Karen Almazan

Events Manager, One Market Restaurant

Satisfaction, Thoroughness, Creativity

Moment I Knew I Belonged in the Meetings Industry: After emigrating to the U.S. the first job I found was as a banquet server and then banquet captain. That opportunity to earn well and work with other service industry professionals in what felt immediately like a family was remarkably helpful and important step in helping me acclimate to my new home. I knew I was in an industry where I belonged and in which I could build a strong foundation and future for myself and my daughter.

Welcoming Strategy: My professional background was as a Middle School teacher in my native city of Pachuca, Mexico. Just like teachers here in the U.S., part of my job was to ensure that my students felt welcome, comfortable and prepared to succeed and to excel. I hope I bring that same commitment to the One Market team and to our clients as well. The work of developing lesson plans for my students actually shares a lot of similarities with preparing event orders and the follow through for our clients.

Next Goal: My next goal is actually my present goal: stewarding the One Market Restaurant events program into what I am confident will be a full return to pre-pandemic levels of business. We’re on our way for sure but as San Francisco continues to battle the doom loop narrative I want to be here and be a part of it when the city is back on all cylinders. I learned upon arrival that San Francisco is still the most amazing, beautiful city in this country and I consider myself most fortunate to be here and at One Market Restaurant.

Dana Bailiff, CMM

Senior Manager, Special Events, Hilton

Hospitality, Excitement:, Thoughtful

Moment I Knew I Belonged in the Meetings Industry: I knew I wanted to be in the hospitality industry at a young age. Working for Disney, within multiple operations roles, and in hotel sales gave me the experience and love for hospitality and its positive impact. My biggest aha moment of finding my belonging in the meeting industry was seeing my hard work and creative process physically come to life at an event. In a lot of jobs, you work extremely hard but never see the end result. The first event series I produced for Hilton was a Body, Mind, and Spirit(s) event taking place around the D.C. area. The first event was at a bowling alley (body), the second location was at a Lululemon with a mindfulness coach (mind), and the last one was at a distillery where guests got to bottle their own bourbon (spirits). I have always thrived in creative spaces but kept that separate from my work by flowing it into hobbies: theatre, painting, cooking and education. I was able to bridge those gaps when I became a meeting planner.

Welcoming Strategy: Working for a global hospitality company, inclusion is critical to success. Travel can be stressful and push people outside of their comfort zone and familiarity can remove that anxious feeling. While you can produce events that can push boundaries and are cutting-edge, if you don’t think of the things that make people comfortable, those activations won’t create the intended impact. My team truly feels like extended family. We have traveled across the world together. We have laughed, cried, and accomplished the unthinkable together. Because we have stressful late nights, early mornings, reactive emergencies and manual labor, we need to be able to rely on each other to make even the hardest parts of the job fun. I strive to make everyone feel welcome with humor and inclusion, making sure everyone knows they are valued.

Next Goal: In 2023, I was able to check off the list one of my largest goals: attending an awards show. I supported Hilton’s marketing team in executing our partnership with the Grammy Awards. My love for live events started as a child watching red carpets with my mom before award shows and staying up late to experience the programming. I don’t have any current short-term goals around live events, but I would love to plan something at the Olympics during my career. I have had the incredible opportunity to plan events in the US, Canada, Mexico, CALA, and Europe. I would love to plan a meeting or event on six of the seven continents, but bonus points if I can plan something in Antarctica!

Dawn Barbeau

Vice President of Global Sales, Global DMC Partners

Listen, Adapt, Commitment

Moment I Knew I Belonged in the Meetings Industry: My true feeling of “belonging” in the industry did not come until years later when I was in a position where I had a few direct reports for the first time that I was able to mentor.  I shared with them everything I knew—all that goes into producing an event, what was needed to operate a successful program, and how to work most effectively with suppliers to achieve timing deadlines. I was the person they looked to for advice and training. In that moment, I felt I belonged in the industry and had insights to share with my peers.

Welcoming Strategy: I believe that having a friendly attitude, listening to others, and including their thoughts and visions into the event, workplace or even at home, is the most important way to make people feel welcome and valued. It sets a positive tone allowing others to be a part of the conversation, feel heard and included.

Next Goal: I have many goals but to list a few, the first is to become more involved in SITE. It’s a wonderful organization and one I had been a part of and want to reengage with. Second is a personal goal, I would like to spend time giving back to the community I live in by joining organizations that give back to the community. Two that I am most interested in are BedsPlus, ending homelessness, and teach, tutoring English to help to prepare immigrants for their U.S. citizenship test.

Kelley Beaudoin

Senior Vice President, ConferenceDirect

Inclusivity, Experiential, Engagement

Moment I Knew I Belonged in the Meetings Industry: Opening a hotel with Marriott Corporation in the early 1990s marked a pivotal moment in my career. Being part of the pre-opening team instilled a profound sense of pride. The grand opening, attended by Bill Marriott, symbolized the culmination of hard work. Recognizing that our efforts could create opportunities for the community was beyond empowering. The service-centric approach, aligned with my purpose, aimed at making a positive impact. I love witnessing people unite for meetings and the excitement around meetings and social events, knowing I played a role in something with a meaningful purpose.

Welcoming Strategy: In cultivating meaningful connections, I prioritize authentic relationships, creating a space where others feel heard and valued. Serving others is at my core. I engage with people openly, actively seeking ways to support and uplift them. I consistently approach situations from a place of gratitude. It’s not contrived; I sincerely seek out and recognize the positive qualities in others, reflecting and sharing those affirming qualities back to them. I proactively acknowledge and reward my associate(s) for their ongoing support and contributions in assisting our clients. It’s important they feel recognized, appreciated, and celebrated.

Next Goal: Passionate about mentoring and uplifting women, my mission extends to corporate boards, advocating for women’s empowerment and leadership opportunities. I am enthusiastic about contributing to a board’s vision centered on advancing women in various sectors, fostering a more inclusive and diverse corporate landscape.

