100 Women Who Inspire Us: Innovator

Meeting Planning

Kristin Arnold, president, Quality Process Consultants

Inspiration: Panel discussions have a 50-50% probability of being any good. What inspires me is the possibility for all panel discussions to be lively and informative! I built a free e-course containing a “knowledge vault” of wisdom collected from professional panel moderators from all over the world.

Superpower: Laser focus. I can focus on the end result and figure out the least expensive, smoothest and most collaborative/relationship-building way to get there. It’s in my DNA: being a facilitator of conversation.

Action Item: Be the model of whom I believe the world needs to see. We are more divisive than ever, so it’s a matter of being heard, and to be heard in a respectful and collaborative manner. You can talk all you want, but people “listen” more to what you do than what you say they should do.


Sharon Fisher, CEO and idea sparker, Play with a Purpose

Inspiration: As a facilitator and trainer, the biggest thing that inspires me is seeing the aha in people’s eyes when they get it—whether it’s a teenager who gets a personal insight, an executive who gets a great, workable, new idea, or a planner who finds a new way to freshen up a meeting—it’s always rewarding to see a face light up when a new idea sinks in.

Superpower: Idea sparker. I love thinking big, and coaching others to think differently.

Action Item: The world needs a lot of healing right now, and I firmly believe in the power of play to unite people. When we were kids, we came together on the playground. We learned to compete, to collaborate, to understand each other, to create, to heal, to forgive. I’ll continue using play to bring people together.


Laura Halasa, director of events, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Inspiration: Passion and drive. Other people inspire me. When in the presence of an individual who possesses these qualities, I am encouraged to continue being the best person and professional I can be. It’s amazing to see the mountains that can be moved, and the challenges that can be overcome, with sheer determination.

Superpower: Vision. It allows me to be there for others by helping them see and reach their visions; it helps me to multitask and stay calm in the midst of chaos; it helps me to remain logical and not emotional in the face of fear and failure; it helps me to remain steady and empathetic to others during challenging times. And it helps define the good actions I do in this world, as I try my best to make a difference.

Action Item: I will lead by example in both my personal and professional life. I will continue to drive change where those with ideas are heard—and where risks are taken, whether or not those risks are successful, in the name of innovation and growth—where empathy and humanity are never forgotten in the midst of technology and its advancements, and where kindness, courage and speaking up for those without a voice is not optional—it is required.


Suzanne Halperin, vice president of catering and banquet brand operations, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants

Inspiration: Positivity, laughter and happiness.

Superpower: My sense of humor and making everyone around me feel included.

Action Item: I will continue to have a voice and fight for what is right and fair. I want to encourage young people to follow their dreams and passions.


Aubrie Jones, vice president of sales, Hosts Las Vegas, A Hosts Global Member

Inspiration: I am inspired every day by the dedication, level of commitment and passion that I see from so many in this industry.

Superpower: Mind Reader. I have a gift of being able to read people quickly and anticipate an individual’s needs sometimes before they do. I quickly adapt to be on the same page and alter my direction as needed. If mind reading is a super power and capes are involved, I would like mine in pink please.

Action Item: I will do everything that I can to empower woman, be it my 6-year-old daughter Hadley, or women I have the pleasure of working with by showing them that hard work always pays off and that honesty and integrity always wins.


Stefanie Maragna, vice president of corporate marketing and events, Sage Intacct

Inspiration: Passionate people and empowering others. Being around passionate people who love what they do. They are always contagious for me, and get my juices going. They come from all walks of life. I am a true believer in making change and empowering others—everyone can do something that can make a difference.

Superpower: Someone once called me a “wonder wrangler” and “very good at herding cats.” I wield powers of lightspeed and omni presence to make sure things get done, attendees are having a great time and things are going smoothly—all with what seems the greatest of ease. Surrounding myself with incredible people working together and using the right tools allows me to do this.

Action Item: Practice random acts of kindness. A small act of kindness creates a ripple effect that can carry from person to person, brightening many lives. It may be giving someone a smile or holding a door open for someone, working in the community, or buying lunch for a friend. It doesn’t take a lot to make someone’s day a little bit better. One of my favorite quotes from Mother Teresa sums it up, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”


Raime Merriman, marketing director, Hubb

Inspiration: I am inspired by acts of generosity and kindness. I’m awed by the power that conference and meeting planners have to enable knowledge sharing, awareness building and to help make the world just a little brighter and better than it was before.

Superpower: Ability to see the connections between things—this ability allows me to see things from a different angle and take a unique approach.

Action Item: I’m committed to ensuring that all people have a voice. As event professionals, we have a responsibility to ensure that a wide variety of people and viewpoints are represented in our event’s content—and that all different abilities are accommodated at the event itself. We have a role to play in shaping the world we want to live in and I’m thrilled to be a part of that.


