Keep Swimming

Aha Moment: I quit the industry several years back and took time off to focus on my mental health.  When I felt like myself again, I knew all I wanted to do was plan a conference for an old client in the creative industry. When  I got back behind my laptop, the ideas started flowing and speakers were asking me to be a part of the program, that’s when I knew I was home. I was exactly where I needed to be.

What One Thing Made All the Difference? Asking for help from professionals who were ahead of me in their careers. Anytime I got confused or hit a roadblock I took a minute to breathe and then asked someone for advice or simply a different perspective. This  allowed me to keep my eye on the prize to continue growing my skill set and emotional bandwidth for the job.

Advice for Younger Self: Breathe, ask for help sooner and remember that no one is perfect, nothing is foolproof and people won’t remember most of it anyways. 

Next Goal: The next goal is to have a solid team here in Toronto so I can focus on expanding the business to the west coast.

Jasmine O. Dyson

Chief Brand Officer, The Brand Xperience Lounge

Authenticity, Innovation, Disruption

Aha Moment: The meetings and events industry has always been a part of my life. Growing up I watched my mom plan, produce and execute a plethora of events from school fashion shows to large trade shows. The experiences, comradery, and relationships that developed were a testament to the strong connections that can be built through convening. Eight years ago when I started my company, I knew that in-person events were the fastest and most effective way to connect with my audience. I didn’t have a huge marketing budget (like many startups) so I needed a way to maximize my impact and showcase my work. Meetings and events helped me do just that. 

What One Thing Made All the Difference? Ditched my dream career for my dream life. In a world fueled by the “American dream,” it’s easy to subscribe to a life that is built on the thoughts, desires and expectations of other people. Then you look up one day and realize that you’ve been chasing a mission you don’t even believe in and sacrificing the best parts of yourself along the way. When I shifted from building my dream career to building my dream life, I was able to produce more impactful and meaningful work, while attracting the opportunities that were perfectly-aligned with my personality, skill set and lifestyle.

Advice for My Younger Self: My advice would be to fail forward and trust the sound of your own voice. When we encounter trouble, it’s natural to seek outside guidance to escape the process of the journey. Oftentimes that causes us to miss out on the lesson and transformation that comes along with riding that thing out. Learning to master your intuition and internal dialogue will help you bounce back quicker, smarter and better than before.

Next Goal: My personal mission has always been to improve the economic sustainability of urban communities, minorities, and people of color. As my company builds on that mission, our focus has expanded to addressing the corporate social responsibility of trade associations using the marriage between internal branding and external marketing practices. I believe that great brands should yield to the experiences of their target audience while investing in solutions that provide an equitable foundation for people to thrive. Post-Covid, there is a greater need to develop strategies that prioritize a people-centered marketing approach. As a Fractional CMO, I will spearhead this mission by working alongside these organizations to do just that. 

Deborah Elias, CSEP, CMP, CIS

President, Elias Events, LLC

Think It Through

Aha Moment: I started out with a degree in biomedical science and planned to become a doctor.  I realized one day that wouldn’t make me happy and that I would much rather plan events, as it came so naturally to me.  It wasn’t an easy transition starting over in a new field and especially one that itself was starting to grow, but one that was well worth it.  Twenty-five years and many award-winning events later, I have come to adore this industry and am passionate about its innovations and advancements.

What One Thing Made All the Difference? I learned the value early on in networking and attending meetings, conferences and tradeshows. Those types of functions allowed me to gain knowledge and more importantly garner relationships that helped me grow and advance my career.

Advice for My Younger Self: This too shall pass. If you can completely start over and grow a successful business out of nothing, you can do anything.

Next Goal: Although in the past 10 years, I have spoken at various industry conferences, all of those have been non-paid engagements. I would like to become a paid speaker for my unique session called Keeping Up With the WOW, where I talk about trends and technology that drive this amazing industry.  

