Ronny Coombs: Career Goal – The Events Industry

Person holding a phone up that is playing the Skift Meetings Podcast episode featuring Ronny Coombs, exhibits manager of the American Society of Nephrology (ASN).

Skift Take

While many in the events industry have stumbled upon the profession, not Ronny Coombs, exhibits manager of the American Society of Nephrology. She set out on a path with deliberate focus.

Ronny Coombs, a graduate of George Mason University, is exhibits manager for the American Society of Nephrology (ASN). Her main focus is Kidney Week, a medical conference that attracts 14,000 attendees and, on average, 170 to 200 exhibitors annually.

Pandemic Pivot

During the Covid shutdown, the ASN didn’t cancel its events, just the in-person component. “Doctors still need their education and research was still happening. We had our first virtual event in November of 2020, which was difficult in another way. We were trying to learn how to suddenly become a technology expert and a user experience designer and all these other things that I had never had to do before. We really lucked out. I mean, our event went off really well,” said Coombs. “It was just a whole other different kind of difficult, it was a rough couple of years for everybody in our industry.”

Impact of Visa Issues

Historically, 40% of Kidney Week attendees are international. At present, that number is in the high 30%. Coombs says this is a result of visa issues. “The wait times right now are prohibitive. People can’t get here,” she says.

No Replacement for In-Person Events

Doctors could attend virtual events during the pandemic and get their certifications. “But we found attendance at the virtual sessions was really low, whereas in person, we have rooms overflowing,” she says.

AI is the Future

“If you look at where we were as a society 60 years ago versus today and what that will look like over the next 20 or 30 years, the growth that’ll happen, I think it’s fun to watch, and I am excited to be a part of it,” she says. “I’ve enjoyed specifically the impact that AI has had on our industry, and me as well.”

She uses it to help her with creative blocks. “AI is not going to replace us, but it is a really good space for inspiration, and that’s how I typically use it,” she said.


After witnessing this focus waning during the pandemic, Coombs sees with good eyes a recent shift toward sustainability. “It’s super important to me, in both my personal and professional life, that I’m being cognizant of the health of our planet,” she said.

The Taylor Swift Effect

Coombs has been a Swiftie since she was 15 years old. “I admire her tenacity so much. Her refusal to accept being shut down or being told this is the way that things are going to be. She’s such a strong, willful individual, and she just doesn’t allow herself to be muted. I’ve taken that a lot into my life in moments where I may have stayed quiet or allowed someone else to make a decision for me,” she explained. Swift’s ability to make her fans special is something Coombs emulates in the events she plans and in her relationships.

Importance of Mentors

While a student at George Mason, Vicki Johnson of Vicki Johnson & Associates, since acquired by Cypress Planning Group, was a guest speaker. At the end of her talk, Johnson shared her business card to continue the conversation. Coombs took advantage of the offer, and Johnson became her mentor, helping her land her first job in the industry.