When Molly Witges began her term as 2021 president of PCMA’s Midwest Chapter, the business events industry was in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. Groups could no longer meet in person and connecting as an industry community was a challenge.
Witges, CMP, DES, who is now senior director for customer engagement at Questex, helped turn a monthly informal Zoom meeting with leaders from other meetings and hospitality groups in the region into the Midwest Meeting & Event Collective (MMEC) with the goal of combining advocacy efforts and developing a richer hospitality community. Now 14 organizations are part of the collective, and representatives continue to stay in touch with each other and collaborate on events.
“I think the most important pillar of MMEC was just to break down the walls between the separate organizations and really come together as a leadership group to understand what we can accomplish as a community and support each other,” Witges told Convene.
For this and her efforts in collaboration and inclusion, Witges was named Community Advocate of the Year at the 2022 PCMA Visionary Awards. She recently spoke with Convene about her time as president of the Midwest Chapter and how she believes groups can build stronger communities.
You’re stepping away, but what is next for MMEC?
I’m proud we’ve kept connected even though it’s been so busy, and we can look at more ways to work together as a community. I think the next project for communities like MMEC and others is really to focus on subjects like advocacy. When that next big crisis happens, how do we help tell the story of our industry and what our different membership segments do and the value of our industry? I would love to see us continue to collaborate more and look at ways we can really make that bigger impact.
What do you think was your biggest achievement during your presidency of the Midwest Chapter?
Keeping people engaged and hopeful was one of my big goals, and I think we accomplished that. It’s something that everyone needed, especially during COVID. I’m really proud of piloting the new programs, our growth around DEI, including bringing more members to our chapter and having everyone feel more welcome. I’m really, really proud of trying some new things that other chapters weren’t trying, whether it was DEI, or we launched a digital platform during COVID. We’re not still using it, but I think it was useful during COVID.
What is a pandemic-time change that you think will still be important for community building?
As we go back to in-person events, I get the sense that we’re kind of forgetting some of the lessons we’ve learned about our memberships and about strategies to engage them. A digital platform for your community is one example, and that digital environment also can be used, either pre- or post-show, to extend the community experience. We go to a live event for two or three days — and some people can make it or some people can’t — but that sense of community kind of fades after the event. Finding a place where the community can still connect is so important.
Based on your experience in the chapter president’s role, what do you think organizers can do to build communities better in the current landscape?
One thing I was part of during my presidency was working with Yolanda Battle-Simmons, who’s our chapter’s president-elect now. She was working really heavily on our DEI, and she talked about the importance of inviting people. It’s really simple, but just inviting people in and being welcoming is so important to community-building.
Curt Wagner is digital editor at Convene.