Helene Falgia

Founder & CEO, HIF Consulting LLC, DBA, Fancy Meeting You Here

Passionate, Dedicated, Compassionate

Aha Moment: After leaving my role as a CFO, I fell into the meeting industry. I was doing well, but it was all new to me. I had never attended an industry conference or FAM trip before, I didn’t even know what they were. Then one day I met someone that introduced all of this to me and what a change it made for me. It was so nice to collaborate with colleagues. The camaraderie and creativity made me feel complete.

What One Thing Makes All the Difference? Making a leap and taking a chance by changing my career! I studied accounting and was a CFO for 15 years.  Boring!! Changing careers and finding something that I really enjoyed doing was wonderful. I am a people person and a problem solver, so this career change definitely suited me. It allowed me to unleash all of my positive energy by engaging in a collaborative manner with a diverse group of clients and stakeholders to create cost effective, fresh and vibrant programs that meet their goals and objectives while fostering deep and fulfilling professional and personal relationships.

Advice for My Younger Self: Stay positive and understand that there will be peaks and valleys in all aspects of your life both personal and professional.  Understand that life is about choices and the decisions you make today will continue to impact your life in the future. You need to stay focused and committed to your goals and dreams during times of adversity in order to celebrate and enjoy your accomplishments and life’s major milestones. In the end you need to learn to enjoy the journey and to stay true to yourself – what appears to be very important in the moment is usually not that critical when you look back on it.

Next Goal: Travel with Purpose! I have always tried to incorporate a charitable team building event at all my meetings.  So following my passion and my heart I took the natural next step in the process, and I started a charity during the pandemic called “The Global Giving Tree”.  My charity is dual focused on protecting animals and helping communities in need.  Recently, I have been organizing trips to Kenya so that people can see what we are doing with the wildlife and community there.  I would love to continue to organize these kinds of trips to various parts of the world.  

Adriana Gallegos

CEO, Chief Event Curator, Perfect Timing Events

Everything is Figureoutable 

Aha Moment: As a little girl, my mom used to dress up as a clown for children’s birthday parties and take me with her every weekend to multiple parties in a day. I think that is when it all began for me. As I grew older I found myself always gravitating to the event planning world. In 2005 while working my full time job as a corporate event planner, I also started planning weddings on the side. I love working on both corporate and social events and am passionate about serving others by ensuring their event is as perfect as possible. After all, you only get one chance to get that day right. 

What One Thing Made All the Difference? I charted my own career growth plan. I always knew I was going to be an entrepreneur, so I knew I needed to place myself in positions that would teach me skills I could apply when I opened my own business. I started as a Private Dining Coordinator, promoted to a Food & Beverage Manager, then to a Regional Training Manager and eventually an HR Manager all in the hotel world. I transitioned over to the DMC world for a bit and then was recruited to work at a few startup event tech companies. 

Advice for My Younger Self: Chin up buttercup, you are on the right path and you are doing great! Remember God’s plan for you is far greater than you can ever imagine. Find rest in knowing all things happen in God’s Perfect Timing, not yours. Continue to dream big, work hard, stay focused, stay determined and never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something because after all, Everything is Figureoutable! 

Next Goal: Oh boy, I have a long list of goals to achieve. As much as I want to build an empire and create generational wealth for my family NOW, I recognize that I need to slow down and enjoy the season of life that I am currently in as a wife, mom of two little boys and an entrepreneur. My NEXT business goal for this year is to get officially certified as a minority owned and women owned business. 

Jade Gooding

Founder, CEO, Elevated Exposure Worldwide 

Balance, Exclusivity, Self-Assessment

Aha Moment: I have an illustrious background in events as I have worked in the industry for 15 years plus. I started working in my family business managing events and organizations ranging from 50 people into the thousands. During this time, excellent communication, managerial skills and thoroughness were a part of my daily life. As I started to grow my personal mission, I decided that although I am appreciative of my family, it was not my own and I decided I wanted to trailblaze my own path and took the leap July 2021. 