Shari Bricks, CMP, DES

Owner & Managing Director, Bond Association Management (BAM)

Innovate, Engage, Celebrate

Moment I Knew I Belonged in the Meetings Industry: In the late 1980s, amidst a recession, I faced job loss in hotel development. Transitioning to a fledgling executive office center, I seized an RFP opportunity for admin support for an Association, boldly proclaiming, “I can do that” and “I can grow that.” The drive to make a difference in members’ lives and events empowered me. From dinner meetings to multi-day symposiums, I discovered my ability to contribute to Associations, propelling me into the fast-paced world of meetings/events. This experience affirmed my belief in thriving in the industry and making a meaningful impact.  Each day, each event is truly unique.

Welcoming Strategy: Making others feel welcome, to me, means supporting an inclusive atmosphere, which is a truly common-sense approach. I consistently treat my team with respect, and work towards creating a family-environment. Recently, a team member celebrated 20 years with BAM before turning 50–wow! Whether it’s engaging with the venue CSM, event attendees, AV crew, or any stakeholder, I prioritize understanding, respect, and effective communication. Recognizing the significance of each role, big or small, is vital for overall event success. In both professional and personal realms, I believe that respect forms the foundation for positive interactions and outcomes.

Next Goal: Continual learning stands prominently in my future goals. The dynamic nature of my role compels me to embrace new knowledge, enabling me to lead by example—inspiring, motivating, and challenging those around me. Engaging in international work is a profound blessing, requiring communication and understanding in novel ways. Cultural nuances, language distinctions, varied terminologies, geographical complexities, travel hurdles—these are not obstacles but energizing opportunities. The prospect of more international endeavors excites me, providing a chance to apply over 25 years of experience in a fresh setting. I am genuinely enthusiastic and profoundly grateful for the challenges ahead!

Adriane Cesa, CMM, CMP

Director of Events, Redstory

Strategic Design, Advocacy, Joie de vivre

Moment I Knew I Belonged in the Meetings Industry: At one point, I stepped up to lead a CMP study program for the MPIOH chapter. The real highlight? Hearing that triumphant “I passed!” through texts, calls and emails after participants nailed their exams. It was more than just being part of the event industry; it felt like I was genuinely making a lasting impact.

Welcoming Strategy: Overall, I prioritize creating a welcoming atmosphere by being attentive, genuine, and caring. Through active listening and having meaning conversations my goal is to foster a sense of belonging. In event planning and life, I actively try to anticipate needs of my attendees, family, and friends often enhancing experiences through thoughtful gifts and gestures.

Next Goal: I am dedicated to promoting the growth of Redstory and showcasing the comprehensive benefits of utilizing our services from the inception to the conclusion of events. Concurrently, I am actively involved in expanding the event team to enhance our capabilities. Additionally, I maintain a commitment to continued volunteering within the industry, contributing to its development. Lastly, I am enthusiastic about serving as both an advocate and mentor to further support the professional growth of individuals in the field.

Hannah Deters, CEM, CMP

Director, Event Management, International Association of Exhibitions and Events

Sustainability is Fun!

Moment I Knew I Belonged in the Meetings Industry: Right after the conclusion of the first event I was a part of planning, I knew this industry is where I belonged. After the last session ended, an attendee came up and simply said “Thank you”. While I’m sure this didn’t seem like a big deal for her to say, it meant so much to me. After I felt the joy of creating an event that has an impact on others, I knew I was in the right place!

Welcoming Strategy: Empathy! Understanding other people’s perspectives and past experiences really helps to make them feel welcome. Being very involved in the logistics of an event, it is crucial to take into consideration the needs of everyone involved. If we can make our team and our attendees feel welcome, they can then focus on the event and enjoy it more! I feel that simple acts of kindness inside and outside of work can change someone’s day for the better!

Next Goal: Make the Young Professional voice heard! As I start to age out of the “Young Professional” group, I want to make sure that the next generation coming into the industry is powerful and knows their ideas will make a difference. My second goal is to leverage the knowledge and focus of the current young professionals on sustainability. After leading the team for Expo! Expo! that achieved the Bronze Level certification to the EIC Sustainable Event Standards for 2022, my goal is to make Expo! Expo! even more sustainable and work towards a Silver Level certification.

Nicole Ellickson, CMP

Director of Conferences and Meetings, America’s Credit Unions

Compassion, Positivity, Fun

Moment I Knew I Belonged in the Meetings Industry: I don’t have one specific moment but when I go to large industry events where I am surrounded by so many people in our industry, learning from great education, connecting with new planners and suppliers, seeing old friends–that’s when I feel that I belong in this industry. It re-energizes me!

Welcoming Strategy: I am easy going and stay calm during stressful situations. People have told me I have this calming demeanor about me and help make others calm. I am there for my team by checking in, communicating with them, learning their work styles, needs and wants and ensuring they have the tools they need to be successful, and to get to know them on a fun personal level–laughs and team happy hours are a must! Attendees I am very similar with, always helping direct them where they need to go, welcoming them at the registration desk, walking around and talking to the vendors/sponsors. I always want to make sure people feel welcomed, that they are glad they came, and around if anyone needs anything. I do this in my personal life as well, I love taking care of others, especially cooking. Brings me much joy to my life!

Next Goal: My next goal is to become a better leader and more confident in my role. I want to take time to better understand our certification schools and conferences and what the focus and goals are of these instead of getting in the routine of just processing specs/BEOs.

Kristi Fogarino

Director of Events & Catering, The Franklin Institute

Personal, Quality, Invested

Moment I Knew I Belonged in the Meetings Industry: I have always felt a sense of belonging in the events industry. I grew up in it! My grandfather and father worked in the industry and I was fortunate enough to watch them so successfully throughout their careers. Working in events has always been my career goal from when I was a young girl! When I am working with clients planning events, I am in my element!

