20 in Their Twenties

PCMA’s 20 in Their Twenties Class of 2016

Presenting PCMA’s third annual class of 20 in Their Twenties honorees — young meeting professionals who are already leaving their mark on the industry.

20_twenties_checker_collageAnother year, another 20 indicators that the meetings industry is in good hands. With its third annual class of 20 in Their Twenties honorees, PCMA — supported by the PCMA Education Foundation, the Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau, and the Austin Convention Center — has spotlighted a new crop of emerging leaders who are already having a positive impact on the world of live events.

Applicants for the honor had to be employed full time in the meetings industry and 29 years of age or younger, and needed to demonstrate ways they consider themselves industry leaders. They were evaluated by a committee made up of previous 20 in Their Twenties winners and veteran meeting professionals. This year’s honorees received complimentary PCMA membership and registration to PCMA Convening Leaders and the PCMA Education Conference (EduCon) in 2016; travel money for Convening Leaders 2016; discounted PCMA membership and registration for Convening Leaders and EduCon until they reach 30; and mentoring opportunities with industry leaders.

“Our 20 in Their Twenties program continues to engage the brightest rising stars in our industry,” said Deborah Sexton, PCMA’s president and CEO. “This class group views our industry through their own unique lens. Our goal is to tap into their vision and insights and bring those to life in both PCMA’s face-to-face and digital channels.”

But first, they shared some of those visions and insights with Convene.

Kalee Barnhardt

KALEE BARNHARDT, CTA
Sales Manager, Experience Columbus
Columbus, Ohio, USA

What do you like most about your job?

I love Columbus, so my favorite thing is showing it off to new people and seeing them experience it for the first time. We know through research that, nationally, people do not have an awareness of our city despite all there is to see, do, and experience. Due to this perception gap, we sometimes find meeting planners skeptical about what we have to offer. I love to see their eyes open during presentations and site visits once they understand how dynamic our community is — with unique restaurants and bars, art galleries, boutique shops, and professional sports teams all within walking distance of the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

Finding out that I was selected to be in PCMA’s 20 in Their Twenties Class of 2016 was the best day in my professional life thus far. Of course, I have an amazing job that I am excited to do each day, but this recognition is the first outside validation I have received that lets me know I am making a difference. I look forward to utilizing the resources I gain as a member of the class to continue enhancing the meetings industry.

Where would you like your career to go?

I am incredibly lucky to already be working in a city for which I have such passion. I plan to stay with Experience Columbus, taking on a national sales role. I want to be instrumental in taking Columbus to the next level and making it a top-tier destination that is always top-of-mind for meeting planners. I’m excited at the prospect of strengthening our sales team to grow our national sales and helping Columbus competitively bid and win major national and international events.

Victoria LeeVICTORIA LEE
Global Travel and Meetings Associate, Estée Lauder
New York, New York, USA

What do you like most about your job?

My job has given me the opportunity to interact with people all over the world, across various backgrounds, cultures, and personalities. It’s extremely eye-opening to see the working styles across different countries and regions. At times, it is challenging, but I am grateful for the expanded outlook on global SMM [strategic meetings management] that I have been able to get.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

Winning the Savvy Sourcing award at Cvent Connect 2015 was pretty amazing. Our team had been nominated twice previously before finally winning our third time. It really validated our team’s growth and strategy around sourcing. I’d like to take home SMM Program of the Year in 2016. My eyes are set on that already.

Where would you like your career to go?

I would like to continue to develop my experience in SMM implementation outside of the U.S. My dream is to live in Europe for a few years, spending my time consulting with companies on how to implement or enhance their SMMP.

Julia YongJULIA YONG
Senior Sales Executive, Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

What do you like most about your job?

