How to Get Invited to Take a Seat at the Table

Author: David McMillin       

Danielle Urbina

Danielle Urbina accepts her 2017 PCMA Visionary Award in Washington, D.C. A member of PCMA’s board of directors, Urbina recently started working at the American Heart Association.

You could say that Danielle Urbina was born to work in the exhibition industry. “I was introduced to the industry as a young child,” Urbina told Convene. “My dad worked in hotel and restaurant supply, and our family vacations were often wherever the trade show was held. I remember enjoying the free samples as a kid, and then when I was teenager, I began working alongside him in the booth.”

Those early exhibitions were a foretaste of a lifelong and busy career. Over the past three decades, Urbina has taken on a variety of business events roles, including overseeing meetings and exhibits for the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and the American Society of Anesthesiologists. She stays busy outside of her job responsibilities, too, serving as a member of PCMA’s board of directors, and on various PCMA committees.

In April, Urbina moved into the American Heart Association’s (AHA) newly created position of vice president of corporate and scientific meetings. It’s a role that carries a strong personal connection for Urbina, whose family has a history of cardiovascular disease and stroke. “Being part of the organization’s mission to build longer, healthier lives,” she said, “makes every event meaningful.”

She will have a lot of opportunity to reinforce that meaning. AHA hosts more than 400 events each year. That number may sound overwhelming, but Urbina sees it differently. “I don’t think of this as pressure,” she said. “It’s an exciting challenge. Event production is exhilarating. I like to think of each meeting as a puzzle. When you see all the pieces — the details — come together, it’s like admiring a completed puzzle on the table. That satisfaction is what fuels our careers.”

Mentoring the Next Generation

Urbina’s passion for the industry has done more than fuel her own career. She has served as an adjunct faculty member at Roosevelt University for the past six years, teaching undergraduate students the ins and outs of meetings, exhibitions, and special events.

“Playing a part in the growth and development of the future of our industry has meant the world to me,” Urbina said. “A lot of the students are studying culinary, and they might come to an events class thinking, ‘I just have to get through this required course.’ Then, they walk out with an appreciation of how important food is in exhibitions and events. It’s a privilege to introduce them to the vast and varied career opportunities available in our industry.”

Her coaching attitude extends beyond the classroom. She has used her understanding of all the different responsibilities of executing a successful event — knowledge that she gained as an independent planner who “wore all the hats” while she was raising her children — to help many who have worked with her. “Team building and mentoring are among my favorite responsibilities,” Urbina said. “Within an events team, I really enjoy the opportunity to help each member find their niche. For instance, some are more analytical and might be best suited for housing and registration management, while others are more creative and can lend great ideas to event design.”

At AHA, her new team may be wondering, as so many meeting professionals are asking in the events industry today: How do you move from logistics to strategy and take a seat at the table as Urbina has done?

“It’s not about following in another’s footsteps,” Urbina said. “Everyone’s path is unique to them. It’s important to be passionate about what you do. That passion will bring a level of pride and purpose to your work, and it will fuel you to excel naturally. That’s how you’re going to be invited to the table.”

David McMillin is a Convene associate editor.