Welcoming Strategy: As simple as it sounds, a smile. Whether welcoming a client, a guest or someone in my everyday life, it is important for them to see that I am approachable and invested in them. The easiest way to do that for me is to greet them with a smile. Beyond that, communication is key. Members of my team, as well as in my personal life, including my children, know that they can come to talk to me about anything and that I am open to listening to them and helping them in any way that I can.

Next Goal: I am always looking for ways to improve and elevate our guests experiences. My goal is to help make those connections on a larger scale. I’d like to see the museum host even more national and international events than we already have, and help create a larger brand presence. When a convention or meeting is thinking about the must-go-to space in Philadelphia, I want them to think of The Franklin Institute, and know that I was a part of that.

Patricia Guidetti, DES

Senior Director, Programs, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

Engagement, Experience, Wow

Moment I Knew I Belonged in the Meetings Industry: After my first National Charter Schools Conference, I had an attendee write me a letter thanking me for the incredible experience they had and how they were going to be able to make some positive changes in their school. I had such a feeling of accomplishment and pride knowing that what I did made a difference for that person. From then on, I knew that I was doing what I was meant to do–creating experiences and opportunities for people through events.

Welcoming Strategy: I love building connections and creating opportunities for people to engage with one another. Simply saying hi and asking how people are goes a long way in making them feel welcomed. I thank them for being a part of the event and ask what they are enjoying most. It is the little things that make the biggest impact.

Next Goal: I am actively pursuing my CMP and look forward to expanding my expertise in this area of event planning.

Taylor Hiller

Senior Manager of Events, Conferences, Hilton

Research, Goals, Attendee Engagement

Moment I Knew I Belonged in the Meetings Industry: After a long stint of working on automotive accounts that were experiential focused, I realized I was eager to take on a full conference from start to finish. It wasn’t until the completion of our last “largest ever” Hilton Conference of nearly 10,000 people that I felt like I had arrived and succeeded! I had been in the events industry for a long time prior to this event, but this event was on a much larger scale than I had ever executed. It has been the greatest accomplishment in my career.

Welcoming Strategy: My approach is to treat everyone how you would like to be treated, no matter the intensity of a situation. Hopefully, my team feels comfortable to talk to me about anything happening in their life, I want to be a trusted and friendly resource, in and outside of work. The more people feel respected/trusted, they are more willing to participate in the Hilton culture/team dynamic.

Next Goal: After completion of my largest event, I wanted to focus my efforts across the pond with our APAC & EMEA partners. I am helping consult on our conferences that will take place in APAC/EMEA and I was eager to gain the international experience–and the various call times!

Ellie Hurley (she/her), SEPC

Events Director, Smithbucklin

Personalized, Experience, Impactful

Moment I Knew I Belonged in the Meetings Industry: I remember my first onsite experience like it was yesterday, even though it was May of 2000! It was there that I first felt a sense of belonging. These were my most memorable take-aways: Details transform an experience. I didn’t understand this until I saw how all the details and pre-work came together to transform an event experience into something amazing. Meetings have a lasting impact. I saw that what the attendees were learning would positively impact their jobs, and ultimately, the world. It was rewarding to realize all the projects and details I had worked on would have a global impact.

Welcoming Strategy: I love finding out what makes someone “tick,” or brings them joy, and then trying to enable that situation or surprise them with something they enjoy. For example, one of my board members had a very specific, yet simple, daily lunch request: deli turkey on white bread with yellow mustard. Each year, I remembered this request and always asked the kitchen if they could prepare her special meal. Thankfully, they always did. She was so grateful. All it took was for me to remember her request, and ask my cooperative catering team. It made her conference every year!

Next Goal: I achieved my Sustainable Events Professional Certificate (SEPC) last summer. It opened my eyes to the potential positive or negative impacts our events can have on the environment and society. At first, it felt overwhelming to identify ways to make my events more sustainable. Then I realized that every step in the right direction helps. One positive change at a time is still better than none! Thanks to the SEPC program, I have a thorough understanding of how to move forward, and am taking numerous steps with each event to make a positive impact. And, I’m teaching others as I go!

Teri Jakob, CMP, CMM

Director, Special Events, UPMC Pinnacle Foundation 

Adaptive, Innovative, Responsive

Moment I Knew I Belonged in the Meetings Industry: Amidst a diverse career journey from marketing and graphic design to nursing, I found my true calling in the meeting industry. Asked about my dream job, I painted a picture and it materialized at my first industry conference. Here, I discovered my tribe, a community that understood me, spoke my language, and shared my passion for creating beauty through events. I became a knowledge sponge, eager to enhance the industry, one event at a time. In this world, we didn’t just plan events; we crafted impactful experiences that united people and made the world more beautiful. This was where I belonged.

Welcoming Strategy: My goal is to create a place where everyone feels welcome, whether it’s at work, my house or one of my events. I want people to find inspiration while feeling comfortable with who they are. Leading by example, I encourage others to share their uniqueness without fear of judgment. In this age of Instagram-perfection, I believe it’s okay to acknowledge imperfections and own up to mistakes, letting apologies and truth be part of our journey. Even on cloudy days, try to wear a smile and remember to watch for the rainbows while learning to dance in the rain.

Next Goal: My next goal is speaking at The Special Event Conference this February, a long-time desire to share my creativity and inspire in the live events industry. Concurrently, I’m working towards my Certified Special Events Professional (CSEP) designation, both aligning with my passion. The International Live Events Association (ILEA), emphasizing creativity, inspiration, teamwork, education and relationships, mirrors my personal growth goals. Pursuing CSEP signifies more than certification; it cements my role in an innovative, collaborative industry. This journey reflects my dedication to becoming a leader in unforgettable events and my aspiration to mentor others along this path.

Katie Jordan

Director of National Accounts, The Boca Raton

Innovative, Immersive, Inclusive

Moment I Knew I Belonged in the Meetings Industry: The moment I truly felt at home in the meetings industry was during a high-pressure Familiarization event where everything seemed to align effortlessly. As I watched attendees engage with the content I curated, their enthusiasm mirrored my own passion. Witnessing the seamless execution of months of meticulous planning, I realized I wasn’t just orchestrating events; I was crafting experiences that left a lasting impact. It was then I understood the profound significance of my role and felt a profound sense of belonging within this dynamic and fast-paced industry.