The enrichment of my job is overwhelming, where I am constantly learning about different industries and new things. This industry is so diverse and rich with personal growth and development opportunities, there is always something new to learn. I am also happy knowing that through my little contribution of bidding for meetings, I am a part of my country’s growth.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

I still remember that day clearly — the day my team and I completed a presentation for a bid which we had been working on for three years. We were unsure of our chances, but we had given the best of ourselves, so the decision did not matter as much anymore. The best feeling is not success, but knowing that we can reach such great heights.

Where would you like your career to go?

My current goal is to expose myself to all aspects of this industry, be it bidding, conference planning, organization, or secretariat management, to things that I might not even have heard of. I hope that in the future I will be invited to share my experience and knowledge with others, and be a mentor to newcomers who are just beginning to step into this industry.

Shannon DeSouzaSHANNON DESOUZA
Manager of Event Strategy, EventMobi
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

What do you like most about your job?

I love working on an event from conception to execution. Nothing can beat the sights and sounds of an event I have worked on for months come to life. My favorite part about planning corporate events is finding a way to create “Pinterest-worthy” moments for my attendees that inspire them to elevate their experience through technology and social media. 

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

Every time I go on site to execute or experience an event, I feel exhilarated and chalk it up to the best day ever. However, if I had to choose one day, I am inclined to reference the 2014 PCMA Canadian Innovation Conference in Montreal. The energy, community, and overall spirit of the conference is so unique and truly innovative, I would encourage everyone to attend at least once. Being an active member of the Canada East Chapter has allowed me to attend this conference as a thought leader, thus providing an opportunity for me to positively contribute, but more importantly has provided an avenue for camaraderie and career mentorship.

Where would you like your career to go?

I would love to see my career skyrocket around the world. I have truly enjoyed the travel portion of my role, experiencing the culture and people of all the cities I’ve had the opportunity to work in. I would love to be a driving force in the international technological education revolution of the events industry. Today there is still an opportunity to promote education and adoption of North American technology in events that take place all across the globe.

Jamie BruceJAMIE BRUCE, CMP
Meeting Planner, Right Hand Events

San Diego, California, USA

What do you like most about your job?

I enjoy event planning because through events I am able to touch people’s lives in so many different ways. I am able to help others through some of life’s toughest and most joyous milestones, to celebrate their successes, to help them grow and learn, and to create memories that will stay with them forever.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

My best day is every time I am on site. It is so fulfilling to see months of planning come together and all of the guests as they enjoy an event that was planned just for them.

Where would you like your career to go?

During my career, I hope to have the opportunity to teach and mentor others at the college level and during industry meetings, as I believe that sharing your knowledge and helping others to grow and prosper in their career is one of the most rewarding experiences and best way to ensure a bright future for our industry.

Edward ByersEDWARD BYERS
Manager of Events, REALpac
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

What do you like most about your job?

The most enjoyable part of my job is the strategic planning and execution of our events. We currently plan events for the Canadian commercial real-estate sector across North America, and devising a really solid strategic plan to help grow our meetings and events is very satisfying. Being adaptive to change is tremendously important. I thrive during the execution of the events, because it allows me to be more decisive and quite frankly is exhilarating.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

The best day I have had was at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2010. I was looking after the flight manifest for everyone arriving to the festival. One celebrity whose film was in the festival that year arrived, I greeted her, and she was swarmed by the paparazzi. We had a rotation of vehicles that would pick up celebrities, but all of them were out. The vehicle that was to pick her up was in traffic and indicated they were five to 10 minutes away. Myself and a few volunteers had formed a small semi-circle around her, but she was hounded by cameras and shouting for long enough. There were no limo cars available, and not a taxi in sight. I eventually flagged down an ordinary taxi and picked up the bill. This is not your typical best day, but it sure was exciting! It demonstrates the amount of adaptability you have to have in this industry.

Where would you like your career to go?

I would eventually like to own and operate my own business that utilizes my event, meeting, and sponsorship skills. I am still trying to figure this out!

Michael DoaneMICHAEL DOANE
Marketing Manager, CadmiumCD
Forest Hill, Maryland, USA

What do you like most about your job?