What One Thing Made All the Difference? Years ago, I was dealing with a client whose morals did not match my own and found myself executing an event at a venue riddled with a history of inhumane and racist conditions. I gave them my best attitude and services but left feeling drained, unfulfilled and disappointed in myself. From that moment forward, I vowed to work with like minded peers whose events and brand aligned with my personal vision and internal morals. That moment catapulted me into a world of creatives who had the ideas but no means to execute and that is how EEW was born.

Advice for My Younger Self: I would keep it brief because her experiences, successes and traumas made me into the woman I am today. However, I would say to her to stay true to yourself, do the hard work, and love hard on those who love you.

Next Goal: My next target is to self-produce my own event/festival. I have envisioned this for five years – now with all of my relationships within my community and beyond, my commitment to service, and support from my loved ones I have gotten to a place where I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and all I can do is smile and show gratitude to everyone who has helped me along on this journey. 

Kara Fulsang, CMP

President, Ginger Meeting Management

Passionate, Generous, Brave 

Aha Moment: When I was 23 I began working for a motivational speaker, Giovanni Livera, coordinating all the details for his speaking engagements. It was a brand new career path for me and I was nervous, to say the least, but from the very first day in the office he welcomed me with open arms to this wonderful industry and I knew it was home. It was also comforting to know that the people I met at industry events were like me – they survived on coffee and thrived on connecting with others.

What One Thing Made All the Difference? The year 2020 was an “interesting” year for us all. Meetings were canceling across the world and for a short moment, I lost myself. But in this industry, being resilient is mandatory so I picked myself up and decided it was the perfect time to put my goal of starting a meeting management company into action. This challenging situation forced me out of the comfort zone and became the catalyst for me to move forward with Ginger Meeting Management. It has made all the difference in my career and I am so thankful I took the leap.

Advice for younger self: When encountering tough times – tough times are the absolute best moments for growth and learning. During your next hard moment, step back, take a breath, refocus and move forward with courage in the best direction for you. Never let a tough time or uncomfortable moments hold you back from where you want to go or who you want to be. Always challenge yourself and know you can do anything. Approach each situation with generosity, an open-mind and the willingness to be flexible.

Next goal: We have all been busier than normal, going through the motions of responding to emails so that our inbox is cleared out by the end of the day (or at least we hope) and checking tasks off our list. Because of this, my interactions with colleagues and industry partners have been very brief and to the point. My goal for this year is to spend time reconnecting with everyone on both a personal and professional level and take a deep-dive into conversations. Relationships are key to a happy life!

Geraldine Gatehouse, CITP

Owner, GatehouseConnections

Curious, Resourceful, Self-motivated

Aha Moment: Arriving in the USA from Europe, I didn’t have a clear idea of a career path – the opportunities here were quite different. After a few false job starts, a chance encounter with an international incentive company owner led me to a program manager position. I’d always enjoyed organizing volunteer events but didn’t know it was a career option! The on-the-job training challenged me to learn quickly and excel. Incentive programs were a perfect blend of travel, service, people, negotiation skills, organization and teamwork. I loved everything about the process and, best of all, discovered I had a talent for it.

What One Thing Made All the Difference? Volunteering! An industry colleague volunteered me for the SITE SoCal Holiday Event & Charity Auction, an iconic annual 600+ attendee fundraiser. The event raised the most money ever to that point and my successful handling of operations and donations gave me visibility I hadn’t previously enjoyed. These volunteer efforts formed the basis for my subsequent self-employed career trajectory, with a portfolio of clients and subsequently, an 11-year working relationship with IMEX America.  Again, it was from a recommendation. My job as Western Region Marketing Consultant was to help introduce our U.S.-based industry professionals to the now iconic Las Vegas show.

Advice for My Younger Self: Have faith in who you are, the abilities you have and the value you offer. You have what it takes to create your own niche, so if needed, inventory your talents and package them to create an opportunity for yourself. Remember that an exemplary reputation is one of the most valuable assets you possess. Ask for help from trusted colleagues.  Help and mentor individuals whenever you can – your input and actions can inspire others to stretch their boundaries, find solutions and overcome setbacks. Always take advantage of good opportunities you may not have previously considered.  Above all, be fearless!