Welcoming Strategy: In every interaction, I strive to cultivate an environment of warmth and acceptance. Whether it’s within my team, at events, or in everyday life, I prioritize active listening, empathy, and inclusivity. I encourage open communication, value diverse perspectives, and create spaces where everyone feels heard and valued. By fostering a culture of respect and appreciation, I ensure that individuals feel welcome, supported, and empowered to bring their authentic selves to the table, fostering genuine connections and collaboration.

Next Goal: My next goal is to expand my expertise in sustainable event planning and execution. With growing awareness of environmental impact, I aim to integrate eco-friendly practices into every aspect of event management. By championing sustainability, I aspire to not only meet the evolving needs of the industry but also contribute positively to the global movement towards a more environmentally conscious future.

Anna Kim, MPI Event Design Certification

National Director, Hotel Sales, Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board

Innovative, Engaging, Collaborative

Moment I Knew I Belonged in the Meetings Industry: I’ve had a remarkable journey in the meetings industry, starting from my time at The Collins College of Hospitality Management at Cal Poly Pomona to my extensive experience at the Westin Century Plaza (now the Fairmont Century Plaza) and my current role at LA Tourism. It’s wonderful to find a sense of belonging and passion for the industry through the connections I’ve made with people along the way. My decade-long experience at the Westin Century Plaza, transitioning from operations to sales department, likely provided me with diverse insights into the hospitality sector.  Moreover, representing Los Angeles at LA Tourism for 17 years speaks to my dedication and enthusiasm for showcasing the city’s exciting developments.

Welcoming Strategy: It’s so important for everyone to feel welcome in our team, events as well as in life. I believe in treating everyone with respect regardless of identity, background or differences and to celebrate diversity and ensure inclusivity in the team and community. I would encourage open communication and listening to one another, to build an environment where everyone feels comfortable expressing their opinions. And lastly, to have empathy for the challenges someone may be going through and support each other.

Next Goal: My next goal is to be actively involved in local causes and serve in our industry chapters to build a stronger connection in our community, taking on a role of a mentor to help the next generation navigate their path, curating unique experiences for our clients planning meetings and conventions in our destination and being deeply committed to delivering excellence as an advocate for our city. Whether it’s about the meetings industry, career development, serving as a resource to one of the world’s premier destinations or anything else, I’m here to assist!

Paget Kirkland

President, Kirkland Event & Destination Services

Captivating, Immersive, Memorable

Moment I Knew I Belonged in the Meetings Industry: This is a tough question because I never had a moment when I didn’t feel I really belonged! For me, this industry and work always felt good, comfortable, natural, and fun from day one. I’ve been lucky enough to find my passion from the start. As the old saying goes, if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.

Welcoming Strategy: Whomever I meet, I to help them feel comfortable because (forgive a cliché’) I truly enjoy people.  People have always interested me.  In college, I chose to major in psychology so I could learn better how people think. What could I do to help improve their lives.  Maybe I’d be a counselor. Maybe I could help with insights or guidance. Of course, event planning is a far cry away being a practicing psychologist, but the underlying interest in another’s well-being remains. This interest, or empathy, comes from a simple one-on-one meeting through the gamut of running a successful event and business.  Our’s is a service industry and I believe serving others, in whatever capacity, to be the most noble of acts.

Next Goal: Personal and professional development has been a regular path for me, but now I want to shift the focus from less inward to more outward. Some lessons I’ve learned, some skills I’ve developed, some insights I’ve discovered to enhance a client’s program’s success, all can be shared. Just as I’ve gleaned much from mentors before me, I hope to be able to pass along these gifts that I have received.

Nicole Kovacs, CMP

Head of Events, CaptivateIQ

Details, Thoughtful, Intentional

Moment I Knew I Belonged in the Meetings Industry: There was an interesting inflection in my career when PCMA hosted Convening Leaders in Austin in January of 2017. I had moved outside of the hotel business and onto the planner side, but volunteered to support the event. At the closing party I ran into old colleagues, old clients and old friends I hadn’t seen in years, and really had this “aha moment” that there was no industry better suited for me to build my career in.

Welcoming Strategy: I focus on meeting new people and looking for commonalities and connecting the dots. Six degrees of separation tends to be about 2-3 degrees, at most, in my world. I think it’s important to get to know new people–on my team, at events, new colleagues, etc–as humans first and find ways to connect with them on a level outside of just pleasantries. I have been called “a connector” by many along the years throughout my career journey.

Next Goal: Personally, I am focused on getting my 1-mile PR on the treadmill at Orangetheory fitness back to where it was in 2018. Professionally, one of my big goals is to launch a proprietary customer conference in the next 6-12 months! As a team of one, that is no small feat!

Sarah McNabb

Director of Business Development and Strategic Accounts, Access Destination Services

Memorable, Innovative, Strategic

Moment I Knew I Belonged in the Meetings Industry: I was just promoted to Sales Manager at a major hotel and convention center and was tasked with overseeing ancillary meetings and exhibitors for a 10,000-person conference with 20 sponsors and 70 exhibitors. After three intense load-in days, I vividly recall standing in the exhibit hall moments before doors opened, overwhelmed with a sense of achievement. As the event concluded, I garnered respect from colleagues and hotel partners, and had satisfied clients. This experience solidified my commitment to a lifelong career in the industry, affirming my sense of belonging and passion for event management.

Welcoming Strategy: I ensure a welcoming atmosphere in my team, events and personal life by cultivating an environment of empathy and respect. Open communication is key in fostering relationships with team members, vendors and clients. Everyone around me feels comfortable expressing their thoughts, knowing I genuinely value their perspectives. It’s important to me that I lead by example, consistently demonstrating presence and attentiveness for both clients and my team.