The events industry is such a melting pot. As a vendor, I get to interact with people in science, technology, medicine, education, and so many other diverse fields every single day. Learning about what drives these people, their industries, and the challenges they face is what keeps me passionate and interested. Experiencing new things, sharing ideas, and providing opportunities for people to connect are the lifeblood of our industry. Being a part of that is what I love about my job.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

On July 23, 2015, CadmiumCD held its first-ever live users-group meeting, CadCon 2015. I was in charge of planning most of the major details, but seeing the entire company come together to make CadCon a success was such a good feeling. We had nearly 75 event planners in our office who were also users of our software (talk about nerve-racking). We invited them to learn, network, and enjoy themselves for the day. Hearing them compliment the event was probably the greatest satisfaction of all.

Where would you like your career to go?

I love to learn and share my knowledge. I’d like my entire career to be an extension of this. I blog and forge personal connections to help meeting planners understand the technology options they have, but I’d like to reach a wider audience. Two things I’m currently exploring are book writing and speaking engagements as a way to do this. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s to have goals but not expectations. My passion is to write and teach. The goal right now is to do these things within the events industry and see where it takes my career in the long run.

Bianca FerrerBIANCA FERRER
Creative Director and Producer, Coterie Spark
Houston, Texas, USA

What do you like most about your job?

The aspect of event production that most inspires me is the pursuit of providing individuals with a platform for connecting with their community, family, and coworkers. Part of this includes my own pursuit of creating a unique memory of my life as I seek a sense of thrill and excitement in the day-to-   day. In the industry of events, you are only as good as your last live-event experience. As a planner and producer, you are judged by the impression you create on clients and guests and whether that impression will last in a meaningful way. This is why exercising event design in the live realm is something I find so compelling. I like that every project I take on has meaning and is a unique story in itself that moves people into action or to connect. It has a defined beginning, middle, and end, mixed in with elements of surprise, suspense, thrill, adrenaline, and intense enjoyment.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

The best day I’ve experienced in my career was very recent, on the conclusion of a multiday conference produced by Coterie Spark for a client in the transportation-software industry. I always relish the concluding moments of programs I produce, but this one was special in that it was the first client production that I’ve seen that went virtually flawlessly in the execution phase. A flawlessly produced conference with not one hitch or surprise is something I will relish and remember as truly exceeding not only my client’s expectations but also my own. Of course, as a planner, I always anticipate Murphy’s Law to apply at every transition, but in this instance, we successfully executed a flawless production driven by a keen focus on the advance planning.

Where would you like your career to go?

I see crafting a career as a strategic and creative event planner more of an experiential pursuit than one driven by rank or title. If I am able to live a career life driven by creating and influencing people’s life story and the story or message of a brand or company, then my ultimate career goal is to continually find ways to move people beyond convention, so that they are better engaged with the world around them and by extension have a positive influence in shaping the outlook of their lives.

That said, earning the CMP designation is a short-term aspiration I hope to accomplish soon. With the CMP and as an event producer out of an emerging market in Texas, I am driven by a desire to put Houston on the map as a top 10 meetings destination.

Jessica FittingJESSICA FITTING
Assistant Event Manager, Stanford+Connects, Stanford Alumni Association
Stanford, California, USA

What do you like most about your job?

My job is about bringing joy and excitement and inspiration to people, and that gives me a lot of fulfillment, which is not something everyone can say about their job. Working for an alumni association, our events are geared towards reconnecting, lifelong learning, and reminding people of their younger selves, which gives my team a lot of opportunity for creating both moments of deep meaning and moments of surprise and delight. Nothing beats attendees walking out of a room with an open mouth from wonder, awe, or excitement.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

My best day was the day of our 2012 Fiesta Bowl Tailgate Party for Stanford alumni, when I was new to the job and able to see my work in action. We had several days of events leading up to this in Phoenix, Arizona, and our 7,500-person tailgate was a huge success. When our event team walked into the stadium after the tailgate had closed, I saw thousands of people across the stadium excitedly holding the retractable banner giveaway we had handed out as attendees walked in. That giveaway had been a project I worked on in the planning process, and to see thousands of people gleefully holding something I had produced, screaming with excitement for Stanford, was such a powerful moment. It was a huge day, and a huge inspiration for me to want to continue in this field.

