Meet the leaders moving the events industry forward

The community of meeting professionals is a powerful reservoir of strength and support. Our founder Marin Bright believed in the transformative energy recognizing greatness can have to encourage more exceptional stories. That is why nine years ago, when she looked around and saw that no one was shining a light on these powerful stories, she launched Smart Women in Meetings Awards to celebrate extraordinary leaders.

That simple act of respect has grown into a movement that is now officially more than 1,000 women strong, made up of Rising Stars moving up in their careers, Stellar Performers lifting up those around them with their positive attitude, Industry Leaders paving the way forward, Entrepreneurs putting something into the world that wasn’t there before, Innovators reinventing best practices and Visionaries bringing us all into the future and our esteemed Hall of Fame acting as role models along the way. They all contribute in unique ways to make the meetings and events industry a powerful force for good in the world.

This year, we renamed the Mrs. B Award the Marin Bright Vanguard Award and bestowed it on a woman who similarly used her passion to pave the way so others could use their creative energy to help us all meet better.

We received a record number of nominations this year as the Smart Women in Meetings Awards has proven to be a coveted stage. To narrow down the list to the stories you are reading here, we asked these esteemed leaders about their inclusion philosophy. First, we asked for the three words that described their approach to elevating events. You will see the answers under their names on the following pages. It is no surprise that the adjectives that came up most often were Collaborative, Creative, Passionate and Memorable.

Next, we asked about the moment they knew their home was in the hospitality world. Some shared stories of a childhood spent behind the scenes, an influential professor or boss. Many stumbled into their career and realized only backstage after a successful event with everyone hugging and waving goodbye after the general session that they were exactly where they needed to be.

We also quizzed these worthy candidates about their Welcoming Strategy. The most popular response? A big smile. Many paired that with personalized touches, being present and practicing extreme empathy. You can read all of those responses at the link on and learn more about their exciting Next Goals in this issue dedicated to inclusive leadership.

Winners will be toasted in-person at Smart Woman Summit and Smart Women in Meetings Awards Gala at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas Aug. 16. This educational day of skill-building and networking will be a reunion of all Smart Women in Meetings Award winners and their supporters over the last nine years and a special tribute to our founder and inspiration, Marin Bright.

Congratulations to all the winners and thank you for all you do to keep the light shining. –JT Long

image that reads "visionary" image that reads "innovator"
image that reads "entrepreneur" image that reads "industry leader"
image that reads "stellar performer" image that reads "rising star"

2024 Inductees to Smart Women in Meetings Hall of Fame

Jennifer Carlisle, Hosts Global; Alexandra Carvalho-Lukachova, Kaiser Permanente; Kelly Cavers, The Palm Beaches; Rebecca DeLuca, LVCVA; Amanda Fox, Visit Rochester; Nikole Fridenmaker, Fridenmaker Consulting; Debbie Garcia, VirsiTour; Desiree Knight, Altria; Casandra Matej, Visit Orlando; Lauren Parr, American Geophysical Union; Dee Patel, The Hermitage hotel; Jacquelyn Powell, Dayton Convention & Visitors Bureau; Anna Marie Presutti, Hotel Nikko San Francisco; Sonia Robinson, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion; Martha Sheridan, Meet Boston; Stephanie Tanpure, Sands Resorts Macao; Stephanie Turner, New Orleans & Company; Melissa Vilders, SAP; Joanna Walling, JMW Events


All-time Hall of Fame

Carrie Davenport, Altria; Jorah Anderson, Miraval; Jenn Artura, Jenn Artura Consulting LLC; Austin Bagwell, Vice President of Industry Relations and Business Development, Fontainebleau Development; Cara Banasch, ConferenceDirect; Carina Bauer, IMEX Group; Valerie Bihet, VIBE Agency; Cathy Breden, IAEE; Cindy Brewer; LEO Events; Yvette Campbell, Meeting Broker, Meetings Made Easy; Tammy Canavan, President and CEO, Visit Seattle; Janice Cardinale, Founder, Event Minds Matter; Catherine Chaulet, Global DMC Partners; Janine Chicourrat, Portola Hotel & Spa; Julie Coker; San Diego Tourism Authority; Jil Dasher, Corsica Partners; Jennifer Dela-Cruz, Director, Meetings & Events, RBC; Pepper Dombroski, Director of Sales, Rancho Bernardo Inn; Dahlia El Gazzar, Dahlia+Agency; Zoe Fernandez, Merkle; Megan Finnell, MGMA; Carrie Freeman Parsons, Freeman Company; Michelle Gilman Jasen, Vice President, Hotel Sales and Marketing, North and Central America, Accor; Jenn Glynn, Managing Partner, Meeting Encore; Polly Grieger-Rossi, Meeting Achievements; Karen Hartline, Event Director, VentureBeat; Reina Herschdorfer, Caesars Entertainment; Mahoganey Jones, Founder and CEO, Event Specialists; Tracy Judge, Soundings; Andrea Kasnic, Hyatt Regency Chicago; Rachel Klar, Intuit Canada; Mariles Krok, Vice President, Meeting & Partnership Sales, Visit Anaheim; Christy Lamagna, Devin Lewis, Vice President of Sales & Business Development, Bermuda Tourism Authority; Strategic Meetings & Events; Stefanie Maragna, RingCentral; Heather Mason, Founder, Caspian Agency; Michelle Mason, ASAE; Anna MacDiarmid, W Fort Lauderdale; Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA; Faith Morris, National Civil Rights Museum; Sonali Nair, CEO, Segment Agency; Kate Patay, Terramar US; Jennifer Patino, Hosts Global; Rhanee Palma, CEO, Rhanee Palma & Co.; Cheryl Payne, Strategic Partner, INNOV8 Meetings + Events; Rachael Riggs, General Manager, Environmental Strategy, Maritz Global Events; Cheryl Rogers, All About The Experiences; Claire Smith, Vancouver Convention Centre; Jennifer Squeglia, RLC Events; Gabrielle Spanton, GAB & Co.; Julie Stovroff, Vice President of Sales, Insurance & Financial Services, Teneo Hospitality Group; Julie Stow, Director of Meetings and Conventions, Cedar Raids Tourism Office; Tracy Stuckrath, founder, Thrive!; Valerie Sumner, VRS Meetings & Events; Christina Taylor, TaylorMade Experience; Susie Townsend, Visit Indy; Valerie Ulrich, First Republic; Shelli Vasser Gilliam, Vasser Gilliam LLC; Desi Whitney, HPN Global; Amanda Young, Executive Producer, Media.Monks; Toni Zoblotsky, Hilton Hotels, Janet Zaldua, CEO, Marina del Rey Tourism

This article appears in the March 2024 issue. You can subscribe to the magazine here.