Best in Show

It’s All About Relationships

For the Best in Show 2016 edition, we are putting the spotlight on the people working behind the scenes to make your meetings and events shine.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the meetings and conventions industry is built on relationships — one on one, face to face, rooted in competence and trust. So when we decided to do something different for the fifth year of our Best in Show awards, it didn’t take long to figure out what.

Whereas we originally created Best in Show to honor some of the most innovative and acclaimed things in the meetings and conventions industry — venues, technology platforms, CSR programs, destination videos, etc. — this year we’re honoring some of those relationships. We asked readers to nominate exemplary meeting professionals who usually operate out of the spotlight, behind the scenes, working in areas such as convention services, audiovisual, event technology, and catering.

Our readers did not disappoint. They submitted testimonials for people with whom they’ve collaborated for years, people whom they supervise, people whom they’ve come to see as in-house staff. Meetings bring people together, you see, and that applies to the back of the house just as much as it does among attendees.

Congratulations to this year’s Best in Show honorees!


Panhorst_BryanBryan PanhorstDirector of Event Services, Greater Richmond Convention Center (GRCC), Richmond, Virginia

Nominated twice,
including by Karen Surmacewicz, Virginia Chamber of Commerce “Bryan is an outstanding professional representative at the GRCC. He is always available, organized, and reliable in handling whatever needs to be done to help his clients have a successful event. It is a real pleasure to know him and work with him, because we know all will go well under his leadership. Bryan is a huge asset to the GRCC, and our team always looks forward to working with him.”

Dennis CrossSenior Event Manager, Kansas City Convention Center

Nominated by
Mia Short, CMP, WATT Global Media “Dennis is a strategic, creative, collaborative, solutions-centric partner. Dennis consistently demonstrates a high level of professionalism and unflappable depth of knowledge, which translate to continued group success. Dennis is always proactive and diplomatic in approach, characteristic of an invaluably seasoned convention-services manager in a convention-center setting.”


Ariane EstepaAriane Estepa, CMPMeeting and Event Manager, Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina

Nominated by Jenny Clavero, TriTech Software Systems “Ariane is the best convention-services managers I’ve ever worked with in my 12 years. Her ability to think proactively and creatively come up with solutions was the reason our event went as flawlessly as it did. A lot of my success I owe to her, and she was an instrumental part of my planning team.”

Becky FieldsBecky Field, CMPMeetings and Events Manager, Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass, Chandler, Arizona

Nominated by Tina Squillante, CMP, for a completely revamped American Society of Transplantation conference in 2013 “I brought in a lot of new ideas, and I was doing things in a new way in a very short period of time. Becky was very willing and happy to try them. She embraced my ideas and she just pulled it off.”

Jay OzanneJay OzanneConvention Services Manager, The Wigwam, Litchfield Park, Arizona

Nominated by George Turner, National Freight Transportation Association “I am nominating Jay for his outstanding customer dedication.”

Brittany Haas, Event Billing Analyst, Hyatt Hotels Corporation; formerly Event Planning Manager, Hyatt Regency Dallas

Nominated by Cori Dossett, CEM, CMP, Conferences Designed “I have worked with Brittany several times in the past year. She is efficient, prompt, polite, and professional. Brittany was able to anticipate several of our challenges on site, and rectify the problems before they became issues. She is a pleasure to work with!”

Debbie HecklerDebbie Heckler, Conference Services Manager, Radisson Austin Downtown

Nominated by Vicky H. Sepulveda, Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce “Debbie Heckler is very organized and knows what she is doing when it comes to assisting and managing an event. Extremely detailed-oriented and excellent customer service!”

David WinterDavid Winter, Director of Catering and Convention Services, Omni Fort Worth Hotel

Nominated by Paola Bowman, CTA, Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau “David personifies what services mean to a meeting planner. He leads the team of event-service professionals at our local Omni, and leads by example — with excellent meetings and events industry knowledge and personable service.”

Clodagh Larkin (1)Clodagh LarkinDirector of Meetings and Special Events, The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba

Nominated by Tracy Hatch, UniFirst Corporation “Clodagh was spot on from day one. From the site-planning visit to the actual program, she was at the top of her game. She doesn’t miss a beat, and as crazy as things got during the program — she was always there with a smile on her face when we needed her, and she always got things done. She has a great team of people working for her that were just as excellent. Probably because they have such a great leader.”