Next Goal: At a time when many are contemplating retirement, I decided a new career as a word magician was in order.  It’s a somewhat unique niche I’ve created. Combining my extensive and profound industry knowledge with my storytelling abilities, I help companies and individuals tell their stories, communicate their messages, and create successful awards submissions. After 30 years, the knowledge in my DNA enables me to intuit whatever story needs to be conveyed quickly and effectively. It gives me immense satisfaction and great pleasure to continue to be of service to an industry that has given so much back to me.

Emily Hartstone, CNE, CNC, CDE, MBA, PCA, CCO

Owner, CEO, From the Hart Management, LLC

Scintillating, Philanthropic, Indefatigable

Aha Moment: My first event was a 3000-person hotel takeover in Las Vegas. As they often do, several last-minute changes happened because of flight cancellations, etc. I watched everyone freak-out and spend more time running from staff member to staff member, stressing over what happened, rather than coming up with a new gameplan. Though I was just an assistant at the time, I came up with Plan B myself.  When I told my Boss/team, they were ecstatic. I remember thinking to myself “Wow – if these are the directors and long-time professionals, I can definitely do this!” And I didn’t just “pull it off,” I absolutely LOVED doing it! Seeing the smiles on the attendees faces and knowing they didn’t have any idea there were speed bumps on our side was so gratifying. I knew I wanted to do 1000 more events! There’s nothing better than bringing someone’s vision to life, and this was the first time I was able to do that.

What One Thing Made All the Difference? The one thing that made all the difference in my career is when I took the leap of faith to open my own company. I should have done it sooner, but I was extremely loyal to the company I was working for and let fear of starting over paralyze me. When I finally made the decision, an overwhelming amount of doors opened for me, and continue to open. With that said, to anyone reading this – ALWAYS follow your dreams and believe in yourself. No one can get in your way more than yourself. Know your worth and don’t ever let anyone hold you back. You got this!

Advice to My Younger Self: I would tell my younger self that everyone goes through times, but we cannot let them negatively define us. If you fail at something, find the lesson in the failure and move on. I call it failing forward. I would also tell her the power of the mind is an incredible thing now that I have survived and continue to survive leukemia, when doctors tell me I shouldn’t be able to get out of bed. The greatest force we can harness is our personal power. It doesn’t come from external sources such as luck, others’ expectations or a powerful title. It’s the intrinsic strength that pushes us to overcome adversity and turns challenges into opportunities. Always believe in yourself and never give up.

Next Goal: I have a few goals that I am very focused on this year. I am currently writing my first book, and instead of sourcing Keynote Speakers, I am actually starting to speak myself. The topics are centered around “Entrepreneurship, Start-Ups and Business Management,” “DEI,” “Mental Resilience,” and “Marginal Gains.” I am also moving my company’s focus from my long run with being mostly focused around association management and events to corporate and medical based, and any new association clients will only focus on event management. We will continue to work with our current association clients, but we have begun our shift and love the start of this new change.

Liz King Caruso

CEO, techsytalk

Intentional, Innovative and Strategic

Aha Moment: One of the first events I created (before I even understood that event planners had a specific role or that the industry even really existed), was a lavish dinner for a group of members from various homeless shelters. It brought people together, gave them such joy, and was so rewarding to create the concept and bring it all to life with a great team. I knew then that I wanted more – and it was shortly after that I discovered my home in the events industry. 

What One Thing Made All the Difference? Unknowingly, it was using Twitter back in 2010 as a place to learn about our industry and meet people. It was such a critical time on that platform and I came to know so many important people in our industry who have mentored me, shared their insights with me and continued to connect me with more amazing people. It was a lucky time to get involved in our industry, and those relationships have made all the difference in my career. 

