Meeting and event professionals are masters of illusion. They make the execution of spirited galas, parties and gatherings seem effortless. But behind the curtain are hours of meticulous attention to detail, multiple vendor contracts, and impressive feats of coordination. Given all the energy these magic makers invest in celebrating others, isn’t it time we celebrate them? These seven extraordinary professionals, representing decades of experience in the industry, have earned their stripes—and a stiff drink!
CSEP, Vice President
“You’re putting out fires all the time,” says Event Lab founder Becky Harris of her 25-plus years in the meetings and events industry. “Every day you have to perform.”
Seventy percent of Event Lab’s business consists of corporate events; the rest are social gatherings. No matter what the occasion, Harris endeavors to make events festive, fun and cheerful.
To get a feel for clients’wishes, Harris discusses the profile of the event, demographics, concept, event flow, style and brand voice with them. With this information, she can better strategize the design, décor, experience and message. In all her events, Harris finds an opportunity to work on imaginative concepts in transforming spaces according to the client’s vision.
“Our greatest events are the ones that challenge us,” she says of her work at Event Lab. Collaborating with Meet Minneapolis for the high-profile opening reception for MPI WEC was one such challenge, for which 3,500 meeting planners descended on a Minneapolis-themed tent at the Mill City ruins. A 25th anniversary celebration was also a memorable highlight of her career. Guests arrived at an airplane hangar where they walked through an airplane to enter an ‘80s-themed dinner party.
Tenacity, a thick skin, vision, and appreciation for a wide range of décor make her the right woman for the job. Harris especially enjoys blank-slate clients. “It’s fun to put the entire piece together,” she says, though admits that picking colors and fabrics are her favorite parts of the process.
As the founding president of the Minnesota chapter of ILEA (formerly ISES), Harris has seen the industry expand and gain respect in the state over the years. “We brought a lot of the concepts from other cities that were growing in events here to Minneapolis. Now look where we are,” she says. Granted, that growth goes hand-in-hand with increased competition. “You’ve got to be very, very good and very, very smart,” she says of modern-day planners. “You have to do well at every single event.”
BEST MEETING PROFESSIONAL
CMM, CMP, CTSM, MBA
Senior Manager; Meetings, Events and Tradeshows, Cardiovascular Systems, Inc.
Monique Rochard-Marine is a professional chameleon. The senior manager; meetings, events and tradeshows for Cardiovascular Systems, Inc. holds a degree in both art history and studio art from Carleton College. After graduation, she worked as a merchandise coordinator at Target Headquarters, then as a marketing specialist for UnitedHealth Group before finding her niche in meetings and events.
“When you do a really good job and you’re good to people and they understand your passion and they see your passion, the word spreads. People get to know who you are just by doing what you love to do,” says Rochard- Marine, who credits her poker face and perseverance to her success in the industry.
A professional highlight of 2016 for Rochard-Marine was planning the national sales meeting for CSI, where she hosted 315 internal attendees at the Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch. “A big win for me was the cross-functional collaboration that I fostered which allowed everyone to be aligned on the vision for the look, feel and content,” she says. Everything from the water bottles to the furniture at the event was branded. “I was able to execute a near-perfect event and make my VP look like a rock star,” she says.
This go-getter from Trinidad and Tobago set the goal to meet more people in the industry in 2016. She signed up to be on the website committee for MPI; to her surprise, she was asked to be the editor of the monthly newsletter instead. “I never really thought of myself as a writer,” Rochard-Marine says, but she fearlessly took on the task. Now, she sets timelines for the content and gives writers reminders, or as she describes it: “I’m the harasser.”
To relax, Rochard-Marine reads sci-fi and suspense novels and binge-watches TV shows. She moonlights as a part-time receptionist at a friend’s hair salon on Sundays. “That’s how I relieve my stress, honestly. I spend a day in the salon answering phones.”
UP-AND-COMING MEETING PROFESSIONAL
Wells Fargo Shareowner Services
Wells Fargo Shareowner Services ondi Pacheco never planned on working in meetings and events. She holds degrees in accounting and law and is an executive assistant at Wells Fargo. But when a coworker nudged her towards the Meeting and Event Management degree program at Dakota County Technical College, she discovered her true calling.
In 2015, Pacheco became involved with the Minnesota chapter of MPI. She’s currently on the team that manages MPI’s social media accounts, ensuring the monthly newsletter content gets shared, that tweets are answered, and that video/photographs of MPI events are promoted on the various social media outlets. During her time in that role, MPI has seen engagement and page visits increase exponentially on Facebook.
Pacheco believes fresh content is “a natural way to get traffic and another way to keep the chapter members engaged,” she says. “I’m all about promoting other people and their talents. That’s how we build connections with each other to strengthen our bond."
Born and raised in Hawaii, this selfdescribed “idealist” loves volunteering, be it through meal assembly for Open Arms or by accompanying clients of Hammer Residences, Inc. “Volunteering is a very big thing," she says. "I really do believe I’ve been given some special gifts and talents and I need to share them with my community."
Pacheco also likes to dance, sing, read comic books and is in a bowling league, and considers herself an introvert. “I don’t whave a lot of time here on this earth. I better make every minute count,” she says.
Banquet Captain, Renaissance
Minneapolis Hotel, The Depot
“I love banquets,” says Jewel Turcotte, banquet captain at The Depot. “It’s just something that’s in my blood.” A 35-year veteran of the food service industry, she’s seen every incarnation of event. “I have a keen sense of what will and won’t work,” she says. Turcotte passes her hard-earned wisdom onto newbies and mentees through training. “Hands-on training is the best,” she asserts. “You can tell somebody what to do but it can go straight through them.”