Where would you like your career to go?

I want my career to continue in a direction where I’m able to bring joy and excitement to attendees, in whatever capacity of event I’m planning. I’m not sure if that means helping to plan Comic-Con International in San Diego (a dream job!) or continuing to work on bringing a happy little piece of Stanford out to alumni, as I currently do. But whatever niche part of the industry I settle into, I want it to be about bringing happiness to my attendees.

Erin Sweeney preferredERIN SWEENEY
National Sales Associate, Global Experience Specialists (GES)
Chicago, Illinois, USA

What do you like most about your job?

What I love most about my job is that every single day I am doing something different. Whether it is a project, training, making my first few sales, traveling to new locations, or being on show site, I never know what opportunity I will have next. My job keeps me on my toes and tests me on a weekly basis, and I love it.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

Besides being nominated for PCMA’s 20 in Their Twenties? Let’s see. The best day I have had in the meetings industry was realizing that things I’ve learned through my internships and training with the Management Training Program at GES were applicable to an event very near and dear to my heart. I am on the executive board for the Andrew Weishar Foundation, and our annual event is WeishFest, an all-day music festival held in the Chicagoland area. Every year people get together to raise money for the Andrew Weishar Foundation. Each and every dollar raised at this event goes to a family with an adolescent or young adult battling cancer.

Through my training at GES, I have learned about customer service, sponsorships, sales, management, marketing — the list goes on and on. GES even offered to donate some of our services and supplies to WeishFest 2015. The best day was realizing all of these aspects of my career were applicable to a cause for the greater good.

Where would you like your career to go?

I have many passions in life that I would like to incorporate into my career path. My main passions include volunteering, fundraising, event planning, and sports. My passions come from people that I have looked up to in my life. Because of these influencers in my life, I would like my career to go down a path that focuses on giving back. At the end of the day, I want to know I made an effort to make a difference. I believe my path will eventually lead me to working for a nonprofit. My dream job would be to work as an event planner and have a portfolio of professional athletes with foundations and charitable events. I think this would be the perfect recipe for my passions to be made into a career.

Peter SimonelliPETER SIMONELLI
Event Services Coordinator, Massachusetts Convention Center Authority
Boston, Massachusetts, USA

What do you like most about your job?

Definitely having a desk but rarely being at it. There’s something to be said for reporting to the same place(s) every day. There’s a sense of security in understanding your travel/commute time and knowing you have pens, paper, etc. But once the show is on, you won’t find me at that desk. You just don’t get that excitement and change in other industries!

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

The absolute best day I have ever had was planning and managing the Boston Marathon tribute [in 2014]. Working a few blocks from the finish line and having lost two friends the week of the Boston Marathon bombings, it was exceptionally cathartic to plan a classy and grand tribute to not only those who have passed but those heroes that walk among us daily. Proud day for me professionally as well as personally as a grieving Bostonian.

Where would you like your career to go?

Involvement in associations allows me to be on the cutting edge of trends in the industry. Being young allows me to not only accept but expect change. I would love to be more heavily involved in effecting change in our industry and how we bring people together.

Claire RepassCLAIRE REPASS, CMP
Manager of Communications, SocialTables
Washington, D.C., USA

What do you like most about your job?

