The Intersection of Passion and Impact

Amanda Armstrong is a guest on the Skift Meetings Podcast

Skift Take

Amanda Armstrong, Encore's senior vice president of communications and industry relations, delves into the art of career mapping, fostering a diverse and inclusive workforce, and the enduring importance of human connection in shaping the world of events.

Amanda Armstrong is the senior vice president of communications and industry relations at Encore. Her career spans senior planning roles at Enterprise Rent-A-Car before joining Encore, with a wealth of operational and strategic experience. She also led Meeting Professionals International (MPI) as chair of the international board of directors.

At Encore, she has been instrumental in driving initiatives around diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DE&IB). She also contributed to the company’s recent certification as a Great Place to Work in seven regions.

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Central to Armstrong’s role is advocating for a healthier work-life balance within the events industry. “If I could wave a magic wand, it would be to eliminate the stress of event planning while preserving the thrill of execution,” she stated. She believes that although technology will continue to play a significant role in shaping events, the essence of in-person connections will prevail.

Encore’s commitment to nurturing talent is evident through its internal programs like Encore University. Another example is its WAVE (Women in Audio, Visual, and Events) program, which is aimed at creating more inclusive opportunities within the traditionally male-dominated AV field. Its focus on career pathing reflects a growing awareness of workforce retention challenges. It is keenly aware of the evolving expectations of professionals seeking a rewarding career journey.

Armstrong stressed the importance of illustrating a clear career trajectory. Furthermore, she believes providing a fair, equitable, and fulfilling work environment is essential to attracting new talent. Reinforcing her belief in continuous learning, she encourages event professionals to become “ever learners,” remaining open and adaptable to change.

As Armstrong looks ahead, she envisions events that break the mold of traditional formats. To do this, she prioritizes personalized attendee experiences and embraces the unpredictability of human nature. Ultimately, she’s driven to ensure every event fosters a sense of belonging, reflecting Encore’s ethos for its clients and employees. Armstrong is committed to improving the industry’s standards for event professionals and participants.

Podcast Transcript

Introduction and Career Journey

Miguel Neves: Welcome to today’s episode of the Skfit Meetings podcast and today I am delighted to have my friend Amanda Armstrong join us at Skift Meetings at the podcast.

Amanda Armstrong: Hi Miguel. Nice to be on your podcast, long-time listener.

MN: Oh, thank you very much. I just learned that so I’m very happy to hear that. So Amanda we’ve known each other for a little while, a quick few years. You’re now senior vice president of communications and industry relations at Encore. So congratulations I think it’s been about a year now or just over a year, right?

AA: I’m coming up on two years in January. So, a lot of reflection, but it’s been good getting through my second year. I feel like the first year is just a fire hose, and in the second year, you’re actually seeing the impact.

MN: So yeah, two years in January. Excellent so would love you to start by just telling us a little bit about your history, your story, your journey so far, if you will. I’d love to understand the first moment when you understood the events industry or understood business events as an industry as a thing. And maybe that was in college. Maybe that was before. I think for a lot of people, it comes somewhat naturally, but not necessarily a sort of obvious route. So start wherever you’d like to start.

AA: It definitely was college. So, I think you know that I’m from Colorado originally, and I grew up there. And so when I decided to go to the University of Colorado, which is where my dad also went, so a little bit of family pressure, I went thinking, how can I create some micro communities at this really large university? And so I joined the CU Snowboarding and Skiers Club, which had thousands of members and was going to their annual, their monthly meetings, learning about different ski equipment and the resorts and watching Warren Miller films and just making friends.

Then I found out there was a spot open on their board of directors. And so I was like, I’m going to go to the University of Colorado. And I was like, what’s that? It was volunteer. And it was organizing basically chapter events and their membership. And so started getting into that. I mean, it wasn’t altruistic. They paid us in season passes at ski resorts. So definitely there was a pay out there.

We started organizing trips over Thanksgiving break, Christmas, the holiday break, spring break for hundreds of skiers and snowboarders, put them on buses and send them off to Utah, Wyoming, Montana, all over. And we’d organize everything from, the meals to the accommodations to the activities, the ski passes. So we were managing P&Ls and registrations. And that was kind of my first at 18, my first access into events and really experiential events, and it was great. And I’ve been addicted ever since.

