Meet Tonya, Farmer, CMP, Meetings Director, International Association of Venue Managers
When Tonya Farmer was ready to go back full-time into the meeting planning business after taking two and a half years off to raise her now four-year-old daughter, she found that the business wasn’t quite ready for her.
“I had a lot of experience, but I just couldn’t get a foot in the door,” recounted Farmer, who had worked in meeting management for several companies and associations including the National Independent Automobile Dealers Association, Texas Credit Union League and Powder Coating Institute.
“It was like taking some time off to raise my child was a negative. I had to work extra hard to even have someone give me a look. I think HR departments today are looking to find reasons to eliminate resumes to narrow down the field.” And two and half years away from the workforce appeared to be a good reason to keep Farmer on the outside looking in.
Not deterred, Farmer worked the Linked-In process, paying the extra money to be able to dig deeper into prospective employers as well as PCMA and other meeting organizations resources. She also kept busy doing freelance meeting management when she could. Ultimately, she knew that if she could just talk to someone and “tell her story” it would bridge that gap standing out in her resume.
The due diligence and hard work paid off landing her the Meetings Director position for the International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM) where she has been for over a year and a half enjoying what she sees is the best about this occupation.
“I love working with a team and you collaborate on ideas of what it would take to make a successful event,” said Farmer about her teammates, vendors and facility contacts. “Then you execute a great event. It truly is rewarding.”
Unfortunately, Farmer recently canceled IAVM’s largest conference which was scheduled for late July in Long Beach, CA., due to the extended shelter-in-place orders by California. “We were hoping to make it happen. Now we plan to take the whole event virtual,” said the Texas Woman’s University graduate who lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. “We are researching platforms and learning the ins and outs from peer groups. We don’t want to re-invent the wheel.”
Farmer says this new environment has brought a complete shift to her company’s meeting plans for this year. IAVM, whose members include managers and executives representing convention centers, arenas, stadiums, performing arts centers, fairgrounds, etc.
“From a meeting planning perspective right now we are skipping past 2020 meetings (which will all be virtual) and focusing on 2021 making them smaller events,” she said pointing out that her smaller meetings from 150 to 300 attendees that happen once a year might expand in number with smaller groups. “We don’t know how things will look yet (because of space and hotel and venue requirements). More regional meetings with 50 people attending each might be easier.”
All these challenges make things interesting for Farmer who said she wouldn’t have it any other way. “I knew early on I couldn’t be comfortable in a business that was boring. This (meeting planning) never gets boring.”
Although the path back into the meeting field was a struggle, it has been worthwhile effort. “Having that time to spend with my daughter was important to me and I think it was good for her,” Farmer said. “I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Notes: Graduating with a kinesiology major, Farmer initially entered the meeting planning business through the needs of her then company Frito-Lay assigning her fitness department to set up golf tournaments and off-site outings. She later transferred to Boeing and picked up planning C-level suite meetings. That planning experience along with connections with venues and others within the North Texas meetings industry set her on her path.
Hobbies: Golf, Playing Guitar, Cooking, Fishing and of course the joyful days with her daughter.
Favorite Movie: The Notebook