Next Goals: I would like to continue being a key contributor to the expansion of new business development division at Access and strive to be the foremost strategic partner for hotel brands nationwide. I want to be the first phone call that all my partners make when they land a new challenge or success. My aim is to remain a dependable resource for colleagues, industry partners, and family alike.

Resa Meagher, Enhancing Events Through AI (PCMA Event Leadership Institute)

Senior Director of Business Development, INSPIRE Event Technologies

Intentional, Transparent, Collaborative

Moment I Knew I Belonged in the Meetings Industry: In the midst of the pandemic, I found my true sense of belonging in the meetings industry. Navigating the challenges posed by the unprecedented times, I discovered a profound connection as I guided clients through the uncharted territory of virtual and hybrid event experiences. The year, though immensely challenging, became the catalyst for my growth and contribution to the industry. In those moments of uncertainty, my ability to envision and communicate the future of events fostered a sense of belonging, as I played a pivotal role in shaping the transformative landscape of meetings during an era that demanded innovation and resilience.

Welcoming Strategy: I make everyone feel welcome by investing in every moment. I believe every interaction is unique. I approach each conversation with an open mind and positive attitude. Investing in the moment with my team demonstrates my genuine interest for their contributions, we are not a one-man band. Learning what our clients’ needs and visions are can only come to fruition by being in the moment. This approach enhances the overall event atmosphere making people feel welcome. In the span of our life, if we do not have intention or work with purpose, we risk losing ourselves.

Next Goal: My next goal is to lead INSPIRE forward in creative thinking and execution in all of our events, striving to set new industry standards. I am dedicated to fostering an environment that exceeds the expectations of our clients. Additionally, I aim to empower my team members by providing opportunities for growth and collaboration. And, personally I am planning to climb another 14,000-foot mountain in Colorado. It has been a few years since I have done one and I am aiming to get to the top of my 26th 14er.

Dee Mittman

Convention Sales Manager, Visit Virginia Beach

Authentic, Inclusive, Energetic

Moment I Knew I Belonged in the Meetings Industry: I would have to say my first industry event coming out of Covid. You never know how much you not only missed this industry, but colleagues who became friends when we needed them most. That time showed me that we not only have a professional connection, we have a connection of belonging! I love that this industry has put me in circles of growth both professionally and personally and that is why I feel like I belong in this industry.

Welcoming Strategy: I love being able to speak life into every person I come encounter with and making sure that they are included in certain circles. We are in an industry where we give so much emotionally and unfortunately it can be draining at times. We are also in an industry where by the numbers authentic networking can be tough. If I can make sure that the circles I’m a part of are inclusive, it provides the newbie an opportunity to grow through different experiences. I love introducing individuals to others and making the circles connect. If I can provide a hug, word of encouragement or just smile to someone daily. This would make my heart happy. Professional growth and making sure everyone wins on your team shouldn’t be selfish but intentional.

Next Goal: Professionally, I love selling the city of Virginia Beach and being challenged daily. My goal with my current position is to continue to grow within the position, whether it’s educating more planners about the product we have to offer as a destination. Or pouring into the next generation that’s on our team! This is what I have my eyes set on currently.

Melissa Moten

Vice President, Experience & Event Solutions, The Collective, a Brand Agency by BCD M&E

Intentional Human Connection

Moment I Knew I Belonged in the Meetings Industry: Early in my career at PRA I was fortunate to have so many strong mentors in and out of the company to help me see how incredible this business is. I knew it was an industry I was passionate about when the complexity of the value proposition of events became a personal culture. The moments you design that propel business forward, motivate attendees and create emotional connections is what drives that passion for me. Those connections build lasting memories…

Welcoming Strategies: Authenticity and transparency is key, we all have our strengths and opportunities. I am very open about my growth areas and so are the senior leaders on my team. We have built a group where there isn’t blame only solutions through teamwork. It has allowed authentic connections and built remarkable trust throughout The Collective. Our all team meetings are full of laughs while being transparent and productive.

Next Goal: Whenever anyone asks me about my next goal it’s such a loaded question for me. I live and breathe taking risks to innovate so the answer changes frequently. At the core of it my next goal is always surrounding trying something new and seeing if we can get the idea off the ground. Creating opportunities that allow for meaningful work is what crafts the foundation for me. Growing my team, refreshing the CITP certification for SITE Global and working alongside creative, strategic colleagues to achieve what comes next.

Rose Noble, CDME

CEO & President, Visit Spokane

Collaborative, Strategic, Empowering

Moment I Knew I Belonged in the Meetings Industry: Arriving in Spokane, a stunning destination known for its natural beauty and rich offerings, I was immediately welcomed by the Visit Spokane team. This, coupled with the compelling energy and professionalism of Ruth Fitzgerald, our vice president of sales, who is recognized as a powerhouse in the industry, solidified my connection to the meetings industry. I realized the potential and impact of collaborating with such dedicated and talented individuals to create unforgettable experiences. It was a moment of clarity and affirmation, where I knew I had found the perfect community and together we’d shape memorable events within the industry.

Welcoming Strategy: I’m happy to be part of our fantastic team; they’re hardworking, friendly, and simply amazing! I strive to foster an environment that empowers creativity and collaboration, ensuring open lines of communication within our team. By promoting a culture of inclusivity and openness, I aim to make everyone feel not only welcome at our events but also in our broader community. By encouraging everyone to contribute their ideas and perspectives, we create a welcoming atmosphere both at events and in our everyday interactions. This inclusivity not only enhances the quality of our work but also strengthens our sense of community and belonging.

Next Goal: Always a goal, I want our team to enjoy their work and take pride in what we consistently achieve year after year. We are a crew on a mission though, and a primary objective in 2024 is ensuring that the community fully appreciates the significance of our efforts, and the positive impact Visit Spokane brings to our region, not only through conventions but also in our marketing and public relations work. Naturally, we’re also set on strengthening our brand recognition nationwide and attracting new groups and meetings. With the addition of several new team members, I’m eager to witness their growth within our organization as well.