Advice for My Younger Self: I would strongly advise my younger self to be even more bold and know that the future is always more flexible than I imagine. I’m sure none of us could have predicted what the industry would have looked like over the past decade, but we are more resilient than we realize. I’m learning throughout my career that the bold, innovative moves are what our industry needs most, even though it may be difficult!

Next Goal: My newest ambition is to hone in even more intentionally on the value that I bring and find a slower pace in my work and life. Our world is moving so fast, and I am focused on maximizing my impact by deepening my work.

Dee Lee

Event Producer, Dee Lee Designs

God, Love, and Positivity

Aha Moment: I was a middle school teacher in LAUSD for 13 years. My passion was events and photography. When my miracle daughters were born, I prayed for a way to do what I love to do. One door opened into another and at one of my first events upon leaving education, I met Oprah. This was my sign to keep doing what I Ioved and inspire others to follow their dreams. Entrepreneurship and event production is not for the faint of heart. Every day you are always learning and growing. I am so grateful for all the love and support I got from so many.  

What One Thing Made All the Difference? I approach everything with heart. I networked a lot and taught myself so much. Be kind and humble. It is so important to share the love and positivity with those around you. People generally gravitate to this. You are what you attract. Be a good human. It is so easy in such a stressful environment to lose sight of the goodness around you. I am only as strong as those around me. I am so blessed to have so many people praying and cheering for me because I will always try to exude the same love.  

Advice for My Younger Self: In being an entrepreneur, you will have ebbs and flows, highs and lows. It is so important to ride it out and ask questions when you are scared or don’t know something. I went to school to be a teacher and never in my wildest dreams my work would be featured on television and in magazines. I worked hard and was always willing to learn. I found ways to adapt to new environments. I kept pushing when most would give up. I gave myself grace when I made mistakes. My best lessons came from those mistakes.  

Next Goal: When I first started this journey, my goal was to elevate and inspire women to pursue their dreams. In the process, I was able to build teams of strong beautiful women around me to execute events. It was amazing to see how working interviewees, interns, and single moms grow to join our event family. My next goal is to build our event family so that I can enter the next chapter of possibly coaching and mentoring new event planners in our industry. I want to impart the knowledge and blessings that were bestowed on me.

Tina Luppino, WBENC

President/Founder, The AV Firm

Loving And Lighthearted

Aha Moment: I fell in love with the meetings industry when I was working my first job out of college as a meeting coordinator for a medical education company. From the moment I was involved with taking care of people that were traveling away from their families to a different state and sleeping in a foreign bed, my goal was to make them feel at home. I am not sure if it is the Italian blood of needing to feed and take care of everyone, or the ability to genuinely help people feel at ease that hooked me.  

What One Thing Made All the Difference? 8 years ago, I was sitting in an audio visual C-Level exec. summit. When I looked around the room, I noticed I was the only female of 70 attendees. At that point, I knew something had to change in our industry. Since then, I had the courage and confidence to start my own AV company and am now the proud owner of the first 100% woman owned live staging company to launch in Chicago.

Advice for My Younger Self: When you hit a tough time, take a moment to breathe. You don’t need to react immediately – take a 24 period to sit in the problem. Think about your situation from all perspectives and try to explore what the true problem is you are starting to solve. Once you find that goal, set milestones to reach that solution. If you set a strategic approach, you will be less overwhelmed. You can only eat an elephant one bite at a time.    

Next Goal: As we continue to build and expand our business and team, the goal is to change the way people interact with their AV providers.We strive to have more transparency and make it easier for them to understand where they can truly realize value in their AV budget.Our additional goal is to bring more women into our area of the industry and let them know they have a place at the tech table. We accomplish this through our mentorship and grant programs. By acting as a visible leader in our industry and raising awareness, I personally hope that we empower and encourage more people to join us.