Of course, even the best training can’t always prevent the unexpected from happening. Anyone who’s been on the planning side of events knows that it’s not a question of if something will go wrong, but when. In crisis moments Turcotte stays calm. “I try to fix the situation the best that I can. It usually turns out okay. Sure, there are things that just blow up in your face, but I quickly try to find a solution.” By addressing issues with openness, honesty and constructive criticism, she ensures mistakes aren’t repeated.
So many things went right for Turcotte in 2016 that she can’t pinpoint a single stand-out event. “We have so many amazing galas that blow your mind,” she says, though fundraising events for children’s causes are nearest and dearest to her heart. “It definitely energizes me. I thrive off it,” she says of her job.
While Turcotte enjoys spending time with her family and working with her flowers and plants, she doesn’t like to be away from work too long. “When I’m not working, I get kind of lonely and depressed. I actually like the challenge [of banquets]," she says. "When I come in, I have several things going on. It’s like a big puzzle I need to put together.”
Minneapolis Marriott Southwest
Katie Numedahl didn’t know much about golf before the Ryder Cup came to town in summer 2016. As a catering manager at Minneapolis Marriott Southwest at the time, she was able to upsell a room block to a multiday event function during the “Super Bowl of golf.” The group put up a big tent in the parking lot—unusual as the hotel has ample space indoors—and created a different theme each night, from a German Oktoberfest theme to a sports bar theme. “That was just really fun because it was four days of nonstop events,” she says. In October 2015, Numedahl transitioned to group sales from catering.
Numedahl first became interested in the meetings and events industry while doing silent auction coordination for J. Murphy and Associates. She remembers calling hotels to check on availability and inquire about beverage minimums and realizing that she wanted to be on the other side of the phone call.
After being hired at the Crown Plaza’s front desk, she ascended the ranks from meeting director to catering sales manager at Renaissance Minneapolis Hotel, The Depot to her current position in corporate group sales at Marriott Southwest. She's planned events as small as a conference room meeting for five to as large as a seminar for 500 people. Numedahl’s favorite events, though, are networking receptions. “I think it’s because I like to attend them, too,” she says.
“I try to connect with my clients on a personal level,” she says of her winning strategy. “I like collaborating with the other people on my sales team and working together to create a great business plan for the year so we can all be successful and meet our goals and have repeat happy customers."
BEST SPECIAL EVENTS PLANNER
The Wedding Guys
You likely know Matthew Trettel’s work even if you don’t recognize his name. He’s one half of The Wedding Guys, the company behind Unveiled: The Ultimate Wedding Planning Event, and also produces The Twin Cities Bridal Show.
Heavily involved in media, Trettel covered the 2011 Royal Wedding for local and international media, doing live segments from London with Gretchen Carlson for “Fox & Friends.” Along with his partner Bruce Vassar, Trettel also produced two seasons of the TLC television series “Randy to the Rescue” (a spin-off of “Say Yes to the Dress”), in which the duo traveled with Randy Fenoli to 18 cities to make over bridesto- be.
“Honestly, it nearly killed us,” Trettel says of the experience. “We thought the special event industry was long days and hard work and a lot of energy—television is off the spectrum. It is crazy.” The award-winning Trettel attributes his two decades of industry prowess to his “split-brain” personality. “I love the creativity of what we’re able to do but I also am an analytical person as well,” he says. His favorite parts of weddings include the fashion, the stationery, the flowers and the décor.
Trettel sees weddings as an opportunity to craft the story of the couple, and hopes guests depart a wedding knowing more about the couple than they did upon arrival. Having worked in other markets, like Dallas, Atlanta and New York City, Trettel states with authority that Minneapolis and St. Paul are cutting- edge when it comes to “I do.”
“When I entered the wedding industry 20 years ago, a wedding was what somebody’s sister or their cousin had already done. Now, couples really are able to express themselves,” he says. “There’s always a segment of [the industry] that is evolving. It’s been fun to watch.”
UP-AND-COMING SPECIAL EVENTS PLANNER
Event Project Manager, BeEvents
Alissa Bemis believes in focusing on “the elements of surprise and delight so there’s always something unexpected for guests to enjoy.” The event project manager at BeEvents did just that when she planned a country pub-themed reception for 600 of Land O’Lakes’ guests at the Hilton Minneapolis. For the event, Bemis hired local bluegrass band The Dead Pigeons, brought in rugged wooden furniture, used vintage Land O’Lakes items for centerpieces, and even built Jenga sets that looked like sticks of butter.
Previously, as an event coordinator at metroConnections, Bemis whipped up a Great Gatsby-themed fête for Code42 at Aria. Adding to the glamorous 1920s feel of the décor was interactive entertainment including live music and aerialists hanging from the ceilings.
If these events sound downright theatrical, it might be because Bemis was initially drawn toward the stage, aspiring to a career in the music business when she enrolled in Augsburg College in 2006. As a freshman, she applied to work in the Event and Conference Planning Office for experience. She stayed on for four years after discovering an affinity for all aspects of events, including—but not limited to—music.
After obtaining her bachelor’s degree, Bemis interned at the Children’s Theatre Company for its annual fundraiser, the Curtain Call Ball. There, she met designer Ryan Hanson who later hired her at BeEvents.
Bemis says her good balance of the logistics and the creative aspects of events have proved useful in the field. Her knack for creative proposals, new ideas, and judging the feasibility of events has helped her go far. And, yes, she still follows the local music scene, though the name of her favorite group, a cover band, is unfit for print.