Elizabeth Nutting, CSEP

Account Director, TK Events

Listen, Challenge, Learn

Moment I Knew I Belonged in the Meetings Industry: I stumbled into this industry after a decade in theatre, so I decided to attend a post-graduate program in events before I took the “leap.” While still learning, I was hired as a creative director for an up-and-coming agency where we quickly landed a contract with an automotive client producing their holiday event. Since I was still attending school, I relied heavily on my professors and fellow students to pull off this enormous event. It was when I took a moment to pause, immediately before doors, that I realized I belonged. The event industry was the one for me.

Welcoming Strategy: Feeling welcome is a critical part of success. When it comes to my team, I make sure that everyone is heard, moderating the discussion with that in mind. At events, I ensure all aspects are inclusive. I do not want anyone to feel uncomfortable, so I challenge my team to think about every single attendee. As for life? I always ensure that there is a missing piece of the pie. Whenever you find yourself in a circle, leave a space open for others to join. I embrace that wholeheartedly and do my best to ensure that everyone feels welcome.

Next Goal: It is important to me to work well with others. However, we work in an industry full of type-A personalities and it isn’t always easy. I am constantly trying to learn how to work with different personalities; whether it’s through understanding my perspective or focusing on theirs. I read leadership books, I research working styles, I observe my colleagues. I spend a lot of time gathering insight and applying it. I realize this is a life-long goal that I may never attain, but I will continue to strive for it.

Wanda Otero

Account Director, Hyatt Regency Grand Reserve Puerto Rico

Personalization, Availability, Accountability

Moment I Knew I Belonged in the Meetings Industry: After hurricane Maria I left Puerto Rico and worked for cluster sales in New York. My role was more reactive than what I was used to. It was during my year in this role that I realized that I missed the action. That is when I returned to the island and took the role that I am in now. This was the defining moment that made me appreciate what I had and that I didn’t want to do anything else. I love meeting new clients and the rush of the hotels. There’s an indescribable feeling when I am running and planning events for clients. I am very proud to showcase our beautiful island and the resort.

Welcoming Strategy: When I asked a few people this question, it was nice to hear the same words from friends, clients and colleagues. I was described as professional yet warm, welcoming–almost as if I was greeting you in my home. For me, just a smile and being genuine is what it takes to make people feel welcome in all aspects of my life.

Next Goal: I would like to work on obtaining my CMP. I thought about this for years but never had the time. After Covid I realized that there were so many things we set aside and never got to it.

Sherri L. Perez

Director of Special Events and Catering, Detroit Athletic Club

Engaging, Experience, Unexpected

Moment I Knew I Belonged in the Meetings Industry: I knew meeting and events were my passion when I started my management program with Hyatt at the DFW. I have enjoyed working with meetings as a catering manager, CS manager and then a director, helping mentor others. I knew I was in the right place when solving issues and having the opportunity to improve experiences gave me the same euphoric feeling that a runner gets in the second mile. Working with events for an extended period of time, planning, replanning, budgeting and seeing it all come together and attendees enjoy the experience, is exactly why I love what I do for a living. I have been with the same venue for 22 years and am often asked why. There are so many reasons, but the ones that pop into my headfirst are 1. It is never the same day, there are always opportunities and challenges to improve and try something new to create different experiences for our members and guests. And the challenges are what keeps you growing and passionate about what you do. 2. We have the honor of being part of someone’s experience and memory and many times impacting their lives.

Welcoming Strategy: Collaboration is key to making sure everyone on the team feels part of the team and part of wanting to keep moving forward and always going above and beyond. Our philosophy is TAKING CARE–Take Care of your teammates, Take Care of your Clients, Take Care of the Club and Take Care of yourself. If you are thinking about always taking care, our events are going to be well thought out, your staff is going to be taken care of and you are going to make sure you do not burnout in the process. We also have monthly PPI (Personal Progress Interviews) to discuss 5 points: What did you do the last 30 days and how did it go? How are your service guarantees going and what are your corrective actions on any failed SG’s? Is there anything I can do to help you achieve your goals? Is there anything getting in the way of your personal success?  What are your goals for the next 30 days? These key questions help conversations start and continue the communication process. I often find lack of communication is where things start to break down, and you don’t see it until it’s too late. We are in constant communication to make sure nothing falls through the cracks, and everyone feels their voice is heard and is valued.

Next Goal: Our next goal is 100 New Things! We are putting together 100 new events or ideas that we have not done in the past and facilitate them throughout 2024. It’s exciting because at the same time, we also are taking on a $10 million renovation of our main kitchen and already getting creative about how we will still deliver our 365 special events to our membership for 2024. In a normal year we do over 3,200 events with 365 of them being special events specifically for our membership to enjoy. I am also mentoring my team to help get them to the level they would like to be at in their career with an individual development plan for each of them. With different programs of monthly educations, quarterly team building and supporting them as they pursue their specific desired certifications.

Michele Polci, CPCE, CMP, CED

Director of Catering Sales Las Vegas, Caesars Entertainment

Inclusive, Mindful, Impactful

Moment I Knew I Belonged in the Meetings Industry: After graduating from UNLV I was on track to be a Human Resources Manager. My career took a turn and that led me to a career in sales and catering. In the mid-90s I came into my own when I was the sports sales manager at a hotel in San Diego, the energy of the fans and the teams, planning the pregame meals, it was a whirlwind of excitement, I was hooked. I just celebrated my 27th year with Caesars Entertainment, I get to do what I love every day. That is a really special feeling.

Welcoming Strategy: My core philosophy is humility. It tends to shine through in every aspect of my life, from relationships with family and colleagues to my approach to event planning. I tend to prioritize the well-being and happiness of others, all while being mindful of the job at hand.  It is important to me that I ensure my team members have the support they need to balance work and family life. When planning and creating events I ensure that they are inclusive and thoughtful experiences for everyone, I never want anyone to feel that they are left out.