Tara Melvin

Owner & Principal Planner, Perfect Planning Events

Forward-Thinking, Evolving, Intentional, Tenacious

Aha Moment: Growing up, I was “that kid” in my neighborhood who invited everyone to gather at my house (never with my parent’s permission) for various activities that I conjured in my head. Fast forward to my college years, I was still the “go-to-girl” for all things social. My first large fete I planned was my college graduation with over 150 enthusiastic students in attendance and it was executed to perfection. Continuing into adulthood, I planned numerous occasions for friends until one night, I was offered an opportunity to plan an event for someone who was a guest of my friend. I quickly responded to that individual, “yes, I can help you, but I will have to charge you!” That is when the Edison bulb turned on in my head and I began to realize this was the career for me! 

What One Thing Made All the Difference? My energy thrives on being in the trenches with others, helping them align with their entrepreneurial path or just being a guiding light. It is my tenacity that yields me to be a constant seeker of ways to add value by effecting positive, significant, sustainable change. In 2020, I created the first non-profit industry association for Black wedding and event professionals, The National Society of Black Wedding & Event Professionals (NSBWEP).

Advice for My Younger Self: Constantly believe in yourself, stay humble, and always seek to learn from your mistakes and new things that come before you. 

Next Goal: My next goal is to continue to raise the bar for The National Society of Black Wedding & Event Professionals by seeking long-term sponsors and creating a foundation as an extension of the organization, and securing a membership of 500-members strong throughout the US by 2025.

Adrienne Y. Murphy, CMP, VEMM

CEO and Founder, Xclusively 4 U Events & Meetings Management

Inhale, Exhale, Breathe

Aha Moment: When I realized how much I enjoyed seeing the fruits of my labor come together after planning a meeting/event. I also love to help people, therefore helping them bring their visions of their meetings and events to reality. It is fulfilling to me and gives me a great sense of accomplishment!

What One Thing Made All the Difference? Actually, not by my own intention, but by the pandemic. Due to the uncertainty of the pandemic, I was laid off after being promoted to a meetings manager position. Instead of feeling devastated about losing what I thought was my dream job, I took it as a sign to create my own destiny and bet on myself, as the perfect time to do what I loved and design a dream job as I envisioned it. I started my business supporting other meeting planners for their virtual/in-person meetings/events. I have been tremendously blessed by my decision to step out on faith.  

Advice for My Younger Self: Get tough! Don’t give up and give yourself grace!

Next Goal: To continue learning and expanding my knowledge as it relates to the production side of things. I have done a lot of virtual work, but I want to really sharpen my skills in that area.

Danielle M. Smith, CMP

Chief Strategy Officer, Moxy Strategies

Grace, Grit, Gratitude 

Aha Moment: Meetings and events have always been home. As far back as my college days when I planned parties at local businesses to help cover college costs. While not the same as meetings – planning, logistics, and all things events have always been a part of me. I have always gravitated to the meetings industry even in roles in which it “technically” wasn’t my job. The meetings industry provides a platform for knowledge sharing, networking, and creating relationships. I find it extremely rewarding to be part of a sector that helps bring people together for the greater good.

What One Thing Made All the Difference? Most importantly, I stopped playing it safe. I took a chance on myself and finally understood the meaning of “with great risk comes great reward.”  Taking risks enables us to push our own limits and discover abilities we never thought we had. Secondly, believing in myself. Believing in yourself is crucial to achieving success. By having confidence in your abilities, talents, and skills, you will be able to take risks, be resilient when facing difficulties and ultimately achieve your goals. Lastly, believing I am always exactly where I am supposed to be. 

Advice for My Younger Self: Don’t be afraid of tough times. The only way out of difficult situations is to keep going. Take a deep breath, remain calm and remember who you are. Remind yourself that you are resourceful and resilient. Prioritize your tasks and make a plan of how to get through each one. Show yourself some grace. Remind yourself you have the grit to overcome and most importantly, find joy and gratitude in the positive things. Life will show you that all things work together for good, and what is for you, is 110% for YOU. Relax, stay focused and enjoy the ride!  

Next Goal: As an entrepreneur in the meetings industry continual education and knowledge growth are key to success. I was recently accepted in the Goldman Sachs One Million Black Women: Black in Business program. Completion of this program will help me strengthen my business foundation, expand my offerings, and propel my network. I am currently in the third cohort and will graduate in May 2023. Upon completion, the next goal will be to hire my first full-time staff person!  

