Christy Bareijsza, CMP, CMM

Founder and Chief Experience Officer, Events By Red Carpet

Innovation, Connection, Authenticity

Advice for My Jan. 2020 Self: The sixth sense combined with an understanding of historical and economic trends is the most underused piece of advice. Having weathered post-9/11, the great recession and the quadrennial stagnation a presidential election perpetuates for corporate events in the hospitality industry, I was moderately prepared for a reduction in business in 2020, but far from prepared for a global pandemic to decimate the industry. My advice would have been to further diversify promoted company services beyond physical support needs like onsite management and conference development, by enhancing intellectual services like contract negotiation and mitigation consulting, conceptualizing alternative branding solutions and sourcing advanced technology for prominent industry deficiencies.

Pandemic Lesson: The pandemic created an environment that sparked an emotional variety of frustration, helplessness and underlining negativity. Most experienced a downward spiral perpetuated by fear, isolation and skepticism that forced individuals to not only deal with their insecurities, but also required a tremendous amount of soul searching in order to accept the temporary circumstances and redirect with a positive momentum. Quickly grasping the understanding that the pandemic was going to extend much longer then the media initially anticipated, I utilized the time to strengthen my company’s foundation through restructuring, certifications and education in preparation to expand beyond the traditional network of clients and services when business naturally resumed. I also conceptualized and developed a series of projects leveraging my industry expertise extending beyond the realm of hospitality, which have received everything from blatant rejection to acceptance with modification to immediate success. The pandemic lesson is that renunciation comes in many forms; you must always continue to forge forward daily with determination, strategy and blind faith in both yourself and the ideology that genuine hard work will pay off nobly.

Magdalena Bonnelly

Owner & Founder of Event Strategies and The Meeting Space podcast

Flexibility, Adaptability, Emotional Maturity

Advice for My Jan. 2020 Self: “The art of knowing is knowing what to ignore” – Rumi. I would tell myself to focus only on what I can control, which is my actions and my response to daily events. Last year was a year of uncertainty and by staying focused on what I can control, one day at a time (sometimes one hour at a time), I was able to reduce anxiety and unnecessary worry.

Pandemic Lesson: Staying agile and open-minded is crucial for business and success. As a self-employed small business owner, I had an opportunity to branch out during the pandemic into another business. When events and meetings came to a screeching halt, I stayed open to opportunities. My lesson is that there is always a solution. It may not be known right in the moment, but sooner or later, clarity comes in and solution is made available.

Aja Bradley Kemp

Founder & Chief Experience Officer, Conversate Collective

Resiliency Approach: Mental, Physical, Spiritual

Advice for My Jan. 2020 Self: The year ahead will be a rollercoaster on many levels, but you will find opportunity, community and support in unexpected places. As much as possible, be a light of positivity and encouragement for others. Also, despite the images on TV, you don’t have to worry about running out of toilet paper.

Pandemic Lesson: I think we often look to experts and people with more experience to give us answers in difficult times, and sometimes we look to them to make the hard decisions for us. But 2020 was the year we found out that the people we thought should have the answers, didn’t. In business, this taught me that when I feel strongly about something, even if it doesn’t seem practical or ideal, to trust my instincts. If that idea, dream or solution keeps showing up, even if others don’t agree, trust your own abilities and move forward confidently.

Tammy Dickerson, CMP

President and Lead Planner, TBG Events

Tenacity, Fierce, Grit

Advice for My Jan. 2020 Self: You should be so proud! This year, you will celebrate 20 years in business and you should be ecstatic about how you have led your company from a small home based business to a national agency servicing some of the top corporations, non-profits, celebrities and dignitaries in the country. Your patience and persistence has paid off. Don’t let this year be any different. Continue to be laser focused on your goals and mission both professional and personally. Continue to enjoy the journey and don’t be afraid to tackle anything. Celebrate your victories in life…even the small ones.