Marnie Miller Battistini, CEO, Miller Tanner Associates

Inspiration: A dramatic sunset, hearing someone’s hearty laughter, seeing a woman take care of a child, are all inspiring. Most inspiring is working with the amazing people at Miller Tanner Associates (MTA) who spur me on daily to be better, to do better and to dream deeper.

Superpower: The ability to read minds. Like most people who invest time in “listening” and have a lot of experience observing body language, I can almost always read our clients minds. I can definitely read my son’s mind! I can tell when a vendor is going to deliver a “challenging” message. I know what my direct reports are thinking in almost any business situation. I think a lot of us have this “superpower” and more!  It’s a blessing and a curse! (Smiles)

Action Item: The Miller Tanner Associate team values giving back. We believe in our everyday lives that we can do more/offer more to those around us. We invest in our communities and when the opportunity allows, we invest in the meeting locations we travel to making sure we give back. At our annual workshop, we rejoice in our CSR events, making it one of the most popular event we do together each year.


Megan Tate, vice president, meeting and event manager, Wells Fargo

Inspiration: Innovation, disruption and change—the speed and depth at which industries and business methods are being challenged, and are evolving. I am also inspired by the groundbreaking women of previous generations, whose persistence shaped the way modern women work. Because of them, I don’t have to choose between a career and a family, or between pursuing my passions and hobbies, or advancing my professional ambitions. We live in a time that allows us to blend all aspects of our lives, and encourages us to be one multi-dimensional person instead of constantly switching hats to fit our environment.

Superpower: Gratitude. It always keeps me in check. It reminds me to never assume or take things for granted. I have to practice it on a daily basis, but the more I focus on it, the more powerful it makes me in every facet of my life.

Action Item: I will be the example. I will raise my voice. I will stand up for what I believe. I will show my daughters, and girls everywhere, that being a woman is a wonderful thing, and that they can do and be anything!


Desi Whitney, senior vice president, sourcing operations and industry relations, HPN Global

Inspiration: I am inspired daily by family, love, creativity, self-improvement, learning, gratitude and my accomplishments. More importantly, I draw inspiration from the appreciation I have learned to garner for all the incredible opportunities in life. From true appreciation comes heart-felt inspiration.

Superpower: Caring. Plain and simple, I care. I care about others more than myself. I care about the success of our industry and the success of the relationships we build. I care about others as human beings and friends. By caring for others, we foster a depth of health that paves the path for a brighter future.

Action Item: This truly is a pivotal time in the world. Many changes and divisions exist that are beyond our control. Threats, generational differences and technology are just a few examples of the ever-evolving environment we’re faced with. What will change the world for tomorrow are the relationships we build today. There is no way to forecast the future and what it may bring, but by building strong foundational relationships, we build a network of strength that is efficient and adaptable to handle any challenge that heads our way.


Valerie Sumner, principal, VRS Meetings & Event

Inspiration: The great strength of the human spirit and the pursuit of celebrating acts of kindness.

Superpower: Not sure that I have a superpower – more relentless energy and positivity.

Action Item: Passionate resolve to bring people together, seek common ground and craft solutions through collaboration.


Toni Zoblotsky, director of B2B marketing, Hilton Worldwide

Inspiration: At Hilton, I’m surrounded by marketing, sales and catering professionals who absolutely love their work and do everything they can to put their best foot forward in creating meaningful guest experiences. I love their energy and happiness. I am not exaggerating when I say I drive to work every day happy and excited to go to work.

Superpower: I have been told many times that I’m tough, but also fair. I want to be proud to sign my name to a piece of work or a project, and expect a similar attitude from those around me. I also think I’m really funny. My husband disagrees.

Action Item: Continue to do what I can to encourage in-person meetings for three reasons. 1. I believe the more people travel, the more we realize we are more alike than different. 2. I believe that when people meet face-to-face, the personal connections established help move the business relationship forward. 3. Traveling to meetings creates jobs! Whether it’s the snack you buy at the airport, the taxi you take to the hotel, or the banquet captain serving your lunch—that one trip creates many jobs that drive the local economy.


Jenn Artura, senior director, global strategic events and executive briefing programs, Veritas

Inspiration: Laughter, energy, passion, happiness, travel and creativity not only inspire me, but help me inspire others around me. There is a special place in my heart for the go-getters, dream makers and trailblazers who excite, spark ideas and see the world differently. I love the industry we’re in and, most of all, the amazingly talented team I work with who inspire me endlessly.

Superpower: Fearlessness. I love what I do and that passion fuels my courage to fail. If I fall down seven times, I’ll get up eight times. Whatever it takes. What I love about live events are the endless opportunities to challenge the ordinary, takes risks, see things differently and make the extraordinary happen. I have solid instincts, listen to my gut and stay true to the vision.