Sonja Rei Strand

CEO, Owner, Director of Marketing, Militia Consulting

Relational, Gracious, Connectivity

Aha Moment: I had initially tasted the world of meetings and events back in the earlier hotel and hospitality days of my career. Fast forward – the hospitality background really catapulted an ability to realize marketing solutions for regional associations, visitor bureaus, private clients and groups. I have never left the original industry I had found myself in and that is serving people.

What One Thing Made All the Difference? The single most differentiating factor that made all the difference in my career can be summed up in one word – listening. It is inspiring how many marketing solutions can be explored by just listening to what the clients are saying.

Advice for My Younger Self: Keep going! You have it in you! So many times it may feel like you can’t do something or are told you can’t do something. Stay the course, stay true to yourself and be open to growth and learning.

Next Goal: Continue to grow our company and our clients. Ensuring the client is the main hero in their epic novella and loving the process more. There are so many inspiring stories to tell and so many people that need to hear them. 

Anca Trifan, CMP, DES

Founder, creator, and CEO of Tree-Fan Events, the host of “Events: demystified” podcast, Founder of Women BTS in Events 

Bold, Brave, Passionate

Aha Moment: I first started volunteering in my local town’s only radio station in Romania during high school and a few months later they offered me a part-time job. Working there brought to light my innate ability to understand and operate AV production equipment and that’s what propelled me to leave my family and everyone I knew to find opportunities for myself in the “land of the free” where I could thrive, such as the event industry and event productions.

What One Thing Made All the Difference? Being brave enough to hop on a plane, on my own, at 20 with $150 in my pocket and embark on the wildest adventure of my life.

Advice for My Younger Self: You have nothing to fear. You have done hard things and you can do them again. You have a voice and you need to use it confidently.

Next Goal: Becoming a speaker, a voice, and a role model for women in event productions, bringing awareness to the need for more female representation and diversity in AV productions. Being an enabling voice for more conversations to be had centered around mental and physical fitness for event profs. I’ve tested and tried my own strategies that work and I have so much to share with the world so we can all live a joyful and fulfilling healthy long life. High quality of life, later in life, is worth the small sacrifices it takes now, to build the habits that will promote mental and physical fitness.

Joanna Walling, CEM, DES

CEO, JMW Events

Honest, Driven, Committed

Aha Moment: This isn’t something that just fell into my lap. I knew from the start that this industry would fulfill my dreams of what I wanted to accomplish in my life and studied event management at UCF. As a true student of the industry, I continue to seek out new and upcoming trends to support my clients and provide them with the best show experience possible. 

What One Thing Made All the Difference? Believing in myself to take all the skills I had learned throughout my career and start my own business. There were so many roads that got me to where I am in my career. I made a huge leap of faith leaving a great company and going out on my own. It was beyond scary leaving the stability that comes with working for a big company and thinking can I do this? I never saw myself owning my own business, but here I am.

Advice for My Younger Self: I would tell my younger self to stay true to you. I think when I was younger, I allowed people to tell me how I should deal with things and often allowed them to influence my decisions or how I felt. It is easy when you are young to not stick up for what you believe, but that is the one thing now, I never back down on. I always stay true to who I am.

Next Goal: Ok, don’t laugh, but I have a bucket list of shows I want to do in my career. I started this list over 10 years ago and I have been lucky enough to be able to cross a few off as accomplished. However, there are still a few on that list that I need to complete and those are my current goals that keep me driven. My personal life goal is to rescue all the dogs I can. I am a dog mama and have two beagles. I would like to one day open a dog rescue when I retire.

Meridith M. Walters, CSEP

President/Owner, Meridith Walters Consulting

Love, Faith, Kindness

Aha Moment: I have always been enamored with marketing and public relations and savored the exhilaration of working on live events. I realized early on that I was very comfortable behind the scenes of the production, photo, and video, but as I learned more about what other vendors and event professionals did, I was intrigued. It was lovely and exciting to see teamwork and interdependence. I cannot think of another industry where you see such varied disciplines coming together to deliver perfection for our clients. 