MN: I love it how you went from sort of school trips and kind of something that sounds like a lot of fun to the P&Ls and sort of got quite serious quite quickly there, right?

AA: Yeah, we did. I mean, honestly, like, you think about it now, the liability, I can’t even believe the university let us do what we were doing, taking a ton of underage students off campus to do who knows what with a lot of beer and skiing and apres ski. But we were signing contracts with accommodations. We would rent out huge condo complexes, where we would have six people in a room. And so we had to know our contract negotiation. We had to negotiate. We bought a lot of insurance. It sounds a lot of fun. But as most event organizers know, there’s a lot of risk liability, emergency planning, and also problem-solving alongside all of these really fun ideas when you start to plan and orchestrate an event.

MN: So then take us through your career after that. I know you spent a lot of time at Enterprise, but you had a few other jobs in between, right?

AA: I did. After college, the ski bug was in me. So I moved to Santiago, Chile to work for Portillo Ski Resorts, which the job never really manifested. I was going to be backcountry, but they had a bad ski season. And so we ended up my, my ski buddy and I, we just got jobs in Santiago. And I worked for a newspaper, the Santiago Times down there, because my degree was in international relations. So it fit and I wanted to, better my span. I’m a company manager, which means I’m a licensed contractor. But then I was like, okay, I want to work in something different.

And then I met someone that worked in the luxury travel industry who was there on a trip and said, Hey, there’s this company in St. Louis, Missouri, called Intrav. They hire operations and logistics, logistics specialists, and they send you all over the world. It sounds glamorous, but really, it’s just a lot of pre planning and site visits and advancing. And, I said, “that sounds a heck of a lot better than grad school.”

So I deferred. and moved to St. Louis, sight unseen, And I was with a luxury travel company there for five years. And they sent me all over the world. It was an amazing experience. Again, lots of logistics, contract negotiations with airlines, riverboats in Europe. I ended up at the North Pole on a nuclear icebreaker from Russia, went to Antarctica, all over Africa. I mean, it was an incredible experience. It taught me a ton about working internationally and also in different cultures and designing experiences for groups of all different interests and all over the place.

So that was after college, and it was amazing, but it was a ton of travel. And so I was looking for another gig that was less travel and more domestic. And that’s when I moved into Enterprise Rent-A-Car and I was there for 14 years. It was an incredible experience there, building a team and orchestrating their international and national meetings, mostly internal. And then moving on to really start up their global travel program, their transient travel program, which was somewhat disorganized. And so we got everybody to be compliant and everybody all in one program. Enterprise was great. They gave me a lot of different things to do over the course of 14 years, which satisfied my urge to learn and be curious and kind of stay on top of my skills.

Event Highlights

MN: There is a lot of room for growth there [at Encore]. It’s a big company, right? So a lot of different areas. If you think back to those 14 years, is there one or more events that really stand out for you in terms of something that you were able to achieve or some really interesting design that you were able to do on your initiative?

AA: It was probably one of the very first large events that I did with them. And it was their daily rentals. And it was a rental meeting. It’s usually in Orlando every year in the springtime. And it’s bringing all of the rental managers into one place with 7,600 attendees, over the course of three days, five different hotels.

So the logistics and managing, over 50 buses bring people to and fro and all of the simultaneous general sessions, the breakouts. I mean, it was just, it was a big puzzle to solve for and it was really great actually seeing how we came together. It was completely staffed internally, which I couldn’t believe. We used a DMC, Hello DMC!, which of course is still a partner with Enterprise and also a partner of mine. Paul Mears and his team were fantastic. It was great to see that many young professionals come together, network, connect, learn, be recognized.

And it was a lot for our internal team to handle. We used administrative assistants from all over the country to fly in and help us with registration and all the onsite things that we needed. So there was a lot of training, but I love that. I love that we were using internal resources. It gave a lot of company pride in doing that. So that was fun. I think that was one of the biggest things.

