Event Specialist, KBT Creative Support Services
Describe your job.
As an independent conference and meeting planner, I plan, manage, organize, and source conferences, meetings, retreats, summits, incentives, symposia, events, and venues for nonprofits, corporate, association, education, and government organizations.
How did you get started and what got you from there to today?
Growing up in the South, hospitality is in my genetic code and entertaining at home is one of my earliest memories. In college, I volunteered on various committees for large events, and later, I worked for a public relations/advertising agency that put me to work catering lunches and special events, which led to other city-wide opportunities.
I also volunteered in planning and managing events at my alma mater, Lipscomb University in Nashville. All those experiences led to me to a position with the Nashville Public Education Foundation, and I was enthralled with working in an environment including both the public and private sectors. I ventured out on my own in January 2011 with KBT Creative Support Services, a meeting planning and hotel sourcing company.
Do you have a favorite type, size, or style of even to plan, or do you like variety?
I always enjoy working with new clients. Learning their specific needs and goals provides me with fresh possibilities to create a distinctive, fun, and successful event that creates special memories for attendees.
What’s your best experience of turning lemons into lemonade?
In 2020, with the devastation of COVID-19, I was at first scared, saddened, and overwhelmed, but my husband encouraged me to move forward in a goal-oriented way. So, early on I began having socially distanced “Patio Palooza” parties of one or two friends/colleagues for much-needed conversation. It was a hit. I entertained more than 45 people that year, which raised my spirits (and hopefully theirs too) and gave me a sense that things were going to be all right.
Last year, I also took time to travel (safely) to make site visits to hotels and resorts in middle Tennessee and beyond, growing my network and client list along the way.
How has your business adapted to the ongoing uncertainties and challenges of the pandemic?
My work includes much more research than before, such as space planning for socially distanced events, finding unique options for meeting spaces, dealing with travel bans for some attendees, and coordinating hybrid and Zoom attendance. Comfort level of clients and attendees is crucial in such a difficult time, and it is vital to be kind and respectful and to never make assumptions based on limited information.
How do you keep up with industry trends and cutting-edge developments in the convention and meeting business?
Travel industry-hosted buyer events are a fantastic way of meeting and networking with scores of suppliers, vendors, and fellow planners. These events provide much-needed opportunities for intensive deep-dives into ever-evolving trends. I truly believe face-to-face meetings are not dead. These are very much needed and important to every industry, and I think we have come to better appreciate human interaction and connection.
What are the essential skills every newcomer into the industry should possess?
A passion for people, a solid sense of listening to clients, a commitment to not quit when problems arise, creative problem solving, and an understanding of basic business and accounting procedures. All this, plus the ability to learn from mistakes that are bound to happen.
What is your main takeaway from navigating the events industry during a pandemic? What changes made during the pandemic do you think will still be around for years?
You cannot learn and grow from doing things the same way time and again, so you must be inventive. Changes that should be around for years include increased safety protocols for attendees, creative culinary options, and the value of meeting outdoors in the open air.
What is your best advice for industry newcomers?
Volunteer for events to learn from the inside what to do and not do. You can gain valuable experience from assisting, and planners always need another set of hands and eyes. Thinking on your feet, not panicking (at least not showing it), and calmly assessing the situation pays off in the long term. Pam Garrett, one of my trusted mentors, told me, “There is nothing you can mess up that we can’t fix.” That has resonated with me in many stressful situations.
When not creating events for clients, what do you like to do?
I enjoy spending time with my family, including my three-year-old granddaughter, and entertaining friends and family in our home. We enjoy travel, especially visiting small towns, shopping at ‘mom and pop’ stores, and appreciating historic architecture. Decorating is also a passion. I enjoy creating an inviting home and helping friends with their home decor decisions.
What is the oddest or funniest thing that ever happened to you during one of your events?
I had seven attendees show up for a three-day conference that I had no record of, I greeted them upon check-in and their names were not on my spreadsheet, they insisted they flew from the Midwest specifically for this event, were properly registered, and presented me with a printed sheet containing their names and registration information. I froze … thankfully, my calm and cool client was nearby and she came over, read over the paperwork and keenly noticed ‘submit’ was not included on the registration form. The assistant had not officially submitted their registration. I was relieved, but then had to immediately begin calling my hotel friends (at the end of the regular workday) to secure seven rooms for the three days, plus transportation and morning breakfasts—that is when your friends and colleagues in the industry really are valuable.
I was thankful for everyone pitching in and helping, and the attendees who ‘thought’ they were registered were a bit embarrassed at the way they behaved.