What One Thing Made All the Difference? Undoubtedly, joining my local ILEA chapter has made a colossal impact on my life. I would not be where I am today, personally and professionally, without the experiences of being immersed in the ILEA community. From earning my CSEP designation to serving two terms as Chapter President, so many opportunities have come to me as a result of being an active and engaged member of my chapter.

Advice for My Younger Self: Honestly, I feel like I am still learning so much about myself. My younger self was nearly fearless and, in many ways, more confident than I am now because younger Meridith had nothing to lose. Now, the stakes are higher. The reality is that my younger self and current self are in constant dialogue. The 2023 version of Meridith brings years of experience and wisdom to the conversation, while my youthful self reminds me to be bold and courageous when faced with struggles. Both versions agree that we will never stop learning and growing. 

Next Goal: A great deal of my career has been shaped by having two amazing children. I spent ten years building my career before becoming a mother. I relish motherhood, but I always knew I wanted a career that allowed for my desired balance between the two. It was clear that an entrepreneurial pathway would afford me the greatest flexibility. Now, as my youngest child will soon be aging out of the nest, I have the opportunity to explore my next chapter. I have a wealth of ideas and dreams I look forward to pursuing.   

Toronda Webb, CMP, CGMP

CEO and Chief Event Strategist, Alore Events LLC

Faith, Family, Love 

Aha Moment: I have always been passionate about and committed to helping people. I absolutely love being the connection who brings people together. In my professional and personal life, I always found myself in the middle of planning unforgettable events for the people around me. Although I had worked in the public sector as a meeting professional for 15 years, my “aha moment” did not come until I followed my dream of founding Alore Events LLC in 2012. It was then that I knew this was the industry for me.

There is nothing more rewarding than seeing people enjoying themselves, connecting and sharing experiences. Knowing that I am able to assist in facilitating something of such significance inspires and empowers me to do more. I appreciate the confidence and trust that clients place in me.

What One Thing Made All the Difference? My first experience as a meeting planner came while working as an administrative professional. I often volunteered for corporate industry events which enabled me to learn more about the meeting planning industry and all that it had to offer. Volunteering allowed me to develop leadership abilities, build connections and gain important industry related skills and experiences. As a result of being recognized for my volunteer efforts by management and peers in the industry, I landed my first job as a professional meeting planner in the private sector. 

Advice for My Younger Self: Do not allow tough times to steal your joy, rob your confidence and hinder your progress. Stay positive and keep your focus on the things within your control. As difficult as the circumstances may be, it’s not your adversities that shape who you are, but who you are in the face of your adversities. Don’t let your problems define you or become your identity. Who you are is far beyond any external measure, situation or experience.

Everyone has to face their own set of challenges. However, tough times don’t last – but tough people do. There’s no need to feel ashamed for asking for help. Reach out to family, friends and other people in your social circle who you know care about you and want to see you succeed. Asking for help is never a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of courage.

Learning how to deal with challenges takes time, persistence and a positive attitude.  Use those challenges as a stepping stone to get to the next level in your life and career.  Sometimes the worst thing that happens to you can turn out to be the best thing. Keep the faith and press on!

Next Goal: My vision for Alore Events LLC includes expanding operations internationally. I welcome the opportunity to learn more about the social, cultural and legal differences that come with planning an international event and look forward to building new partnerships.

Another goal is to collaborate with others in the industry who are willing to share their wisdom, knowledge and expertise to provide mentorship for the underserved groups of individuals who are interested in becoming a part of the meeting planning industry. Alore Events LLC will also continue to research and deploy technology solutions that contribute to an enjoyable event. 

With the recent arrival of my first grandchild (Noah), my personal goal is to maintain my commitment to work life balance to include focusing on family, happiness and mental health.