And, of course, we had the fun part. We rented out downtown Disney one night and we had concerts and we had the Beaches of the World beach party all over the golf course at the Marriott World Center. We had a pub crawl within all the ballroom spaces and designed different types of environments for people to walk around internally. So we just did a lot of fun, creative stuff in the evenings. But I really loved the logistics and the people. I really loved the people movement and the programming and just the event design of it for that many people.

The Profound Impact of Volunteer Leadership

MN: Simultaneous with all this, I think we met really through MPI, and you were on the board, and then eventually you were chair for quite a, quite an interesting period of MPI. So, take us through that sort of volunteer leadership journey for you.

AA: I’m glad that you raised it because it really was career-defining for me. I think it’s really important to have that kind [of experience]. How do you decide what you want to do, or how do you upskill, or how do you do something outside of your job responsibilities? Volunteerism is the way to do it.

I had gotten a job before the enterprise job. And I realized that I oversold myself a little bit in the interview in certain areas. And so I had kind of a, oh, no, I need more training. So I reached out to the local chapter in St. Louis of MPI, and I started attending their meetings and then got involved in their local chapter leadership program, which was just great networking for me to meet some peers.

We had a phrase then you “buy MPI”, so a lot of the suppliers were a part of that chapter, and I got to know them as people, and our industry, Miguel, we do, it’s a relationship-based industry. You develop a lot of trust with people. You want to know their values because when you have an event, I mean, that’s your baby. That’s your Superbowl. Like, everything’s resting on that, so you need to know that people have your back.

I just started doing more business with the suppliers in that chapter and then all of a sudden, St.

Louis was selected to host WEC [MPI’s World Education Congress], so Kitty Ratcliffe, who is a dear friend and longtime mentor of mine, asked me to co-chair, so that was great because I got exposure to MPI far beyond a local chapter level. That really opened my eyes and really made me grow as a leader.

Then, I raised my hand to apply for the board of directors and that’s where we met. I was on the board for seven years, which is crazy looking back. But I started off as just a board member and then raised my hand for the vice president of finance because we were looking at different revenue models as an association. We ended up acquiring “Plan Your Meetings” and I’d never done anything like that, so it was great learning.

This is all volunteer right outside of my job responsibilities at Enterprise, which was incredibly supportive of me growing in this way. I mean, who gets exposed to mergers and acquisitions in their early thirties if you’re not sitting on Wall Street or in finance? So that was really cool.

Then I was asked to serve as the chair, and so I had three years as the chair-elect, then the chair, and I had two years as the past chair because COVID hit. Paul Van de Venner, the CEO of MPI, asked Steve O’Malley, the current chair, to stay on and me to stay on just for continuity because so much was happening.

So, yeah, that three-year board commitment turned into seven overnight, which I’m grateful for because there’s so much learning there. And it really did add the friendships to I still see everybody on our board, including you. I still have such great memories. There’s a lot of respect for the leaders that I served on the board with and still do to this day.

Career Crossroads

MN: So, tell me a little bit about the jump to Encore. Obviously, Encore is a massive company, big player in the space. I think nobody would would argue with being the largest AV company in the world, and of course, do other things as well. But it does seem like an interesting jump because Encore is such a big company. [You came from a] planning role, MPI chair, and then jumping onto the AV world in somewhat of a sales role, not a full sales role, like a lot of different angles to that. But I’d like to hear that from you.

AA: I’m sure everyone has gone through a moment in their career where they’re like, OK, what’s next? What am I doing? And I feel like that’s one thing that I really want to highlight. I feel like when you’re thinking about your career journey or career mapping, to me, it comes down to the intersection of passion and impact.

I think that that’s a hard target to find because it’s always moving. If you’re looking at yourself and analyzing what is your passion, what brings you joy and then what is your impact? Well, what brings you joy might change. Obviously, it did for me. I mean, skiing adventures, to international travel, to organizing large corporate meetings; all of that brought me joy. So, it does evolve. So you got to keep an eye on that. Then the impact you have is directly related to your skills and experience and how you can drive results. That’s going to change based on what you’re doing, what you’re around, what you’re learning. And so I feel like it’s a moving target.

