CEO, Conference Catalysts, LLC
Describe your job.
In addition to my CEO responsibilities, I have directly served as a conference manager for more than 150 conferences, meetings, and events over the past 15 years. I currently oversee all company operations and am intensely involved in business development.
How did you get started and what got you from there to today?
I started the company upon graduation from Kansas State University in 2006. We started providing support to a few small workshops, but the goal was always to be able to provide comprehensive, end-to-end services for conferences of all scales. Today, we provide comprehensive conference management services plus operations management support for professional associations, software applications development, website design/management, graphic design, and marketing support.
Do you have a favorite type, size, or style of event to plan, or do you prefer variety?
I have always loved being challenged with larger and more complex conferences and events that span multiple venues. There are typically very high expectations for these types of conferences, and to execute them well, it requires extreme proficiency with many conference planning skills as well as communication and teamwork.
How has your business adapted to the ongoing uncertainties and challenges of the pandemic?
As soon as the pandemic became “real” in March 2020, approximately 25 percent of our conferences canceled completely for that year. Our team had the foresight to see where things were likely headed, and we poured time and resources toward developing a proprietary virtual conference platform that would cater specifically to our clients. By May, we were supporting conferences with thousands of attendees on our CONFlux platform. Our team is also developing several additional software solutions. There have been challenges along the way, but ultimately, we have grown the number of conferences we support and our general client base significantly since the pandemic began.
How do you keep up with industry trends and cutting-edge developments in the convention and meeting business?
Our team regularly attends online webinars put on by industry experts and has regular meetings with Hilton’s director of sales, worldwide accounts to keep fully informed of all changes related to the transition to in-person and hybrid.
What are the essential skills every newcomer into the industry should possess?
A positive attitude is the most important attribute that a newcomer can have. In addition, they should be exceptionally well organized, be an eager learner, be able to communicate clearly and confidently, possess problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, and be flexible and comfortable with challenges and change.
What changes made during the pandemic do you think will still be around in a few years?
The biggest change will be technology and how it is used. Hybrid/virtual conferences are here to stay, and now it will be a matter of determining the optimal format for each client based on their goals, constituency, and budget.
What is your best advice for industry newcomers?
Attach yourself to a great coach/mentor, both inside your organization and outside, if you can. Ask lots of questions. Emulate all the great things they do. Offer to help and do extra projects whenever you can, and actively solicit feedback.
What’s the oddest or funniest thing that ever happened to you during one of your events?
We were managing a conference of around 1,200 people at the Marriott in Baltimore, and we had our committee appreciation dinner at a restaurant across the street at the end of the conference week. I had all kinds of gifts in several large boxes, and I borrowed a valet cart from the hotel to shuttle everything over to the restaurant. I had to leave the valet cart outside the restaurant front door and carry each box from the cart to the back room of the restaurant. As I bent down to pick up the final box of beer mugs, I heard a loud ripping sound, and I thought the box was tearing open. However, I quickly realized that it was not the box, but instead, my suit pants that had ripped completely down the back. I shuffled through to the back room with the box in hand and quickly sat down for a night filled with laughter and good times. It has made for a great story ever since.