Next Goal: I love to say I have the best job in the world, work for the best company, and the most incredible group of talented professionals. I look forward to leading my team to a successful 2024. I am recognizing the importance of wellness and making it a focus in my own life, knowing that it is essential for my overall well-being and success.  Caesars Entertainment is making great headway with our planners on this front and It is time I practice what I preach.  I am also a firm believer that we need to give back to the events community. My involvement in organizations like the SEARCH Foundation and the Las Vegas Hospitality Association cements my commitment to giving back to the events community. It is important to support and uplift others in the industry, through grants, scholarships and fostering a sense of camaraderie and collaboration.

Diane Rettos

Director of Group Sales, Edgewood Tahoe Resort

Collaborate, Adapt, Create

Moment I Knew I Belonged in the Meetings Industry: The first event we hosted during the pandemic amidst all of the challenges, social distancing requirements and other limitations, we hit it out of the park! Everyone who attended was so happy to be meeting live-in-person, safely, and it was so much fun to be a part of that. I was especially grateful to be part of an industry that was able to figure it out and keep moving forward in spite of circumstances completely out of our control. No two days are the same in our industry and that keeps it interesting!

Welcoming Strategy: We all contribute to some part of the guest experience at our resort, and I always try to keep that in mind as I interact with my team and other team members at the hotel, and in life. You never know what challenges someone may be facing in their lives, so I try to give people the benefit of the doubt as much as possible. Everyone counts!

Next Goal: I started out my career after college working for a Ski Tour Operator in Park City, UT, first planning ski vacations for our clients, and then moving into Sales and Marketing. I love to travel and always have for as long as I can remember! I try to go to a new place that I’ve never been before, every year, at least once. Sometimes it’s a road trip to somewhere regional, and sometimes it’s 15 + hour flight!  Travel opens hearts and minds, so my goal is to keep finding new places to visit.

Melanie Rich

Business Development Specialist, VDA

Captivate, Connect, Clairvoyant

Moment I Knew I Belonged in the Meetings Industry: The first time I transformed a struggling non-profit event into a success, I recognized my passion for creating impactful gatherings.  Instead of letting the clock run out and allowing guests to leave bored and unhappy, I stuck myself into the center of the room and started making it memorable. By taking initiative, I connected guests, sparked meaningful conversations, and fostered a sense of community around the cause. The overwhelming appreciation solidified my calling to make every event a catalyst for connection and purpose.

Welcoming Strategy: I believe everyone deserves a seat at the table. On teams, I break down silos, encouraging diverse perspectives. At events, I ensure everyone feels seen, from the VIP to the volunteer. In life, I extend a helping hand, making connections that empower and uplift. It’s about creating a world where everyone feels like they can thrive.

Next Goal: I’m on a mission to become a certified trainer, leading workshops that ignite courage, amplify voices, and empower event professionals to light up their careers and leave a lasting impact.


Shelley Ryan in black topShelley Ryan

Senior Director, Hilton Events

Interactive, Engaging, Personalized

Moment I Knew I Belonged in the Meetings Industry: In October 2017, I was on a small team planning a 2500-person conference. The start of general session was when it clicked for me that each attendee’s experience was partly my creation. The seamless flow of sessions, sound of laughter during breaks, and echo of applause for speakers was energizing. The year of meticulous planning materialized into meaningful interactions, where every detail contributed to something great. I now lead the team that plans these events, and I still get chills when it comes to life onsite, and I once again realize this is where I belong.

Welcoming Strategy: A welcoming atmosphere involves genuine warmth and inclusivity, which is why I approach creating an event just like I would welcome people to my home or a new employee to my team. I greet people cheerfully and with friendly faces. I consider people who may have social anxiety by integrating thoughtful introductions or activations that help them feel comfortable and connected. Additionally, I am mindful of cultural differences, show empathy, am approachable, avoid judgment, and provide support when needed. Ultimately, when an atmosphere is built on kindness and acceptance people feel valued.

Next Goal: I love my work, always have, and I have lots of professional goals. But my current goal is to become more involved in my community, making a positive change in the place I call home. Whether through volunteering, organizing events or collaborating on local projects, I am committed to engage in activities that foster unity, well-being, and growth. I have a genuine desire to contribute meaningfully to all areas of my life–work and personal.

Constance (Connie) Samuels, MBA, CMP, DES

Director, Events & Education, National Association of Professional Employer Organizations (NAPEO)

Inclusive, Fun, Purposeful

Moment I Knew I Belonged in the Meetings Industry: The moment I felt like I belonged in the meetings industry was when I moved back to D.C. in 2015. I had recently transitioned to the events side after 7.5 years in hotel/destination sales. I remember attending my first industry event, and it was like all my worlds collided—friends, former colleagues, vendor partners—they were all there. This industry fits my philosophy of ‘love what you do and do what you love’. I have made so many wonderful memories and friends throughout my career. So, I feel incredibly blessed when I think about the fact that this is my actual career!

 Welcoming Strategy: I make everyone on my team feel welcome by making sure they know their voice is important. The success of the team is a direct correlation to their unique superpowers. I make everyone at our events feel welcome by actively engaging our members and genuinely getting to know them. I also make sure any new attendees are acknowledged and are sought out to make sure they don’t feel like they are by themselves. I make the people in life feel welcome by simply being kind. Kindness goes a long way and even if it’s just a simple smile or complimenting someone, that can make all the difference in a person’s day.