Rick Hud, Senior Manager of Convention Sales, San Francisco Travel

Nominated by Kerry Kerr, HelmsBriscoe “Rick volunteers countless hours to PCMA, and destination-reps out of Chicago. He also is very thorough, and has great follow-up/follow-through when you book San Fran. He is warm, kind, and a real pro at his job.”

Jenny WilsonJenny Wilson, CMPDirector of Destination Services, Visit KC

Nominated by Mia Short, CMP, WATT Global Media “Jenny Wilson represents us well! Jenny is a highly knowledgeable and amazing partner at the CVB.”


Jolene BoatrightJolene BoatrightDirector of Sales, Associated Luxury Hotels International, Richmond, Virginia

Nominated by Janie Osterhaus, LeClairRyan “Jolene was instrumental in helping us with our national search of properties for our upcoming shareholders’ retreat. She pared down to a few locations, and our final location in Washington, D.C., at the Mandarin Oriental. She was just wonderful each step of the way, and continues to be a solid resource for our firm.”

Doug Baarman photo sportcoatDoug Baarman, CDS, Senior Vice President/Team Director, ConferenceDirect, Washington, D.C.

Nominated by Lauren Parr, American Geophysical Union, for RAPS Convergence (Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society), 2009–2016 “Doug and his team were an incredible resource for my organization during these years. While I have left RAPS for a new opportunity, Doug continues to always act in their best interest and bring new ideas to them. He is the consummate professional and a wonderful example of what an association/third-party relationship should be. I learned a tremendous amount from him, and frankly, he kept us from making bad decisions!”

KelseyDixon_HeadshotKelsey Dixon, Strategist, Davies + Dixon, Seattle, Washington

Nominated by Carrie Abernathy, CMP, CEM, CSEP, Association for Women in Events “Davies + Dixon is a new, women-owned, small public-relations firm. They have supported and helped run the Association for Women in Events (AWE) since its inception in March 2015. D+D goes above and beyond to act as an extension of their client’s team — and they have truly elevated AWE as an organization in the public eye and in the events sector. We cannot think of a better person to honor who works behind the scenes for our organization!”

Asim Thomas, Assistant General Manager, ARAMARK Sports and Entertainment, Washington, D.C.

Nominated by Sara Patterson, CMP, U.S. Green Building Council “Asim went above and beyond to inspire and motivate his team to exceed our waste-diversion numbers for Greenbuild 2015. He and his team put in very long hours and lots of attention to detail to ensure that all waste was processed properly.”

Matt ‘Mookie’ Thayer, Consultant, Presentation Management Systems, Phoenix, Arizona

Nominated by Jason C. Levine, BSC Management Inc. “Our meetings typically have from 500 to 1,500 individual talks, and we literally could not function without Mookie’s expertise in setting up a centralized check-in system for all talks. His networking skills allow us to accept talks up to 10 minutes before the scheduled presentation time and push everything to the computers in the rooms automatically. In addition, he can set the system to accept submissions before the meeting begins via the Internet, which drastically speeds up and smooths out the presenter experience. He is deserving of accolades.”


Amanda SimonsSustainable Events Program Manager, Greenview

Jennifer Moon, Consultant, Greenview

Lindy Farrar, Research Analyst, Greenview

Nominated by Vanessa L. Johnson-Evans, American Chemical Society “The American Chemical Society (ACS) National Meetings & Expositions are two of the most respected scientific meetings in the world, attracting nearly 27,000 chemical professionals in 2015. Each meeting features more than 7,000 presentations organized into technical symposia that highlight important research advances, more than 250 exhibitors, and many social events. During its National Meetings & Expositions, the ACS strives to reduce its environmental impact while enhancing the positive impacts on communities locally and globally. Over the past five years, we have partnered with Greenview to assist us with focusing on three key initiatives: calculating and offsetting our carbon footprint, increasing attendee engagement, and collaborating with event partners to improve performance. Because of this collaboration with Greenview, the ACS has become a leader within the meetings and events community, and was most recently the recipient of the UFI (the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry) Sustainable Development Award, a finalist for the MPI 2016 RISE Award for Meetings Impact, and 2014 Trade Show Executive’s Gold 100 Award as the show with the Most Commendable Green Initiatives. ACS has also been showcased in Convene’s August 2015 annual Best in Show issue for the Best CSR Initiative and awarded the 2011 and 2012 PCMA Capital Chapter Green Leader Award. We could not have accomplished this without the expertise, guidance, support, and leadership of our Greenview partners. They are there with us every step of the way!”