During covid, it was a real time of reflection for me when the two things that I love the most outside of friends and family, of course, are meetings and travel, and it was illegal to do both. I think it was a real shakeup. Obviously, the whole industry was really kind of demolished, and then we were starting to rebuild and in that moment, I said, “what role do I want to play in rebuilding our industry?”

Of course, I still love Enterprise and I’m completely loyal, [they have] incredible leaders. They’re my old team. A lot of the employees and our mission, the mission and vision of the company is so strong, as well as the family ownership. So nothing wrong there, but they’re a mobility company. And so I thought, if I’m going to have an impact, I really need to move into a company that is 100% centered around the events industry. That’s where I’m going to have the most impact in this next chapter and the need was a rebuild. My passion was still the same connecting and inspiring people through events, which is actually the mission of Encore. So it was kind of a perfect match when I started talking.

And then I started to look at what their mission and purpose is as a company, but then also, where were they in their journey? They were looking to rebuild differently and when I kind of dug into that, it was things, it was values that were really important to me, around DE&I, around bringing more women into audiovisual and tech. That was important to me. On creating a different culture that’s more inclusive, that’s centered around belonging.

They were leveled in the pandemic. I think they were different. They were down to just over or maybe around 2,000 employees, down from 12,000 at one point, so you can imagine when events started to come back, the hiring that they’ve done in the last year, I think it’s over 6,000 now, just in the last 18 months, just to get back up to speed.

And that’s a real opportunity to set culture and to focus on initiatives internally. The inclusive and workplace was important, as well as a diverse way of working, and so it really just started to align with my passion, my impact, and my values.

Explaining the Industry to the Outside World

MN: Has this made it easier for you to explain to your family and friends that aren’t in the industry what it is you do?

AA: It depends on the day. So I think so. I do think being a part of Encore, they immediately went to the website and saw, oh, wow, you guys are more than just a technology company. You’re an audiovisual. You do event design, event strategy, production. You have solutions for your customers. And I’m like, “we absolutely do.” So I, think they now see the bigger picture.

I think when I was at Enterprise, the stories that I would tell were mostly, and it’s the ones that all you event professionals know. It’s kind of the big wins and also the big nightmares. And so I think my family was like, we know she’s a big fan. She brings a lot of people together. There’s always issues, especially the one time when there was the hurricane in Florida and we had to evacuate 700 people out of Orlando., so we luckily put them in rental cars, we got our fleet out and we got our people out. But that was a really stressful 36 hours. So I think for a while my family thought that I was somehow involved in evacuations and from events.

But, yes, I do think, Miguel, it helps now.

Letting people know that the company that I’m a part of is really solutions, end-to-end solutions for meeting planners. Whether you’re doing breakouts at a hotel or you’re organizing something much larger for thousands of people, we will provide the solutions there. And working in my department, which is marketing and being over communications and industry relations, is really rewarding for me. So I’m not doing the logistics and operations anymore. I do a little bit with industry relations, which is fun. But, yeah, I’m out of that ops role now and more sitting on the corporate side.

MN: Do you miss the ops role?

AA: Of course, I think when you are, that’s all I’ve done. I love the thrills and I love the planning. I love the teamwork and I love seeing your work manifest around you. That’s a big motivator why so many event professionals do the job we do because we actually get to see all the hard work happen and be a part of it, feel the energy and see how attendees feel included and are inspired. You see their faces, and so it makes the late nights and the last-minute changes and the problem-solving all worth it when you’re on-site you get to see it all manifest.

A Newfound Appreciation for Audiovisual Work

MN: Almost two years in with Encore, I’m curious about how you look at audiovisuals and production today compared to how you looked at it in your previous role or in the life before working for an artificial production company.

AA: I always knew that it was complex, we used several audiovisual providers, and production providers and Enterprise along my 14-year journey. and they were an extension of our team they were family to us because they had our back, and there were always issues with technology. So, I always knew it was complex. I think being a part of such a large organization, with over 10,000 employees at this point across multiple countries.

Just the enormity of our warehouses our equipment transportation, the way we get equipment from a place to place the training involved and Encore University is notch as far as employee training that I’ve seen and I’ve been around with my service and with the associations it really is preparing our team members for a career and it’s more than just tech videos and training. It’s leadership and communication Styles.