Next Goal: The next professional goal I am pursuing is obtaining my Certified Association Executive (CAE) certification. I believe this certification is a culmination of what one needs to know about the operations, business, and leadership of an association, and solidifies one as a leader within the industry. Looking back, I did not know what the association world entailed but I am so glad to have had the opportunities to grow my career in the many ways it has. My next personal goal is to learn how to drive a manual (stick) shift again. I learned when I was first practicing for my license but lost the skill when my family got a new car. Honestly, I just think it’s cool! 😊

Mary Sanchez Quigg, PMED

Vice President of Global Accounts, ConferenceDirect

Experience, Meaningful Content, Curated Networking

Moment I Knew I Belonged in the Meetings Industry: Meeting Planning was a second career for me but I felt comfortable in the role from the very beginning. I realized that I had grown in my role and was trusted to make sound decisions when my then boss, the Executive Director of the association I worked for, sent me on a planning visit to Las Vegas and said, “You can handle this alone.” I had been in the role officially for one year.

Welcoming Strategy: Let everyone know, regardless of title, responsibilities, or experience, that we are all in this together and we will work together to ensure our collective success.

Next Goal: As we were coming out of the pandemic, I realized that I would have to learn how to navigate the new normal and I became certified in Pandemic Event Design (PMED). It was truly useful as we came back to in-person events. Looking ahead, I believe we all need to embrace AI and the influence it will have on events. I have signed on to become certified in the use of AI in the events industry. “Never stop learning both professionally and personally” is the motto I live by.

Brittney Shea Cobb

Director, Global Events, Innov8 Meetings+Events

Authenticity, Class, Cool-factor”

Moment I Knew I Belonged in the Meetings Industry: From my earliest memories, the art of event planning has been woven into the fabric of my life. Watching my mom and Granmomma orchestrate family, church, and non-profit events planted the seeds of this passion. In high school, I instinctively stepped into the world of organizing school & non-profit events, and during college, a transformative summer in the Outer Banks reshaped my career trajectory. Shifting from pre-med to hospitality, I discovered my true calling. Through diverse roles in the industry, my journey led me to my current position, where I realized I was living my dream career. Crafting impactful experiences, mitigating risks, and optimizing bottom lines–this is not just a job; it’s my profound love and commitment to serving others in ways that genuinely matter.

Welcoming Strategy: Rooted in my southern upbringing, I infuse authentic hospitality into every facet of my life. A warm smile and vibrant eyes convey a genuine welcome, ensuring everyone feels acknowledged. I prioritize active listening, recognizing its dual role in learning and making individuals feel genuinely valued. A blend of bubbly energy and laid-back charm fosters inclusivity. This combination not only shapes the atmosphere at events but extends seamlessly into team dynamics. Beyond organizing, it’s about cultivating a space where each person feels not just part of an event but an integral member of a warm, inviting community.

Next Goal: As a fervently goal-oriented individual, I immerse myself in personal, spiritual, and business aspirations. My yearly ritual involves articulating these objectives on a whiteboard, transforming dreams into a daily visual. My current focus is on expanding my event portfolio across diverse industries, ensuring a rich tapestry of clientele. Simultaneously, I aspire to share insights through increased speaking engagements, particularly in the realm of contract-focused education for planners. Beyond this, my goals extend to legislative involvement, a pathway to deepen my understanding and globally impact the hospitality, travel, and tourism sectors. Every goal is not just a target but a step towards enriching industries and communities worldwide.

Randi Sussman

Senior Director, Global Accounts, HelmsBriscoe

Strategic, Relevant, Efficient

Moment I Knew I Belonged in the Meetings Industry: Growing up, my dad was active in a large association. Wherever he had a meeting, the family always went along. My mom’s favorite saying was “Never let school interfere with the education of your children.” Travel was something that was always a part of my life. By my sophomore year in college, I was interning with the organization at their meetings. I knew this was the career path I was meant to take. I studied Travel and Tourism in college and started my meeting planning career upon graduation. One of the organizations that my dad was active with is my client today.

Welcoming Strategy: At HelmsBriscoe, I am part of a team of 1,400 associates worldwide. I contribute by being a mentor for newer associates as well as interacting frequently with my fellow seasoned colleagues. But the teams I am most proud to be a part of are my customers. Each company I work with makes me a part of their squad. I get to know what is important to each of them in making their events special. I make it a point to attend site visits and be on site at some of their conferences so I can truly be immersed in their culture. Although I feel as if I am a member of multiple teams, I try my best to make each one feel that I am their number one player.

Next Goal: Over the almost 20 years I have been with HelmsBriscoe, I have been proud of having a great work/life balance. However, now that my children are grown and out of the house, I find myself with more time on my hands. A goal of mine is to become more active in industry associations. I would like to eventually be a board member and also mentor newcomers to the industry. I am currently trying to find the right organization that will allow me to grow professionally and personally.

J.J. Wills

Senior Vice President, Marketing Programs & Business Development, ConferenceDirect

Authentic, Collaborative, Localized

Moment I Knew I Belonged in the Meetings Industry: Introspection takes me all the way back to when I was 10 years old and I planned a surprise party for my Mom’s 40th birthday.  Apparently, all of the adults thought “someone else” was helping, but I did it all on my own.  Bringing people together and creating special moments comes naturally and brings me joy.  I didn’t really understand the scope and complexity of the meetings industry until I attended my first national professional conference: MPI-PEC 2000 in Nashville.  That is where I was exposed to the impact of meetings and career possibilities ahead.

Welcoming Strategy: In every environment and circumstance, I believe that eye contact and a genuine smile go a long way to make people feel visible and welcome, along with words of recognition and gratitude. I try to listen more than I speak, encouraging others to share their perspectives, feelings, and stories. For our events, we crowd-source content topics and engage attendees as thought leaders which creates a sense of belonging. As an innate connector, I am always thinking about introductions I can make to help others build new relationships or suggestions on how they can personalize and elevate their own experience.

Next Goal: Professionally, as I continue to grow my career, I want to help inspire the next generation of leaders into our industry through mentorship and educational opportunities for students. Personally, I feel drawn to support events in my local community, including a major event coming soon, the 2028 Olympics. I recently moved to the L.A. area and having an international event of that magnitude in my backyard is pulling me in. I admire the athletes’ pursuit of excellence and fulfilling their dreams and embrace the patriotic connection that brings people together. I hope to contribute to LA28 in a meaningful way. 

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