What I love above all else at my job are my teammates — all of whom are leaders, and some of the most viscerally ambitious individuals in the business. Our job is to create programming that empowers meeting and event professionals to excel in their careers by providing industry-leading educational resources through the events we host and the content we disseminate. Being a part of a team that constantly challenges even our most celebrated achievements is what motivates me to be the best version of myself every day, and what makes me love my job.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

Executing a foreign-policy retreat for the premier membership of the lobbying firm that I worked with in Napa, California. This educational event connected our 1,400 attendees with members of Congress, policy makers, and legislative experts at a first-of-its kind event in the heart of wine country.

I was tasked with creating a breakout track that saw us disperse members in groups of 200 to seven local wineries within a three-hour window. To conduct this event, I worked with a variety of local and national vendors and the special-events coordinator at each vineyard to troubleshoot security, transportation, catering, décor, the creation of educational space (much of which didn’t previously exist), identification of a seamless people movement plan, and more.

These were the highest-level donors to our organization, and ensuring a seamless experience for them was critical to the success of the summit. I was fortunate to work with a fantastic team in executing this incredible event for our top contributors. The simultaneous feelings of stress and accomplishment that danced together that day have yet to be matched.

Where would you like your career to go?

As a planner, my answer to this question defies every Type A cell in my body: I don’t have a specific vision for my career, and I like that answer. A lot.

The truth of the matter is that what I’m doing today didn’t exist three years ago, because my company barely existed three years ago. With that in mind, I have no idea where I want my career to go, because there is far too much disruption, iterating, and evolving happening in our industry to be able to point to a specific job title or career path.

Here’s what I do know about my future: I’ll still be working to better the hospitality industry by advocating for its growth, and challenging myself to add more value to its success each day.

Jenny StanfieldJENNY STANFIELD
Lead Event Producer, Engagement Unlimited
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

What do you like most about your job?

I love helping participants learn and network more effectively at conferences. Everything I do is through the lens of mindfulness, fun, and play, so I’m afforded a lot of unique opportunities to let my creativity shine. Overall, if I can help you have fun, then I’m having fun, too. My number-one priority for my programs is that every stakeholder and participant feels engaged, included, and important.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

I’ve had some pretty awesome days in my career so far, but nothing can compare to seeing 300 credit-union managers on their feet at the end of a team-building program singing “Don’t Stop Believin’” in unison. The group was comprised of several different divisions that had recently undergone a tense merger, so being able to break down the barriers between them and see them bond in such a pure, joyful way at the end of a long day of sessions was incredibly gratifying.

Where would you like your career to go?

My ultimate dream is to create and produce a brand-new conference or annual event focused totally on engagement. I want to help companies, communities, and individuals become happier, more engaged, and more productive, and I want to do it in a way that pushes boundaries experientially, artistically, and academically.

Sarah Gould-StottsSARAH GOULD-STOTTS, CMP
Corporate Marketing Events Manager, Greystar Real Estate Partners
Irving, Texas, USA

What do you like most about your job?

I get to think critically and strategically. I think of myself not just as a person who plans events, but as someone who orchestrates experiences. Often, those experiences are based on intangible concepts, so my job is to make the intangible, tangible, and the conceptual, real. Every day is a new challenge, and that is why I love what I do.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

One of the best days I have had in the meetings industry so far was the day I passed the CMP Exam. Ever since I entered this industry, I knew I wanted to be a CMP, as it represented the best of the best. When I earned this credential, I had finally proven to myself that I knew what I was doing, that I was good at what I did, and that I was in the career for which I was meant. It was one of my proudest achievements.

Where would you like your career to go?

I have always wanted to be the best at what I do. This ambition has led me to where I am today, and will define where my career goes from here. As I continue to refine my craft, I would like my career path to reflect my growing expertise. I want to eventually take on a leadership role where I oversee events and marketing strategy.

Juraj HolubJURAJ HOLUB
Marketing and Content Manager, sli.do
Bratislava, Slovakia

What do you like most about your job?

