The 2023 Meetings Trendsetters Blazing Trails in the Events Industry
As the meetings and events industry evolves at a rapid clip, staying up to date with the changes is less daunting when you have trailblazers leading the way. Whether it be through providing resources for ensuring inclusivity, educating colleagues on the importance of accessibility or planning events that push the envelope, it’s because of these individuals that the industry constantly grows. Congratulations to the Meetings Trendsetters class of 2023!
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1. Nate Wambold
Director, Membership, Meetings & Conferences // American Anthropological Association
CONTRIBUTION: Accessibility advocacy
Upon joining the American Anthropological Association (AAA) five years ago, Wambold, CAE, CMP, faced a chorus of members stressing the need to improve its accessibility offerings. Wambold then embarked on a journey to radically transform the association’s events and content channels, starting with listening to members with accessibility needs who felt they were shut out or faced impediments when interacting with colleagues. The results of Wambold and his team are now used as a template by many of their association segment colleagues. Wambold leverages his expertise through his consultancy, Nathan Andrew Group, where he advises clients on accessibility, events and strategic partnerships.
2. Cheryl Oswald
Corporate Events Manager // CNH Industrial
CONTRIBUTION: Increasing awareness of anti-human trafficking
With more than 15 years of event management experience, Oswald recently made a career leap and took her talent and skills to CNH Industrial as corporate events manager, playing a key role in supporting internal and external corporate meeting experiences for CNH Brands North America. Oswald recently served as an advisory member for ProColombia and is currently on EIC’s APEX Commission. She actively increases awareness of MPI’s Anti-Human Trafficking campaign.
3. Laura Clise
Founder and CEO // Intentionalist
CONTRIBUTION: Connecting event professionals with diverse suppliers across the country
Clise created Intentionalist, an online directory, to help support small businesses owned by diverse communities such as women, people of color, veterans, LGBTQ+, families and people with disabilities across the country. This year, she collaborated with the MLB Mariners, Visit Seattle and the Seattle Sports Commission to harness the 2023 MLB All-Star Week celebration to support diverse small businesses throughout Seattle, and partnered with Major League Soccer, the D.C. United Foundation and Black Players for Change on the 2023 MLS All-Star Small Business Pass to encourage and incentivize fans to explore diverse local businesses in Washington, D.C. It all exemplifies her mission to promote thoughtful vendor selection in the heart of local communities.
4. Ilana Braverman
Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer // Greener by Default
CONTRIBUTION: Promoting food inclusivity and sustainability
Focusing her efforts on the nexus of climate change, behavioral science and food, Braverman introduced the meetings and events industry to a new way of thinking: plant-based meals by default. In 2020, Braverman gave a TEDx talk on the topic, “Moving Beyond a Hamburger Default World.” Today, she encourages the meetings industry to do the same by applying a behavioral science food policy that nudges diners toward sustainable plant-based food while preserving an attendee’s freedom of choice, as they are able to opt in to meat options. Greener by Default’s strategies help groups meet carbon reduction goals, save on food costs and improve overall health and inclusivity.
5. Sheila Alexander-Reid
Executive Director // PHL Diversity
CONTRIBUTION: Advancing DEI in destinations
Named to lead the Philadelphia CVB’s PHL Diversity division in August 2022, and taking over for industry DEI leader Greg DeShields, Alexander-Reid had some big shoes to fill in what many consider the leading DMO diversity and inclusion effort. She brings an impressive resume, however, having previously served in leadership roles at BiasSync, a firm that helps assess unconscious bias in the workplace, and the Washington, D.C. Mayor’s Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Affairs, where she was instrumental in the city’s successful fight for marriage equality. She is also the founder Branding4Change, an agency focused on DEI, and Women in the Life, an organization that creates safe spaces for lesbians of color.
6. Adam Burke
President & CEO // Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board
CONTRIBUTION: Leadership in major-destination DEI
Burke will be the first to tell you that his face is not one you may automatically associate with leading the DEI efforts in the meetings industry, but as a Caucasian male, he has made it his mission—and fair to say his top priority—to create opportunities for all in the nation’s second-largest, and incredibly diverse, city. “It may be ironic for a white executive to talk about the lack of diversity in our industry,” Burke told Meetings Today earlier this year, “but I argue that that’s exactly who should be talking about it.” The results are impressive. Through its Business Connect program, more than 145 new, diverse-owned member businesses have joined the DMO. Also, in its 2023 fiscal year, the DMO achieved a 58% increase in female directors on its board and a 100% increase of members from diverse communities.
