The 25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry 2017: The Educators

25 Most Influential People 2017 opener

It's no coincidence that just as executives in the corner office have begun to understand the value that meetings contribute to their organization, the goals that events are being tasked with achieving are increasing and becoming more complex. That has put a premium on delivering quality education on how to plan and execute meetings and the people on this list are making great strides in ensuring that happens.

View the full "25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry for 2017" here.

Amanda Armstrong, CMP, director of corporate travel and meetings, Enterprise Holdings, Inc.; chair-elect of Meeting Professionals International (MPI)
Serving as chair-elect of the MPI board of directors this year and as chair in 2018, Armstrong is bringing the vital perspective of a corporate planner to the organization. During her term on the international board of directors, the organization has launched the MPI Academy and reported record member satisfaction scores.

"Part of MPI's mission statement is connecting members to the resources they need to learn and innovate," says Armstrong. "The MPI Academy hosts on-demand training courses and certification programs, so members can develop professionally and be at the top of their game."

Looking ahead, Armstrong is focusing on two areas in particular: the growth of meeting technology and how it intersects with "tribalization" (giving like-minded communities the freedom within a larger gathering to connect with one another and drive their own content).

"Meet Up groups are good examples. Using meeting technology to incorporate tribalization into conferences is the future of collaboration," says Armstrong. "Letting go of control can be scary, but people have an innate desire to connect and learn."

Jessie States, CMM, manager of professional development, Meeting Professionals International
In her role as manager of professional development for MPI, States holds a position of vital importance to the MICE industry as a whole: bringing new blood into the meeting professionals business, and assisting those in it to improve their professional skills and become better meeting planners so they can better serve their clients and prove the value of events to corporate leaders.

By providing resources for professional development, she aims to help MICE planners drive the business value of the industry. Part of that is for them to stop thinking of themselves as meeting planners, she adds. "Moving the conversation away from just focusing on attendee satisfaction and truly delivering business value at our meetings and events is crucial for our industry," States says. "We need to start speaking in the language of business and about how we drive business results."

But her favorite part of her job may be participating in the IMEX-MPI-MCI Future Leaders Forum. "Students are the key to our future, both as an industry and in terms of the planet," she says.

Natasha Syed, director of global conference & incentive sales, Rocco Forte Hotels; vice president, Young Leaders/Event Liaison, SITE Texas
Syed has been establishing a young leaders program for the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence Texas chapter to engage and inspire the next generation of leaders within the industry. Her role on the SITE Texas board is helping to shape the future of the industry. But her day job is just as important. As director of global conference and incentive sales at Rocco Forte Hotels, Syed is tasked with raising awareness of the meetings industry at the company across the globe. By educating Rocco Forte personnel on the value and intricacies of the MICE market, she has become a key player in partnership decisions for the brand as it looks to become a larger player in the meetings and incentive market around the world.

Like her company, and her work with SITE, Syed views the global MICE market as being in a state of constant evolution. "New technology, increasing demands from the Millennial generation, and an ever-changing global economy require us to constantly be stepping up our game," says Syed.

Jason Yeh, founder & CEO, GIS Group
Yeh is the current International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) board member representing the Asia-Pacific region, and last year celebrated the 25th anniversary of his PCO and meeting tech company, GIS Group. The company is headquartered in Taiwan but operates more widely across the entire region. Rather than just throwing a party, Yeh decided to celebrate his company's milestone by publishing the first book in Chinese on destination marketing for meetings, called The Driving Force Behind Destination Marketing, which launched last July. The tome pulls together insights from interviews with dozens of Yeh's contacts from around the world. "It's a kind of a 'wisdom of crowds' approach, enabling the most cutting-edge thinking from around the world to be shared with students and business practitioners across the Chinese-speaking world," says Martin Sirk, CEO of ICCA.

Danielle L. Urbina, CMP, Director of Meetings and Exhibits, American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA)
It was Danielle Urbina's late father, Matthew Libonate who introduced her to the exhibition and events industry through his hotel and restaurant supply business. He had a passion for the field and encouraged her to pursue a career in it. Now, as the Professional Convention Management Association's (PCMA) Meeting Professional of the year and member of the organization's board, she works in an industry she loves. And, she adds, she enjoys giving back for all the industry has done for her over the years. "It has served me well, allowed me to be flexible and have a family, while continuing to build a fulfilling career," Urbina says. "I'm very passionate about it and love to pass on my enthusiasm and knowledge, to ensure we are providing for the future of our industry."
One way she does this is by teaching three upper-level courses, as an adjunct faculty member of Chicago-based Roosevelt University's Hospitality and Tourism Management program. "These are junior and senior level classes so I'm able to get to know the students and work with them as they launch their careers," Urbina says. "Encourage them to apply for internships and build their network, introducing them through PCMA and encouraging them to join as student members." She can also expose her students to parts of the meetings and events industry they may not have known even exists. "In our industry you can keep evolving, keep reinventing, trying something new. They don't know the breadth of opportunity that our industry provides -- they can work for a hotel, a destination marketing organization (DMO), a destination management company (DMC), a general services contractor (GSC), a catering company…"
Before joining the PCMA board, Urbina chaired its medical meetings task force. As a specialist in medical meetings -- directing ASA's educational and business events as well as its in-house conference center -- she helped ensure that planners knew how to work and excel within the very complex and restrictive federal regulations governing medical and pharmaceutical meetings. "We have to make sure we're keeping up with policy, looking out for the interests of our physicians and those we serve, who in turn care for the public," she says. "It's very important in medicine that continuing education is up to date, and appropriate."
Those regulations are difficult, but they also force medical event professionals outside the box, she says. "It pushes you to stay current, be creative, be inventive, and to continually evaluate and try things. Our industry partners only have a set number of dollars to spend, and fewer and fewer ways they are able to spend them. They're going to be selective, so how can you partner with them in being flexible and provide the ROI they seek? It's not cookie cutter any longer. With all the rules and regulations, the exhibit floor has changed, but it still exists and is the lifeblood of many organizations -- often one of their main sources of revenue."
And it is about to get more complex, as Urbina now has oversight for ASA's international strategy and subspecialty relations.