Action Item: Spread kindness. In this fast-paced world, kindness and compassion have taken a back seat to selfies, self-interest and expendable human interactions. I think that each and every one of us possesses the power to impact someone else in a positive way. Through even the smallest acts of everyday kindness, we can spark immediate payoffs on both the giving and receiving end. In doing so, we are actually changing the way we see ourselves, the way we see others, and the way others see us. Our industry provides a great platform for creating happiness, spreading kindness, inspiring others and creating memorable moments that can change the world one smile at a time.


Lisa Russi, senior director, catering and events sales and operations, Americas, Hilton

Inspiration: My inspiration sources are endless and truly come from events and experiences all around the world. From fine-dining and casual pop-up restaurants to experiential events and culinary, technology and design showcases to ideas executed by our Hilton teams—you name it.

Superpower: Creativity without boundaries and consistently thinking outside of the box. I am always pushing myself for new and innovative ways to create experiences that our guests can enjoy and that my team can learn from and be motivated by to provide the best experience possible. Simply put, I have fun in the clouds and rainbows, but also equally enjoy the magic of making something come to life.

Action Item: Creating experiences and telling stories is a key part of events now more than ever. My top action is to turn a brand’s message into an experience and create a unique series of executed events that weaves the story throughout each element and touchpoint of the overall event.


Lisa C Klarich, marketing event manager, WebPT

Inspiration: Living each day to the fullest, travel, nature, people who love life, event days when all the hard work turns into smiles and delight from attendees.

Superpower: Enhancing the experience.

Action Item: I will continue to do what I love, live passionately, encourage others, and know everyone can be anything they want to be.

More Innovators

Karin Flores

Vice President of Strategic Events, Salesforce

Kristi Coombs

Director, The Institute of Internal Auditors

Shining Stars

Sekeno Aldred

Director of Events and Sponsorships, Goodwill Industries International

Carlin Fink

Director of Event Marketing, McKesson

Natasha J. Ross, director of education and events, Association of Air Medical Services

Natasha J. Ross, CMP, plans meetings for a high-pressure industry. As director of education and events for Association of Air Medical Services, she leads the 18-month effort of mounting the annual conference for those men and women who dedicate their lives to air ambulance transport. But in September 2016 even gung-ho chopper crews and their MedEvac companies aborted the mission, as civil unrest rocked Charlotte, North Carolina, days before the association’s conference was to begin. The state’s governor declared a state of emergency. Attendees and exhibitors bailed. The conference was postponed.

The event was rescheduled for December of that same year. “How do you convince your board of directors, attendees and vendors to support version two?” was one of many questions ultimately answered by Ross and her team. So was the question of renegotiating hotel and convention center contracts and reconfiguration of all related logistics, in only 90 days.

Less than two weeks before Christmas, Air Medical Transport Conference V2.0 was held at Charlotte Convention Center. The event was a huge success, attended by nearly 2,000 registrants in a jam-packed exhibit hall. Characteristically, Ross credits the support of her team and organization. “Those who truly succeed never it do it alone, and they overcome great obstacles to go onto great achievements,” she says.

Like other meeting planners, she values steadfastness and the resolve not to panic. “If you remain calm, anything is possible,” she says. For Ross, the possible includes planning two major conferences in the same year. —Gary Diedrichs


Ashley Rhodes-Courter, speaker, writer and child-welfare advocate, Platinum Speakers Agency

Ashley Rhodes-Courter spent almost ten years in an abusive foster-care system. Today, she is a motivational speaker, New York Times and international bestselling author of Three Little Words and Three More Words and CEO and founder of Sustainable Family Services. When she is not on the road for speaking engagements, she runs a mental health agency and nonprofit organization, The Foundation for Sustainable Families. What inspires her? “Every day, I am faced with children and families in high-risk and high-conflict situations, and I work closely with community organizations and businesses striving to meet the needs of our community,” she says. They motivate her to draw on her adverse personal and professional experiences to inspire and offer audiences critical skills in competency, resilience and leadership.

She does this by staying positive, despite everything. She has worked to turn personal pain into the power to impact change and create opportunities for others. This is a skill she tries to teach everyone she touches in her daily work. “We each have an opportunity to reframe our experiences and form principles and takeaways to keep us moving forward and growing as we strive to reach our goals.”

By providing direct services to children, families and individuals with an emphasis on sustainable practices in mental health, education and holistic wellness, she hopes to support those in situations similar to the one she and her family experienced growing up. In October 2017, her biological brother died of a drug overdose at age 29. “We both grew up in foster care together, but our lives went in two very different directions. It is my hope that my personal crusade will prevent tragedies like this from happening to others,” she says.

 

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