Pandemic Lesson: Taking a break can be productive. Sometimes the most productive thing I can do is nothing! As your typical meeting planner and Type-A personality, I used to think that being busy all the time was a badge of honor. If I wasn’t doing anything or working on my constant to-do lists that I wasn’t being productive. I still struggle mentally with wanting to always be doing or accomplishing something, and it can be utterly exhausting. Covid-19 completely changed my fast-paced way of life and I was forced to slow down. Even better, I learned it’s OK to slow down and just be—to be quiet sometimes and actually allow my mind to think and body to rest. I learned it’s actually the best way recharge and be more productive.

Michelle Harty, CMP-HC

CEO & Founder, Meeting Sites Pro, Inc., SM Squared, Digital Destinations

Confidence, Compassion, Innovation

Advice for My Jan. 2020 Self: While the pandemic and difficult lessons of 2020 were unanticipated, I recognize that setbacks happen and 2020 had many silver linings. During isolation, I collaborated with industry leaders to inspire, educate and focus on possibilities with the goal of embracing change. I focused on moving forward and this perspective helped me make sense of the new reality and experience self-discovery, innovations and growth. While it wasn’t easy, I’m proud of myself and my accomplishments. In looking back to January 2020, I would remind myself of the importance of a positive mindset and the power of stepping back for overall perspective.

Pandemic Lesson: It isn’t about how you react to unforeseen events like COVID-19; rather, it’s about keeping a positive perspective and proactive thinking. What has allowed me to grow my team, increase client demand, and grow new business opportunities is my vision to keep moving and planning meetings with health safety top of mind. I did not want to wait for things to get better; rather, I wanted to be at the forefront of getting back to business, to help our industry move forward, and to ensure my team was prepared to host meetings in our new normal when the opportunity was right.

Astrid Garcia

Managing Director, Liberty International USA

Positivity, Self-care, Flexibility

Advice for My Jan. 2020 Self: Learn to view obstacles as opportunities and don’t be afraid of change. Invest in a nice at home office and buy stock in Zoom. Remember it’s the little things we take for granted that mean the most. Spend time with your friends and family, hug and kiss them as much as possible and go out to your favorite restaurants!

Pandemic Lesson: Don’t take life too seriously and enjoy every moment that you can. Prioritize your mental health and happiness. Seize every opportunity and never stop learning. Things might not work out as you planned, but they always work out for the best. Stay Positive!

Zabrina Hazeltine, CMP, CMM

President, Hamilton Group Meeting Planners, Inc.

Relationships, Team, Adaptable

Advice for My Jan. 2020 Self: Zabrina, I know you don’t have time for this, but listen to me carefully: You are not going to make million-mile club on United this year. In fact, the only traveling you will be doing is literally in your dreams. Change your title to Contract Re-negotiator and brace yourself.  Keep your team together and tap into their potential. Celebrate the small victories and remember this cannot last forever. Alcohol is not the solution, but it will help.

Pandemic Lesson: I have the most amazing group of women as part of my team and without them, Hamilton Group would not be worth owning. We don’t need to fit inside the meeting planner mold that we built for ourselves. Our talents are wide ranging and impressive. The relationships we have with our clients was our lifeline in 2020. Their commitment to our success is humbling. We will continue to build up these relationships, expand our services and replenish our savings and we will be ready for the next rainy day.

Tuesday Johnson-MacDonald, CMP, CMM

President, TAP Resources & Associates

Gratitude, Love, Mentors

Advice to My Jan. 2020 Self: You’re not too old, too tired or unskilled. Take time to breathe, learn to meditate, de-stress and enjoy life, especially the small things. Life happens and it is up to each of us to pause, to take stock and pivot where required. Trust there is always a silver lining even if we don’t see it right away. Know yourself, be true to yourself and have faith. Knowing what makes your heart sing so loudly that it brings tears to your eyes will help lead you through the tough times.