Lindsay RussellLindsay RussellCatering Sales Manager, Arizona Biltmore — A Waldorf Astoria Resort, Phoenix, Arizona

Nominated by Suzanne Taussig, Suzanne Taussig Weddings & Events “The amount of time, labor, and logistics required to execute a large cultural event is often misjudged. Lindsay managed our event on the venue side as a true partner to our independent event-planning company. She understood the importance of our logistics for a three-day event and was alongside us, getting the job done with precision and enthusiasm.”


audraAudra Kamin, Director of Sales, ARAMARK, Kansas City Convention Center

Nominated by Mia Short, CMP, WATT Global Media “Audra is Kansas City’s best-kept secret. A client may expect the director of sales to close a file at point of signature. Audra’s presence bright and early in the morning and late in the evening are pleasant surprises to smooth events. Not only do I get a strategic partner, but our group benefits from her strong creativity, high level of professionalism, and razor-sharp commitment to excellence.”


Travis Caldaro Headshot 2016_edited-1Travis Caldaro, Director of Event Technology, PSAV / Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort & Spa, Fort Myers, Florida

Nominated by Meagan Wiseley, National Health Council “This was my first conference that I planned on my own. He was amazing! He walked me through everything. He tested mics, tested slides, lent us a laptop when ours wouldn’t cooperate, and was communicative and responsive with any need I had. He went above and beyond when it came to me and my group’s satisfaction. He even found me Band-Aids when my shoes gave me blisters. I literally can’t say enough nice things about him. I even have a better general feeling about PSAV as an AV tech vendor because of his dedication.”

Michael FriedlineMichael FriedlineLead Designer and Technician, TFG Event Support Services, Galveston, Texas

Nominated by Kasey A. Morales, Wyndham Hotel Group “Amazing service to client, flexibility, and the ability to change with the client’s whims. Over the course of nine months of planning, the client changed setups and schedules at least once per week, including while on site. However, Michael had the equipment ready to go, remained on site, and was eager to do whatever it took to make the client happy and to assist the hotel employees in doing the same.”

Joe WolfeDirector of Operations, Epique Entertainment & Production, Scottsdale, Arizona

Nominated by Michael Heist, Premier Event Resources “We have been working with Joe Wolfe and Epique Entertainment & Production for several years, all over the country, no matter the destinations our groups have taken us. Superior service, unbelievable creativity, and AV to the next level (at an incredibly reasonable price point) are just a few reasons why. He truly loves what he does. He attacks each project with gusto and enthusiasm that I have never experienced with any other vendor.”

Dave HowellDave Howell, President, Velocity Audio Visual Services, San Diego

Nominated by Jenny Clavero, TriTech Software Systems “Dave is my AV partner who ensures that the AV goes flawlessly. His team is able to adjust to last-minute requests and make adjustments on the fly. I cannot imagine doing a conference without Dave and his team.”

Rene Ortiz, Director of Event Technology, PSAV / Radisson Austin Downtown

Nominated by Vicky H. Sepulveda, Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce “He is professional and a very great resource and technician when it comes to audiovisual. Also, from a design aspect, he provides great suggestions and design ideas. I trust him fully when it comes to assisting us with audiovisual.”

Ken RaceKen RaceDirector of Global Accounts, PRG, Atlanta

Nominated by Sylvia Ratchford, Hinman Dental Society “Ken is always working with us to identify ways for us to better serve our speakers with their AV needs, as well as to provide an optimum experience for our attendees and exhibitors. His professionalism and service-driven approach are keys to our success each year.”

Larry SlocumLarry Slocum, Director of Event Technologies, Encore Event Technologies, Coppell, Texas

Nominated by Cori Dossett, CEM, CMP, Conferences Designed “Larry is an outstanding professional. He will work within your budget, providing the equipment needed for your event. If you order something that does not look quite right, he will discuss it with you and offer ways to save money, without devaluing what is needed. In addition, Larry is kind, thoughtful, personable, also available on site, and you can tell he enjoys his job.”