7. Denise Reid
President // Event Service Professionals Association
CONTRIBUTION: Launching DEI guide for event service professionals
While her day job is event planning manager at New Orleans’ Hyatt Centric French Quarter, Reid has had a fruitful term as president of Event Service Professionals Association (ESPA). In April, ESPA released “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, a Guide for Event Service Professionals,” a downloadable toolkit focusing on education, inclusive marketing and supplier diversity. ESPA, whose members work in tandem with planners on the front lines of meetings, is also updating its “Project Access: Accessible Meetings FAQs,” a resource form hotels, convention centers, DMOs and venues can customize with their accessibility information to provide to planners. Updates address non-obvious impairments such as dietary, visual, sensory, neurodivergent and mobility limitations.
8. Stacy Ritter
President & CEO // Visit Lauderdale
CONTRIBUTION: Destination leadership in divisive times
Ritter has only been in the CVB world for seven years, but has made a big splash, particularly this past year with the launch of Visit Lauderdale’s “Everything Under the Sun” campaign, which coincided with a heated political climate of culture wars and divisive legislation in Florida. Ritter’s team took a stance for DEI and celebrated Greater Fort Lauderdale’s diversity in its marketing—people from 170 nations speaking 147 languages call the city home, and it’s considered Florida’s LGBTQ+ capital. She wants Greater Fort Lauderdale to be known as a meetings destination for all. “It’s more important than ever to reach out and double down.”
9. Annette Gregg
CEO // SITE
CONTRIBUTION: Expanding SITE’s reach and membership
Taking over the top spot at the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) last year, Gregg embarked on a mission to solidify and expand key partnerships with fellow meetings industry associations; oversaw the publication of SITE’s third and final installment of a multi-year research study comparing incentive trends and preferences between incentive designers, corporate stakeholders and incentive participants; and perhaps most important for any meetings industry association that has weathered the pandemic—and the especially hard-hit incentive travel segment—helped steer SITE’s membership back to its historic high watermark of 2019.
10. Amanda Hersey
Senior Director of Conferences // National Recreation and Park Association
CONTRIBUTION: RFP retooling
Finding the perfect destination match for any meeting is always a challenge, and many associations, in particular, want to make sure that the site selection reflects the values of their organization. To make sure the mission of her association and prospective destinations align, Hersey, her team and veteran meetings industry consultant Joan Eisenstodt massively retooled NRPA’s Annual Conference RFP to stress the association’s pillars: health and wellness, equity at the center, and conservation. Hersey said the retooled RFP, which she described as incredibly thorough and thoughtful, has been well received and responded to by destinations that share her association’s vision.
11. Julius Solaris
Founder // Boldpush
CONTRIBUTION: Meetings industry tech disrupter
A disruptor in the meetings and events industry, Solaris can never sit still. Solaris’ fiercly indepedant voice rings clear on a variety of media and social media channels, challenging common assumptions on everything from the structure and content of in-person and virtual events to the often overwhelming demands of working in the profession. Key career highlights include founding the highly respected EventMB as well as Showthemes, and working for tech companies Swapcard and Hopin. His most recent endeavor is Boldpush, which he founded in 2022, as well as Boldpush+ and Bold Sessions, a series of virtual events discussing crucial topics in the events industry.
12. Louise Bang
Regional Vice President, Sales & Distribution for Caribbean and Latin America // Marriott International
CONTRIBUTION: Addressing industry challenges through education
Bang is committed to using innovation, inclusivity and education as tools to create meaningful industry experiences and welcome the next wave of professionals. While working to grow the Caribbean and Latin America region’s demand for meetings and events, Bang has also prioritized connecting with the industry’s next generation by emphasizing the importance of visual content—and using visual content to her advantage. Bang creates educational group presentations on the Caribbean and Latin America that both showcase the benefits of hosting in the destination as well as using visual content to engage and connect with an audience.
13. James Rees
President, Joint Meetings Industry Council // Executive Director, ExCeL London
CONTRIBUTION: Advocating for industry sustainability
There’s obviously a disconnect between the European and North American meetings and events communities when it comes to prioritizing climate change as a top concern, but Rees has been instrumental in keeping the conversation about environmental issues on the front burner globally. Although his four-year period as president of International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) ended in 2022, Rees is as busy and engaged as ever. In his role as immediate past president of ICCA and as president of the Joint Meetings Industry Council, he has been leading Net Zero Carbon Events, the worldwide initiative to help events industry organizations achieve net zero targets. Its Pledge was launched at Cop26 (United Nations Climate Change Conference), its Roadmap published at Cop27 in November 2022, and it is working toward Cop28, which is already supported by 550-plus industry organizations.
