LeAnna Toups-Bennett – Louisiana Economic Development

LeAnna Toups

LeAnna Toups-Bennett

Marketing Representative, Louisiana Economic Development

Baton Rouge, La.

Describe your job.

I am a government meeting planner for Louisiana Economic Development (LED), a state agency. It is my duty to plan and execute all agency events, taking responsibility for all the creative, technical, and logistical elements, including management of all LED and LED-allied partner special events.

How did you get started and what got you from there to today?

My career path has not been typical. In my late teens and early twenties, I worked retail management, where I learned the value of strong leadership skills and communication. I then spent several years as the activity director in various senior living communities, which was where I developed my passion for events. From 2015 to 2018, I was a key planner of the Louisiana Department of Education’s annual Teacher Leader Summit. In 2019 I co-planned the event with one other person, and in 2020 I was the sole event planner. Earlier this year I shifted from LDOE to my job with LED.

Do you have a favorite type, size, or style of event to plan, or do you like variety?

I like a challenge, so my favorite events
are those we have struggled with in the past. I love analyzing every component to see where improvements can be made. I also enjoy developing comprehensive, multi-faceted strategies to approach events from different angles.

What’s your best experience of turning lemons into lemonade?

I planned a meeting series to review state education standards, particularly science. During the initial planning, we didn’t account for the public to become so actively invested, and we failed to comprehend the magnitude creationism and evolution played in the daily lives of so many people. We had left out an entire group of stakeholders. We ended up adding a heavy public comment component and planned meetings throughout the state to ensure regional voices were heard. We didn’t meet our initial timeline to complete the project, but we did (mostly) engage the appropriate stakeholders.

What’s your proudest moment so far in your career?

On March 13, 2020, 45 days out from the largest educator professional development conference in the state with more than 300 sessions planned and nearly 6,500 educators set to attend, our governor issued the stay-at-home order. Over the next week, I orchestrated the greatest pivot of my career. We reevaluated content and identified the key information we had to get out to educators before the end of that school year. We identified 64 critical sessions and shifted to a virtual format when it wasn’t yet mainstream. The event ran with very minor technical issues. The two-week virtual summit had four concurrent sessions across five rotations per day, with more than 8,000 educators in attendance—1,500 over what our in-person event was slated to have.

How has your business adapted to the ongoing uncertainties and challenges of the pandemic?

We are more hesitant to sign contracts with long runways. Regulations change often. We are becoming more critical of contracts, closely examining each component and ensuring there are clauses related to shifts influenced by COVID restrictions. Overall, I think the meetings industry has changed for the better and planners are now creating more encompassing engagements.

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