I mean, you really can have a career and Encore and I think that piece of it I knew there was training but I didn’t know the investment that this company was making and its team members for the long haul and it was something that opened my eyes and also all buying the supply chain of how much equipment we buy and how to keep it organized and tagging it and shipping it and there’s a whole, Logistics piece behind supply chain and equipment management. I always knew it existed. But now I know much more about operating a business of this size. So I think the complexity is what I really opened my eyes to and then also the level of training that is for our professionals.

I have a larger respect for them as individuals because I was new as we call it our audio one or our video One guys. It’s like I knew that they’ve been doing their jobs for many years, but the technical expertise that they need to know all the equipment to know the latest and greatest and also the problem solve on site that’s years and years of Technical Training and it’s nice to know a little bit more about it having sat through some of those courses just to get better knowledge myself.

MN: I’m well done for sitting to the courses. I’m sure that was eye-opening in many ways.

AA: Just a few but keep me honest Miguel. just a few when I was onboarding. I’m like I should get in here and start learning because I wanted to have the proper terminology and just to be legit when I was on site.

Event Design Complementing Audiovisual Production

MN: As a previous AV kind of worker myself. I think my knowledge is probably 20 years out of date now, so I probably could use a few of those courses, but you’re also a certified event designer and I know that’s part of what Encore does and I guess I wanted to kind of ask about how much event design is really involved with Encore? What kind of teams do you have involved in that? How does that work? I imagine the artificial is the bulk but, event design is obviously an important part of it as well.

AA: Absolutely. So I think this division was stood up before I obviously came aboard just two years ago, but it’s led by Christine Kiesling, and she has a team of events strategists. It’s not the bulk of what we do. I think it came up because we’re listening to our customers, right and our customers as their events grow. They’re like, what I’ve got a new challenge I’ve got I don’t know a new CEO or some new stakeholders or we just acquired a company and so our event can’t be what it was last year.

Bravo for everyone out there who is planning an event not to do the copy-paste of your event plan, but actually go into your event thinking: What’s changed? What’s relevant? What are the new objectives and goals? There are not a lot of people with the skills or the time to do it. So we heard from our customers that they needed help with event strategy.

We have event strategists who are certified and they go in to help with that. Events are complicated. We do stakeholder mapping as there are many stakeholders and events. It’s not just the sales team and the executive leadership; they encourage you to look beyond. It’s not buyers and suppliers, but it could be that’s a winner, a first-time attendee back from maternity leave. That’s neurodivergent and has English is a second language. So that’s one of your attendee profiles.

I think it’s so important that when you’re doing this mapping that you think about for your event to be successful, you need not just to balance the ROI of it. But you also need to be looking at your attendees and thinking about how can we customize or personalize this event so that they feel included they feel like they belong. They feel like they can connect because if they don’t feel like they’re included in they belong then they’re not going to connect. They’re not going to take away what you hoping to create whether it’s the retention of information or assimilating, adopting a new culture or networking or even selling if they don’t feel like the event is for them. I think that you’re gonna notice a lot less engagement. And so that’s money down the drain.

Addressing Diversity and Inclusion Challenges

MN: That’s a very considered approach and lots to unpack there, but wanted to cover a little bit about what you said about DI and audiovisual. As far as I understand, it is one with few areas in the meetings industry that’s very male-dominated.

AA: It is.

MN: Right? So the driving the transportation all that it’s very but you mentioned this role of women in AV and we’ve had Anca Trifan, on the podcast before she’s an AV person. That’s also kind of talking a lot about the role of women in AV and really trying to lift them up. What are you doing about it at Encore? How does it work? I mean, I understand the advantage of a diverse workforce across any industry, but this is a very male-driven industry. How do you deal with that? And how do you see the future of that?

AA: So, hats off to our HR team. I think this was something when I mentioned before as we were building back. We wanted the workforce to look differently not just at Encore as far as our DEI&B goals which by the way, we added the B because we feel like [belonging] that’s the result of diversity equity and inclusion. You feel like you belong so we have a DEI&B strategy now, but going back to that. I think that HR knew, let’s build back differently. We want more women.