At work I have a passion for two things — marketing and education. And I’m feeling very lucky that I can combine them both in my job. As a marketing manager, not only do I help sli.do grow internationally, but I also try to give back to the industry by sharing knowledge that we collect from working with hundreds of events. And as an aspiring meeting designer and educator, I put what I write about into practice and demonstrate that educational sessions can be done in a different, more stimulating way.

Also, being an event professional means being very, very lucky. I know the job can get painfully stressful, but otherwise we are privileged to work across the globe, visit stunning venues, and meet inspiring people from many fields. Very few people have that privilege, and I’m very grateful for it.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

The best day I’ve had so far was the day I became part of the meetings industry two years ago. It wall all so new to me and I had no idea what to expect. But as the events industry started unfolding in front of my eyes, I quickly realized that this is it — this is the field I want to work in, because working as an event professional means enabling people to come together. And amazing things happen when we meet; we learn, inspire one another, find new ideas, and form new bonds. Simply put, we become better people.

Where would you like your career to go?

There is so much potential for growth in the events industry, because if you think about it, most present-day conferences look almost identical to those organized 80 years ago — a room full of people passively listening to a string of presentations, with a few coffee breaks in between. While the logistical part of conferences is often perfected, the session formats are rarely optimized for audience learning. And this is where I would like to bring change as an aspiring meeting designer — to design sessions that allow delegates to learn better, create more relationships, and as a result get more out of their conference experience.

Havovie SuraliwallaHAVOVIE SURALIWALLA
Conference Coordinator, Sea Courses Cruises
Richmond, British Columbia, Canada

What do you like most about your job?

“You do what?” The reaction most people have when I tell them I am the conference coordinator for Sea Courses Cruises. We do pharma-free medical and dental continuing education meetings that take place on cruise ships around the globe. The unique variety of destinations, partnerships, and CME topics we cover are vast; I am intrigued by my job continually, be it on the planning side or the content side of the meetings. Emphasizing the importance of face-to-face meetings today with a unique twist and touch of modernity has made for an exciting career thus far!

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

A few standout days for me would have to be one of my first events for Thompson Rivers University — the bridal fair where our professor told us we were almost victims of our own success. Working the TED conference in Vancouver was one of the most eye-opening, amazing, dressed-in-all-black, bumped-into-Bill Gates-and-Jaden Smith-experiences of my life. Hosting my first CME cruise was an incredible responsibility and experience in an unknown setting, which made it all the more exciting. Most recently, being recognized as a part of the PCMA 20 in Their Twenties class was a pretty awesome day, too!

Where would you like your career to go?

I would like my career to remain within the meetings industry for sure. Hospitality is one of the cornerstones of life. It is such a privilege to play even a small part in that.

I hope my future holds more and that I can become an influential leader in the tourism and meetings industry. I hope to be someone who is a mover, shaker, and a thought leader at PCMA, and in the industry as a whole. Ultimately, I want to keep bringing together great minds, cultivating creative moments, and creating opportunities for knowledge transfer, while meeting more extraordinary people, and maybe, just maybe, quenching my unquenchable thirst for furthering my own knowledge and continuing education.

Irena JelenovaIRENA JELENOVA
Membership Development Executive, International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA)
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

What do you like most about your job?

Working for a meetings industry association is special. When I started with the ICCA events department, I was proud to say that I organized events for people who organized events. Now, working in the ICCA membership department, I am proud to be an umbrella of all sectors in the meetings industry. I love empathizing with professionals (clients and different types of suppliers) from all around the world on a daily basis. A personal approach and putting my heart into every part of my work creates strong relationships, those lead to trust, and trust is like a family feeling. Meeting this special family of mine a few times a year during different industry events is not only lots of fun but also truly inspiring.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

As a student [in the master’s program in international events management at Leeds Metropolitan University], I noticed that the university was not a member of ICCA and therefore neither the university nor the students (including myself) could benefit. When I started working at ICCA, I reached out to the university and convinced them of the value of being a member. Now ICCA has one more member, the university itself gets financial support for being an ICCA partner for research in the meetings industry, and, more importantly, the students get a scholarship for the ICCA Congress. It is extremely rewarding to see the happy and grateful faces of scholarship students at the ICCA Congress every year when they find out who is behind this opportunity.

