>>Up-and-Coming Events Planner
Associate Director of Alumnae Relations College of Saint Benedict Institutional Advancement
Energy and passion come through after speaking for only moments with Sarah Miller about her evening planning work. Miller realized it was her true career love in college and, even before she had an official position in the field, gained significant experience as a volunteer for such major events as the Basilica Block Party and the AIDS walk, which she chaired for Target Corporation.
She says she enjoys things that are “mission-related in some sense” and describes how large events “remind us that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves.”
As a result of her volunteer experiences, Miller decided that she wanted to earn a paycheck for what she loved and found a job in the field. She is now director of alumnae relations at the College of Saint Benedict and is responsible for volunteer management, homecoming, and reunion weekend.
Miller has a piece of advice for newcomers to the field, “Think about where your passions lie and align your event planning with something you care deeply about. The result will be more meaningful if the organization is important to you on a personal level.” Miller has obviously applied this advice to her own career path with very good effect.
37 S. College Ave./St. Joseph, MN 56374/320.363.5815
>>Up-and-Coming Meeting Professional
Meeting Planner, ACA International
What’s Ellie Madon’s advice for someone embarking on a career in meeting and event planning? “I would highly suggest a mentor,” she says. While studying for her degree in hotel, restaurant and tourism management at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, Madson made the effort to be connected to a mentor.
Now, as a meeting planner at ACA International organizing about 15 meetings a year nationally, Madson says that her mentor was very helpful in the start of her career. She feels that being involved and meeting people are crucial, and that being an active member of Meeting Professionals International (MPI) has been very important in this respect.
Madson loves the organizational skills required for her job. One challenge, though, is that she plans the same meetings every year, so she needs to look for new approaches.
She says, “I’m always looking for new ways to do things, new ways to promote it…I enjoy this challenge.” Madson says she is “on track” for earning her Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) certification soon. Her initiative and appreciation of challenges certainly contribute to her position as a rising figure in the world of meeting planning.
4040 West 70th Street/Minneapolis, MN 55435/952.259.2125
The Late Bloomer Floral Design Studio Inc.
Alice-Lynne Olson describes a career path that sounds somewhat curious, but at the same time, seems like it was meant to lead her to her current role as proprietor of The Late Bloomer Floral Design Studio.
Not a native Minnesotan, she came here for a theater internship only intending to stay one year but ended up putting down more permanent roots. When she decided she needed a career change later on, a friend “nudged” her into going to floral design school.
When Olson walked into the school she said, “I am so at home” and that was it. She worked in retail and found her passion for floral design for events, but she also realized that the retail setting didn’t allow her to spend the time she wanted to with clients, so she eventually struck out on her own.
Now, a self-professed “flower geek,” she takes classes any time she can to keep learning and, with her corporate business almost matching her wedding business, Olson says that she’s “living her life’s dream.”
7600 W. 27th Street, Studio 220/St. Louis Park, MN 55426/612.598.3253
>>Best Special Events Planner
Director of Events and Programs Children’s Cancer Research Fund
When asked what he loves about his job as director of events and programs for Children’s Cancer Research Fund, Jim Leighton gives a list that includes the logistics of planning, negotiating contracts, trouble-shooting and the fun and adrenaline rush of it all, but at the end of his list, it all comes down to giving back to the community.
He says, “I have the privilege of coming to work every day and knowing that I make an absolute difference. I know this. I see the families; I see the difference and know that I’ve been a part of it.”
Leighton describes watching the Super Bowl halftime show in college and says he knew he wanted to work in something related to planning major events, but he also knew that he wanted to be involved in work that gave back to the community.
So, he set out on that path and, while it hasn’t been all that many years, Leighton has racked up an impressive amount of major event experience and is currently the president-elect of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul chapter of the International Special Events Society (ISES).
Leighton clearly loves his work and says, “I wouldn’t change careers.” With his passion for good work, we should all hope he never does.
7801 E. Bush Lake Rd., Suite 130/Edina, MN 55439/952.224.8484
>>Best Meeting Professional
LORA K. GRAY, CMP
Senior Specialist, Target Corporate Meetings
A broken bone may have indirectly helped Lora Gray on her path to becoming a corporate meeting planner. She got into the hospitality industry her senior year in high school when she interviewed for a hostess position that was already filled, only to be called for the job two weeks later because the hostess had fallen and broken her ankle.
After a wide range of experience working in hotels, she moved into conference services at a local DMC and then joined the Corporate Meeting Planning Team at Target in 2005, where she is involved in planning for all internal meetings.
Gray says she loves her work. “We have a great team with diverse backgrounds … our team members all understand that we are working toward the same goal.” Gray sees many qualities and skills as essential in her job, but she believes the ability to communicate on all levels with all kinds of people is crucial.
“It’s important to build strong respectful relationships because one person can’t plan a 1,000-person meeting.” She also mentions being able to keep calm no matter what the circumstances and explains, “It’s like a duck on the water. The legs are paddling like crazy underneath, but all you see is the duck floating gracefully along.”
Gray is looking forward to the coming year when she will for the first time take full responsibility for Target’s largest internal sales meeting of 6,000 people next August. She says, “I’ve worked on meetings this large but haven’t had final responsibility before so I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”
Target Plaza 3/TP3-0806/50 S. 10th St., Suite 400/ Minneapolis, MN firstname.lastname@example.org
DIANNA FULLER, CMP
Director of Marketing Hoffman Communications Inc.
Dianna Fuller began working for an audio-visual company in high school and has stayed in the field. She says, “I love the industry … I love the growth, the constant changing, striving, always trying to be better. I like my side of it because I can take technology and be creative with it. I think that’s why I’ve stuck with this.”
Fuller says technology for meetings and events has changed and points out that, while there is easy access to tools such as PowerPoint these days, planners still need help to make an event as impressive and professional as possible. Fuller says that her job is to make the client look good.
New technology is making event planning more “foolproof,” she says, but she also keeps a quote in mind—“The human touch ensures the success of technology.” Fuller’s experience and expertise no doubt contribute to her ongoing success with technology.
2900 Washington Ave. N./Minneapolis, MN 55411/612.436.3611