Chapter News

August Program Provided Suggestions and Hope for the Meeting Industry

Be flexible. Be creative. Expand your knowledge. Show your value. These were just a few of the suggestions put forth by the expert panelists in the PCMA Gulf States Chapter August 27th program: Stay Calm and Make a Plan: Proving your Value and Adapting through Disruption.

The program, hosted by Steven Foster, CMP of Foster+Fathom, took a look at the meetings industry through the experiences of Jane Belli, Director Meetings & Conventions for Alcon Labs, Kristen Torres, Executive Director Meetings & Events for National Cattleman’s Beef Association, Sean Penix, Director of Sales for AT&T Stadium and Dawn Penfold, President

While the program was full of hope and promise for the meeting industry during these pandemic-related times, the panelists agreed that the business has changed for good and anyone affiliated with it can’t just sit back and hope everything goes back to the way it was. You have to move forward.

“Be proactive,” suggests Penix when planning and preparing for your meeting. “Be proactive about moving forward.”

“If you think it (the meeting industry) is going back to the way things are, you are going to be a dinosaur,” Penford added.

Part of this proactive process is gaining the knowledge needed to plan and execute an on-line meeting and ultimately a hybrid meeting. Utilizing your venue and supplier partners is critical and honing your negotiating skills where it applies to contracts are at the top of the list.

“Flexibility and creativity,” said Torres, stressing the ability for meeting planners to expect and be able to adjust as situations change. “Now is not the time to dust off your old agendas and put them into place. Truly having some of those technology skills and being comfortable with it will be key for planners going forward.”

“Understanding human behavior and how people learn is critical to all of us because you just can’t take a live meeting and make it virtual using the same content,” adds Belli. “People can’t sit in front of their computers for eight hours and watch content.”

Belli and Torres said they and their staffs have watched many webinars and researched as much as possible to gain knowledge and best practices for virtual meetings. Penix said he is seeing people getting certified and recertified to make sure they are up to speed in today’s nuances.

“We have a saying around here,” Penix said. “Becoming is better than being. You always want to become something better than where you are already.”

While the panel emphasized improving your knowledge, it also stressed to not hide in the shadows of your organization. Meetings may have been cancelled for some, but the value of the meeting department has never been more important.

“(This situation) has really shined a light on meetings and how important it is to engage,” said Belli who said at Alcon there has been an increased request for more virtual meetings. “Don’t try and fly under the radar. We will always need in engagement. Be at the forefront. Do training that you need to be an expert in the area. Speak up. Don’t be afraid that meetings are going away.”

“We have state affiliates,” said Torres noting another way to show value. “A lot of those folks don’t have as many staff as we do. Our staff can be a resource for them as well.”

Penfold and Penix both noted that it is not just a meeting planner’s knowledge but also the network that each has accumulated that provides another valuable asset to any organization. Because of the contacts with suppliers and venues, the meeting planner has the ability to negotiate a better deal for their group thus saving their employer money.

Showing value is also a huge ingredient for anyone from this industry looking for a new job.

“For those who do not have jobs, realize your skills are transferable,” said Penford who stressed the importance of having an excellent Linked-In profile and a “clean” Facebook page. Penford said she is seeing needs for people with contract negotiating skills and people who have experience with virtual meetings.

Moving forward, the panel’s toolkit of advice for both planners and suppliers in working together were basically the same as they would have been before 2020 – Trust, transparency, honesty and integrity.

If you are out of work, Penford added another word, “I think patience is such a key word right now. Especially if you are looking for a job. They (jobs) will come back.”

Prior to the program, attendees were entertained with an interactive question and answer exercise by Piccles. The activity allowed participants to write and draw their responses to questions on their phones and computers for all to see. One of the results in this fun exercise can be seen in the featured banner at the top of this article.






A recording of Stay Calm and Make a Plan: Proving your Value and Adapting through Disruption can be found on the PCMA Gulf States Chapter website at

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Jena VonderhaarAugust Program Provided Suggestions and Hope for the Meeting Industry