And so what are some of the things that are the obstacles for women coming into our environment as far as where we sit I think one of them was just a lack of knowledge and I don’t know if you’ve read any of the articles out there about what sometimes prevents women from throwing from a new position or applying for a job is that many women want to have all the boxes checked and I’ve been one of those where I’ve said, okay, I don’t have all the skills. So I’m gonna skill up until I get 10 out of 10 and where many of our male counterparts sometimes say, I’ve got six out of 10, I’m gonna go for it.

And so one of the things is, let’s get technical training out there. And so we have technical training on our website for free and it’s a certification that you can take, anyone can take. It’s called the ntroduction to event technology and it’s designed to provide kind of a high-level overview outlining the process as needed for administering tech support and to transforming kind of an event and utilizing AV Equipment.

It’s out there and it’s part of our WAVE program which is women in visual and events where we’re trying to create a community internally and externally and so that internal piece is, once you take the training and once you’re hired, you’re part of the wave program where we offer networking, we offer mentorship and within certain cities, there are WAVE events and virtual there are WAVE events to kind of create a community for women new to audiovisual and it’s going really well.

We’re in our first year, but I think of the technical hires that we’ve made in 2019. It was about 11 percent and we’re up three percent. So we’ve got 14% of the technical hires or female. So we’re making our way, but we’re not there yet. This takes a while, but it is an increase, and we’re pretty proud of that.

Pay Equity

MN: I think all increases are our valuable and always going in that direction. What about pay Equity? I know you mentioned that earlier, but are you making sure that there is pay equity across the company?

AA: Absolutely. I mean again my hat’s off to HR on this one because when I was hired, I did ask some questions about that, which would be some advice. Anybody who’s thinking about a career change, when you’re looking, it’s really important to ask the right questions. I mean, the first thing I did was I looked at the website as far as, “Are there women in executive positions?” And there are. Our CMO, our CFO, are both women. Myself, our head of commercial, our head of production as a woman all SVPs. We just hired our Center of Excellence, who’s standing that up so really diverse, so that’s a good sign.

When I got into the interview, I was asking really about their DEI&B strategy, you have goals you have targets and they did so and they were resourcing it and then I did ask. How do you ensure pay equity? Organization and these are questions that aren’t easy ones. But I came to find out, having worked there that we actually do several different checks throughout the year.

The first one obviously is, at the hiring, looking for the market to see what is the market range. So that’s one. Then it’s in the review process. So team looks across the whole organization to make sure that people are paid, according to their skill set, their title their level that it’s all equal. There’s another audit too, when we budget and we’re thinking about, are these positions, do we need to be paying more for them based on the market and making sure to keep the equity there.

So, several checks and balances throughout the year and the team that does it. I mean, I’ve seen the data, and it’s down to the hundredths that they’re measuring this, so they are very diligent. And it’s important because pay equity is definitely something that we’re still struggling with, from a global perspective as far as men versus women, but I do think corporations can do a lot there with their due diligence in their process.

Creating a Great Place to Work

MN: It sounds like you’re covering a lot of areas already there. impressive stuff. Thank you for sharing. I know you also received an award recently from Great Places to Work. I imagine these things are connected, right?

AA: Yeah, they are. so yeah, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the organization, but it’s a third party, which the reason why I think that it’s impressive to me is that when you are thinking about a career change or you’re moving into a different company, I think it’s really hard to understand company culture. and so, you do your due diligence and maybe ask people who’ve worked there are working there now or get on Glassdoor or whatever you want to do. But, I think that having a third party that sends a survey that measures you against metrics outside your organization on where you sit and then having a leadership team committed to raising the bar each year. that’s really powerful having that.

Last year we did it for the first time and of course, we were a little nervous. We’re building back from the pandemic events. We’re crazy volume, the demand was Insane, and we got certified. We were thrilled. We got access to all the survey results and we went through them. Each department is given theirs and we’re challenged to go and pick a couple areas to have year-over-year percentage growth in those scores.