14. Amy Kramer
Market and Product Innovation Leader // Maritz Global Events
CONTRIBUTION: Leveraging emerging events technology
As innovation leader for Maritz Global Events, Kramer is on the front lines of the emerging technology that is transforming the meetings and events industry. Labeling these innovations “the new language of events,” Kramer was part of a Maritz Global Events team that showcased tech in its Innovation Lab at IMEX Frankfurt, including disruptive technology such as NFTs, the Metaverse and generative AI. Kramer also taps the pulse of the next generation entering the industry and how they will leverage technology to radically change the way we gather for business events.
[Related Podcast: Maritz Global Events' Amy Kramer on Disruptive New Meetings Tech]
15. Jolene Jang
Asian Inclusivity Consultant // The Meeting Maximizer
CONTRIBUTION: Advocating for Asian inclusion in events
Since the onset of the pandemic, people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent have been under attack. Jang has been at the forefront of the #StopAsianHate movement and has been working tirelessly to promote Asian inclusion in the meeting and events industry. A prolific content creator, she has presented 175 times and created a resource center with more than 200 free learning resources, including podcasts, videos, articles and training materials. A founding member of #APIEventProfs, Jang also created the Empowered Asians Facebook group and Asian Allies Group, a weekly drop-in discussion and Facebook group for non-Asians to learn about the impact of anti-Asian hate, how to amplify Asian voices and how to build safer, more inclusive communities for Asians.
16. Katie Goyette
Vice President of Sales // TC Restaurant Group
CONTRIBUTION: Hosting extraordinary Nashville events
Goyette oversees event sales for some of Nashville’s most popular Honky Tonks, such as Tequila Cowboy, Luke’s 32 Bridge, Miranda Lambert’s Casa Rosa and more. She has hosted groups of 100-10,000-plus people with the ability to shut down the city and allow clients to take over Nashville for mega-sized corporate events. One standout this year of the hundreds of events she has worked on is an American Academy of Physican Assistants event for 4,500-plus people, which had celebrity talent, interactive branded cotton candy stations, unique custom branding and video projection mapping on the exterior of buildings. Past clients include NFL Draft, NHL, CMA-related events and more.
17. Naomi Hollas
Founder // Event Grads
CONTRIBUTION: Supporting industry newcomers
Like many meetings and events professionals, Hollas “fell” into the industry at a young age. The freelance event professional based in Edinburgh, Scotland, studied international event management at Glasgow Caledonian University before graduating in 2019 and founding Event Grads, a community for event management students and graduates that has now reached nearly 3,000 members. Hollas is the co-founder of Future Event Leaders, connecting hospitality students to professionals in the industry, posting job opportunities and sharing young professional success stories. She frequently speaks at industry events, colleges and universities and recently moderated IMEX Frankfurt’s Future Leaders Forum in May in her continuous effort to support industry newcomers.
18. Devon Montgomery Pasha
Director, North America // Event Design Collective
CONTRIBUTION: Pushing event design forward
Pasha, CMP, CED, is a proponent of the Event Canvas methodology and recently completed an eight-month project in partnership with MPI to help design WEC 2027 by leading an international design team through the EDCo Methodology via 17 online and onsite sessions at industry events. Pasha shares her expertise with colleagues via educational sessions, podcasts and participating in panel discussions. She also spoke at MPI WEC 23 on how to avoid “box checking” behavior and is currently working on what she describes as a “bucket list” item: a TED Talk.
[Dare to Interrupt Podcast: Stop Box-Checking: High Achievers, People-Pleasing and Rediscovering Your Authentic Goals]
19. Rachel LeRoy
Founder & CEO // HipMaps
CONTRIBUTION: Creating an app that provides attendees with curated destination maps
Meeting attendees crave localized experiences in the destinations they visit. Enter HipMaps, an app designed by LeRoy that provides personalized, branded maps of recommended places to eat, drink and play, along with curated comments on the venues. Imploring users to “wander aimfully,” HipMaps can be branded to a specific event via a color palette, with planners providing up to 30 locations and comments on each. In 2023, LeRoy added a feature to link to websites straight from the app, making it easier for users to check out things like restaurant menus and the schedule on a meeting’s website without ever having to leave the app.
20. Megan Henshall
Global Events Solutions, Strategic Lead // Google
CONTRIBUTION: Building community for neuroinclusive events
Henshall joined Google in 2019 and leads an internal/external innovation effort called the Google Experience Institute (Xi), focused on the futures of human-centered, multi-modal experience design. Through this, The Neu Project was born, with the aim to make events more inclusive for neurodivergent individuals, and has since partnered with Marriott, IMEX, WXO and EventWell. This year, The Neu Project is expanding to train Google’s global operations staff as Welfare Champions for neurodivergent and other vulnerable populations at events, along with the launch of Google-branded sensory support kits for events that will be available to Googlers and guests. “I am most proud that the work of Xi and The Neu Project is resonating with our community and the industry,” she said. “It’s amazing to see the synchronicity and organic movement happening.”
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