Where would you like your career to go?

Unfortunately, meeting-management degrees are only available in a few countries. I know this based on my own firsthand experience — since I could not study events management in the Czech Republic, I had to move to the United Kingdom. Therefore, one of my dreams is to establish and make meeting-management university degrees available throughout the world. To realize this, I would collaborate with professional associations from within our industry to create an international task force for support of university-accredited, professional meeting-management education. Leading this task-force group would be my dream job.

Lauren SantaroneLAUREN SANTARONE, CMP
Senior Meetings Manager, American Association for Cancer Research (AACR)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

What do you like most about your job?

The mission of the American Association for Cancer Research is to prevent and cure cancer though research, communication, collaboration, and education. To me, being able to facilitate this knowledge is my favorite part of my job. I leave work every day with the satisfaction of knowing that the meetings and conferences I plan help the AACR foster the exchange of knowledge and new ideas among scientists dedicated to cancer research.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

Sept. 18, 2013, during the AACR Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., when, in conjunction with our Annual Meeting, the AACR and more than 170 institutions and advocacy organizations that represented a broad spectrum of medical research joined together to host the Rally for Medical Research on the Carnegie Library grounds. This outdoor event drew nearly 10,000 participants to-gether to urge Congress to invest in the National Institutes of Health and raise awareness for the importance of sustained budget increases for research. I was so proud to be part of the AACR team that organized this unprecedented effort. Our Rally was the start of the ongoing efforts for the Rally for Medical Research, which now takes place every year in Washington, D.C., leading to more progress, more hope, and more lives saved. I’ve planned this event for the past three years, and I’m so proud of the momentum generated from the 2013 Rally.

Noreen LeahyNOREEN LEAHY
Conference Planner, National Association of Attorneys General
Washington, D.C., USA

What do you like most about your job?

I really enjoy the diversity in the day-to-day tasks. I appreciate that my job gives me the opportunity to travel to new destinations — it’s rewarding to get to know the staff at these locations and to come together to put on an event. You go from never having met face-to-face to being true partners in the success of the event.

Where would you like your career to go?

It’s my goal to work in the intersection of technology and meeting planning. I’m very interested in the use of technology to address meeting needs, to create environments that facilitate learning and help people and organizations connect. Today, we have an incredible opportunity to better understand how personal and business connections are made during meetings and to develop a level of personalization that makes it possible for each attendee to experience an event tailored to their needs. By weaving together the foundations of omni-channel retail, programmatic marketing, and immersive design, and applying them to in-person meetings, it’s possible to develop a refined personalization that follows attendees through all aspects of their event experience.

Alex PlaxenALEXANDER PLAXEN
President, Little Bird Told Media
Hanover, Maryland, USA

What do you like most about your job?

My favorite part of working in events and conferences is the opportunity to build communities with shared stories. I’m fascinated by the ability for an event to live online and offline by sharing moments with each other.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

I was an event coordinator for the 2014 National Memorial Day Concert in Washington, D.C. That year, one of the featured veterans was Sgt. John Peck, a quadruple amputee. I was assigned to escort Sgt. Peck and his family before, during, and after the event on show day. It was my second year working on that concert, and I knew what we did was important, but seeing firsthand the true impact that show had on the lives of those it celebrated was something special.

Where would you like your career to go?

Two of my biggest passions in this industry are event design and social media. My career goal is to work with planners to bridge the gap between their online and offline communities. Social media isn’t going anywhere. We are standing at an important crossroads in the industry where we need to recognize the strategic importance of social media at our conferences. I want to be at the forefront of the digital-engagement movement for the events industry. .

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso is executive editor of Convene.