Just this fall, we got our second Great Places to Work certification and we were recognized and actually more countries seven now. Australia on Austria Canada and Mexico New Zealand UAE and the US and that grew from last year. So we’re really excited about it. and it’s a great way it’s good anchoring principle, which is one of our strategic pillars for next year is to be creating a great place to work for all that’s one of our pillars. And so all of our plans need to have something around that, around leadership, around retention, around teamwork and communication all the big things that make a place great to work.

MN: But I think that’s a nice way to bring things together. because you’ve working on all these different initiatives, but ultimately it’s a result you want. That belonging, that having a great place to work is the end result that you’re looking for. So you must be proud.

AA: Yeah, I think it’s leading to what I mentioned before as the belonging right. That’s the outcome that we want our team members to feel and as Leaders. I think it’s our job to make sure that we are creating a sense of belonging in the workplace and there’s a lot that goes into that but it makes sense for us to do it internally because we’re really trying to do that externally with our attendees, because we want them to come together and feel belonging.

I think you’ve got to do it in both places and I think internally, I’ve been impressed with we have employee resource groups. We’ve got several of those to have those communities like the wave community and that does help I think create a sense of belonging at a big corporation and it’s also what we’re seeing and it’s some event design is creating those micro communities at large events. So you can find your people and you can connect on topics or values or challenges that you have in common, and that just makes your event experience also more rewarding.

Big Challenges

MN: I love that you’re trying to what you do for your clients. But also internally, I think that makes a lot of sense. So when I go kind of bigger picture now. I want to talk about kind of how you’re seeing the industry right now. Obviously, it’s still a bit of a transition period still trying to figure out what the new reality looks like. But are you seeing any challenges that maybe we should be paying more attention to than we are?

AA: Yes, I mean just workforce really. That to me is what just keeps popping up. The strikes that were I’m based in Southern California and San Diego and so our neighbors to the north were really struggling with that. And then also what was going on in Las Vegas, with the casino teams and their negotiations. I really think that we need to be paying attention to workforce issues because it’s so disrupting for all of us that are working in the events industry when there are strikes. So, the way I kind of think about it is, we really need to be serious about recruiting top talent and retaining them for the long term. That’ll be key for our industry’s prosperity, in my opinion.

How do you do that? I mean, we’ve been looking at the new value system and adapting to how we work and when we work and why we work and making sure that we’re relevant to our team’s needs. So to me, we need to be Advocates of the events that they can transform organizations and we’re looking about how we can build those microcommunities that I mentioned. and that’s the way that we retain them.

But, we also need to recognize their skills and pay them, what they’re a fair and actual wage so that they really feel like there is a career path in the industry. That pay equity, that work-life balance, all of those things factor in our industry and if we value their talent and their skills, we need to be paying attention to what they value and what they want and an employer or in a work environment.

MN: I’m really glad you bring that up because I don’t think we address that too much in inner industry because it’s a wider problem. It’s not necessarily an industry-specific issue, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t address it or it should be one of the challenges that we’re kind of looking at, right?

AA: Absolutely

Ideal Work-Life Balance

MN: So what about if you had a magic wand and you could kind of change something about the industry or change and attitude or something that people ask you for? What annoys you? I don’t know, anything like that. If you could just magically change something in the industry. Do you have any idea what that would be?

AA: Just because I was just talking about it, probably work-life balance for all of our event professionals out there and our technicians, anybody in our hotel partners and all the hospitality workers. I just feel like the best part of our industry is the wonderful events, but the hours around them and the stress around them and the changes.

If I could somehow make wave a magic wand and take the stress out of events, but keep the thrill of executing it and the payoff of seeing everybody inspired at the end. That’s what I would do. That would require a lot, Miguel, because the event schedules are crazy in our industry. The hours are crazy stakeholders. Sometimes don’t understand deadlines or timelines or the trickle-down of the little change that they make close to an event. The impact that has on an entire team and maybe even an entire hotel.

So, if I could wave that wand it would be everybody have a shared understanding of event logistics and also everybody be wiped away of the stress that comes around executing events.

MN: Wonderful wishes, I wish we could make that happen but somewhat in the nature of events, I would imagine.