Brooke WexlerBrooke Wexler, Owner, Turning Point AV, Savannah, Georgia

Nominated by Meghann Shinners, CMP, American Association of Nurse Assessment Coordination “She is hands down the best AV professional I have ever worked with in my 15 years in the industry. She is proactive, prepared, creative, thoughtful, and smart as a whip.  She is one of the most important parts of my team on site!”


michellefreelandMichelle Freeland, CMP, Manager, BSC Management Inc., Los Angeles

Nominated by Jason C. Levine, BSC Management Inc. “Michelle has been with BSC Management for a little less than three years, but has quickly risen to be one of our most trusted and dependable meeting planners. Her organizational abilities and attention to detail are off the charts, as is her uncanny ability to predict budget issues. Michelle took over for a meeting that was in the red by a significant amount and turned it around to a six-digit profit in only one year.”


Luke BreslinLuke Breslin, Production Coordinator, Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, Stockbridge, Massachusetts

Nominated by Leisl Moriarty, CMP, Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health “I work with Luke regularly on large conferences and special events at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. As a unique venue in the hospitality industry, many staff at Kripalu don’t consider themselves leaders in the hospitality space, including Luke. As an active member of PCMA, I’m continually in awe of the capacity and strength that I’m surrounded by every day. I am excited to nominate Luke, to shine light on the amazing work he does on a daily basis. Luke manages a significant workload, supporting over 300 programs/events each year at the facility. He also manages all logistics for multiple conferences in addition to those programs. He’s an integral part of ensuring top presenters are supported while teaching invaluable content to guests. Further, Luke’s quiet but busy work ensures Kripalu is able to execute its mission — to empower people and communities to realize their full potential through the transformative wisdom and practice of yoga. Through Luke’s work, Kripalu is able to transform lives.”


Saika BhavnagariSaika Bhavnagari, Project Manager, Attendee Interactive, Marriottsville, Maryland

Nominated twice, including by Dawn Biernacki, Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society “As our project manager, Saika was amazing in helping our entire team get migrated to a real logistics system for the first time. Our event is a monster at almost 42,000 attendees, and the challenge of going from no system to something concrete was a massive endeavor.  She was a huge help getting us through this process. Everyone involved in the project was incredibly grateful for her patience, time, and diligence in helping us get launched.”

Valerie DiMambroValerie DiMambro, Client Relationship Manager, ATIV Software, Philadelphia

Nominated by Caitlin O’Brien, CMP, American Transplant Congress “I have worked with Valerie for the past three years, and it has been such a pleasure to have her as our app-technical-support professional. If I ever need anything, she is always readily available and knowledgeable about the product. Since working with her, I feel like she is more than our app technical-support professional — she is a friend to ATC!”

Daniel KimDaniel Kim, Client Relationship Manager, ATIV Software, San Francisco

Nominated three times, including by Jeff Galyon, American Chemical Society “Daniel has been an excellent vendor partner, and provides invaluable help with our mobile meeting application. He regularly goes above and beyond to ensure that we provide an excellent user experience in our app. Daniel simplifies technical processes so that we can complete myriad tasks. He also makes sure that both quality and efficiency are maximized. We really could not deliver the mobile app without Daniel’s help.”


Mary GallagherMary Gallagher, CMP, Director, Convention Sales, Eastern Region, Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board

Nominated by Cori Dossett, CEM, CMP, Conferences Designed “I am nominating Mary due to her continued positive attitude and giving spirit. Mary works continuously to connect people whom she believes may be a good fit for a service or resource. Not only is she is passionate about our industry, she is known for her depth of knowledge and caring spirit.”

ejodlowska-36_colorEwa Jodlowska, Director of Operations, Python Software Foundation, Chicago

Nominated by Betsy Waliszewski, Python Software Foundation “We are a nonprofit, and before I was hired in August of 2015, Ewa managed the entire conference by herself. We have 2.5 paid employees who all work remotely. We do hire an outside reg manager and we have volunteers, but everything else is managed by Ewa. She does an amazing job taking care of every detail for a conference that maxes out at 3,100 attendees and more than 100 sponsors. We have a job fair and an expo hall. In addition, we have three days of ‘development sprints.’ I can’t recommend her highly enough.”

Watson,Jennifer-1Jennifer Watson, CTA, Director of Special Events and Industry Relations, Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau

Nominated by Brad Kent, Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau “Jennifer puts her heart and soul into every event she produces for Dallas and our customers. She created an amazing backup solution in conjunction with the Experient team during Experient’s EnVision final-night party this past March for an out-of-the-box, memorable event when inclement weather forced a rooftop party to move two levels down in the Skater Bird parking garage. She also creates amazing customer events at every industry function!”

Convene Editors