Pandemic Lesson: First lesson, working from home with a retired husband is the greatest test of endurance and love! My inspiration and motivation are my children. My biggest lesson is the importance of being courageous and reaching out to new opportunities even, if you don’t think they are opportunities. I thought I understood the benefits of stretching my body, mind and spirit. Stretching moves stress out of my body and spirit. Whether that stretch is a 5-minute dance or yoga stretch can make the world of difference in perspective and energy. Stretching of perspective and beliefs helps clear the cobwebs in front of those silver linings.

Margaret Launzel-Pennes

CEO and Co-Founder, Total Brand Experience, LLC

Choose Your Attitude

Advice for My Jan. 2020 Self: Everything you have ever worked hard for is about to be turned upside down. Here is what you need to do: Embrace the opportunity to reinvent. Focus on the things you can change and not the things you can’t. Don’t give up and don’t give in. Ask for advice, but be confident enough to lean in. Keep it all in perspective; this too shall pass. Laugh often. Use all of your experience to your advantage (finally!!!). Be fearless. Believe it or not, Margaret, this is your time.

Pandemic Lesson: As an event executive with more than 30 years of experience under my belt, I happily discovered there is still so much more to learn and still so much more I can add to my repertoire. I found 2020 to be profoundly inspirational, invigorating and an opportunity to reinvent, reimagine and refresh. Change and adversity aren’t necessarily negative; they can fuel incredible things. I now know I can do anything I dream of. What an incredible gift.

Ashlee Posner, Eng, MBA

CEO, The Perfume & Cologne Bar by Aromachology

Strategy, Support, Positivity

Advice for My Jan. 2020 Self: Be grateful for all of the crazy experiences you are participating in. Relish in the opportunity to meet and learn from so many new faces in person. Stop rushing.

Pandemic Lesson: Slowing down allows for more opportunity to be grateful for everything in life. Life (and a business) is a marathon, not a sprint; sometimes a little break allows for a new enthusiasm and renewed energy.

Sharon Steeley, MBA

Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Marketing & Communications, Prospectu

Power, Positivity, Purpose

Advice for My Jan. 2020 Self: Always think big–and always believe. As with many of us in this industry, I lost my job, a valued career and, most of all, the opportunity to work with incredible colleagues, all in the midst of an isolating pandemic. However, another path quickly emerged. I stepped into a new dream job and used my background to collaborate and innovate a new profitable business, with a vehicle to bring corporate teams together and to engage employees, even uplift them in our virtual meeting world. Life truly does surprise us! I now have entrepreneur and co-founder on my resume.

Pandemic Lesson: People Matter. It’s okay to lean on each other, be vulnerable. It’s our community, who inspires us to learn, move forward and, ultimately, be successful. This community is incredible! The pandemic proved we are a force when we support each other, support each other’s work, and support philanthropic endeavors, simultaneously, no less. At Prospectu, we strive to elevate our many stakeholders, as they do for us, from our partners, clients, meeting attendees to a workforce of furloughed peers and special needs individuals. Empowering each of our stakeholders in today’s business makes all of us shine brighter.

Rachel Stephan, DES

Event Marketer and Event Tech Founder, Snoball

Onward, Family, Perseverance

Advice for My Jan. 2020 Self: Keeping moving forward. Consider the setback as a reset, an opportunity to forge forward and onward more resilient and determined. Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture and make sure to nurture your relationships—personal and professional. It is the people you surround yourself with who can lift you up and help you through. Remember that there are opportunities at every corner; stop and notice the small little things.

Pandemic Lesson: At first, like everyone else, I was devastated and paralyzed from moving forward. Then I took a deep breath and decided I could either give in or level up and continue onward. I chose to forge ahead and take this opportunity to invest in transforming and adjusting our business and tech offering to help support our changing industry. It paid off. When life gives you lemons, make a Tom Collins 🙂

Back to the Smart Women in Meetings Awards 2021