Events of the Future

So what about how you see events in the future? If you could think of an event in five or ten years’ time, do you think it’s going to look very different to today? And if so, what do you think the main differences are? Is it an AV thing? Is it the way we show up? Are we all going to be wearing VR headsets? I mean, obviously, that might be a bit utopian, but what do you think?

AA: Technology will obviously play a part right we’ve seen just in the very short time that AI has been around what it’s been able to do. So technology is going to be there.

I still think people will come together in events seeking a sense of connection more and in-person connection. I think to me, it’ll really be about getting personalized and figuring out what is that connection for that audience what do and creatively how to connect those people across space and time and breaking down old and tired of event formats, and thinking really out of the box, which is scary for a lot type-A planners or conservative stakeholders. We need to be really in tune with human nature and how people want to work and connect and we start listening and making decisions around that and I mentioned, that sense of belonging and inclusion and designing events around that.

I think we can use technology to help get us there, but I ultimately think we want the in-person connection and not necessarily to be behind goggles or in a room surrounded by technology all day. I think we want to be with people, we want to be in nature, we want to have all those things be a part of our event experience in the future.

Career Mapping

MN: I do think we want to be with people. I’m glad you agree. The last general question for you is to get your thoughts on future young generations in the industry and really advancing their career.

So I guess this is a two-part question, which is how do we attract people into this industry, because like you said, there are these long hours the pay is not necessarily great and maybe some of those perks of traveling aren’t as our art as desirable these days of people that kind of working remotely or things like that. So I think there might be an issue of attracting people in the industry and it’s hard to recruit talent. But also once you have the talent, what about people who are wishing to grow in their career? You’ve already mentioned a bit, but I wanted to get your kind of thoughts on how to encourage people to do that.

AA: Yeah, I think attracting people into the industry. I do think that we need to provide a career path. I think we need to be very intentional about that and that’s kind of why I mentioned the Encore University and me being so impressed that you can take classes any time they’re all accessible so that you can pivot. If you are doing operations in hotels and you want to go into something else you can take those classes on your own and bubble it up to your manager.

I think that we need to be more intentional about that about career path thing because I think that’s how you retain somebody for the long term is you grow with them and you provide them opportunities. Obviously it needs to be a fair and safe work environment. Work-life balance needs to come into play. I think we really do need to take a look at the challenges women face and event industry as far as if they have child care or elder care responsibilities. How are we looking at that with these long hours and balancing stress? We need to look at the events industry and really ask that question, “Why would somebody want to work here?” Then design because we’re competing for talent and they’re going to other places that have figured out that balance.

Now I would argue that they don’t necessarily have the payoff that we get, and being part of the hospitality industry is where I want to be because it’s about serive. So I do think that I think our values kind of beat any other industry, so yes, we need to evaluate that.

But then, to your second part of the question, what’s the advice for people to advance their career. I would say number one, get out of your comfort zone. It’s scary, and it’s a little please shade, but I think we need to learn as professionals and as folks wanting to grow to be able to cope with a bit of failure and to let go of that perfectionism, that we might have, or that risk of failure or that risk of not being good at absolutely everything. I think we just need to accept it.

The second thing I would say is to start preparing now for your next role. You might not know what it is, but just stay curious. Take classes, up-skill, and network. Just think, “I don’t really know where the next opportunity is going to come from, but I’m going to do some different things.” I’m gonna take some classes online. I think just start kind of preparing now so that you’re kind of an ever-learner in your continuously evolving. Trying these things and stretching yourself is really important, you’re able to adapt your resilience, all of those qualities I think will serve you in your next role, so start now.

MN: I really like the ever-learner. I think that’s a nice term. I like that ever-learner in careers. Excellent. Amanda, it’s been a pleasure, as always. I wanted to wrap up there. I really appreciate the time that you spent with us and hope the listeners enjoyed our chat. But I wanted to get your recommendation for somebody else who should be a guest on the podcast.

AA: Well, I would say Michael Bush, who is the CEO of Great Places to Work. I was able to see him in an industry event on stage talking about his leadership style and his company and what he’s trying to do. And I really respect his mission. So, I would say Michael Bush would be the next person to have on the podcast.