Lisa Williams, senior national sales manager at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida, has spent 27 years working at one of the largest convention facilities in the U.S., starting as a sales manager in 1996. Since then, she’s seen her facility double in size, worked through a global pandemic, and nurtured a nonprofit that has supported and mentored hundreds of teenage girls in the Orlando area. Called Loving Assisting Nurturing Educating and Supporting (LANES) Teenage Girls Inc., the organization is a labor of love for Williams, who has found that her dual roles often complement each other. “I have the pleasure of working with people from nearly every industry you can imagine,” said Williams. “Every interaction I have is an opportunity to glean new information and bring to our LANES girls to expand their perspective.”
On getting her start:
While in high school, attending a senior assembly, the guest speaker spoke about careers in the hospitality, travel, and tourism industry. She talked about jobs with the airlines, hotels and resorts, and meeting facilities — she made it seem like the jobs were fun and I decided I wanted to work for an airline so I could fly wherever I wanted to go, whenever I wanted to. My first job in the industry was a ticketing agent for Florida Express Airlines.
On the appeal of working in events:
A few years into my career I changed from working for an airline to working for a hotel and seeing the hotel full of people attending meetings and conventions sparked my interest in the events side of the industry. I’m great at organization, thus I found putting the pieces of the meeting puzzle together interesting and enjoyable.
On her career journey at the OCCC:
I joined the OCCC in January 1996 as a sales manager. I was assigned to selling space to consumer shows, small local meetings, and public ticketed events. A few years after coming on board, I began handling [Florida-based] associations and was later promoted to national sales manager to handle large citywide associations based in the mid-Atlantic market.
On her most challenging, and proudest, career moments:
The challenge that stands out to me most was working through the COVID-19 pandemic. My proudest moments are each and every time a contract is executed between the OCCC’s CFO and the client.
On what has and hasn’t changed in the industry, and what still needs to change:
At the OCCC what has changed is the size! When I started, we had one building with one million square feet of exhibit space. Today we have two buildings with close to 2 million square feet of exhibit space, an auditorium, and two ballrooms. What hasn’t changed is the employee commitment to providing outstanding service to every client and guest.
I’m all about positivity and making the world better for all of us. I’d like to see conventions and meeting planners weave purposeful messages of kindness and inclusion into every event at the OCCC.
On starting a nonprofit and how it has impacted her life:
In 2004, I saw a lack of active engagement by positive, professional female role models for girls in my community. I created Loving Assisting Nurturing Educating and Supporting (LANES) Teenage Girls Inc. to mentor girls who live in at-risk communities in Central Florida. I started by hosting weekly meetings at a neighborhood community center to give the girls a safe space for candid discussions about education, respect, discipline, self-control, self-esteem, leadership, and good decision-making. I would organize college tours and visits to museums and historic sites to help the girls see past their immediate surroundings and broaden their plans and expectations for their own futures.
Now, 19 years later, I manage a team of 23 volunteers, and we’ve expanded to three community centers and created an on-campus program at three elementary schools to prepare fifth-grade girls for the transition to middle school.
LANES has impacted my life by giving me a divine purpose. Watching the participants grow from giddy adolescent girls to young women who pursue their dreams and knowing I provided them tools and skills to help equip them for the journey makes me very proud. When some of those girls come back to us as adult volunteers, it gives me real hope for the future.
Jennifer N. Dienst is senior editor at Convene. This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity.