Outgoing PCMA Chair on Year of Growth, New Alliances, Evolving Education

Desirée Knight reflects on her year as chair of the 2023 PCMA Board of Directors and Trustees and shares her insights about what’s next for the business events industry.

Author: Casey Gale       

When Convene spoke with Desirée Knight, CAE, CMP Fellow, DES, in late 2022 about her then-upcoming term as chair of the 2023 PCMA Board of Directors and Trustees, she said it was the fulfillment of a career-long dream. “During my first Convening Leaders, I whispered to myself, ‘I will be the chair of PCMA someday,’” said Knight, senior director, meetings and events, for the American Psychological Association. “Thanks to perseverance and always saying ‘yes’ when I was asked to volunteer when I got a call, that dream is finally coming true.”

Fast-forward one year, and it’s time for Knight to pass the torch on to Leonard Hoops, president and CEO of Visit Indy, during Convening Leaders 2024. Via email, Knight recently reflected on her time as chair and shared some predictions with Convene about the future of the business events industry.

What are some highlights from your term as chair that stand out to you?

woman with glasses and short black hair

“Leading the PCMA Board of Directors this past year has been an immense honor,” said Desirée Knight, who leaves the position during Convening Leaders 2024. (Whatever Media Group)

Leading the PCMA Board of Directors this past year has been an immense honor. The dedicated team of volunteer leaders, including the board, CEMA Advisory Board, Regional Advisory Boards, Chapter Leaders, and volunteers, has made my role easy to navigate. The dedicated PCMA staff has worked steadfastly in our pursuit of realizing a vision that aims to drive economic and social transformation through the impactful platform of business events. Reflecting on the past year as chair, my primary goal was to channel our efforts towards our key strategic pillars: audience-centric organization; educating, convening, and advocating; and financial and operational success.

[Under the pillar of audience-centric organization], PCMA established the North American Customer Advisory Board to strengthen our collaboration efforts in the United States and Canada. This group of professionals is responsible for designing solutions to problems that uniquely affect our community. The PCMA Ascent program emphasizes the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion and works to create social change within business events. Our partnership with the National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals represents an opportunity for us to work in tandem to echo the importance of DEI throughout business events. Furthermore, our partnership with the American Geophysical Union (AGU) gives us a chance to contribute to the well-being of Mother Earth. These strategic alliances help PCMA broaden its audience reach and create a global impact of change.

[In regard to] educating, convening, and advocating, the introduction of the Event Leadership Institute (ELI) to grow our house of brands during CL 2023 has significantly transformed the landscape of education available to our members. Notably, record-breaking attendance at Convening Leaders, EduCon, CEMA, and EMEA underscores our commitment to placing education, community, and attendee engagement at the forefront of our delivery approach. Project Spark further exemplifies our dedication to fostering educational excellence and introduces to our community to artificial intelligence that is tailored for us, by us.

These endeavors collectively contribute to our overarching 2030 exponential growth plan, positioning us as the premier business events platform in the meeting industry. Our focus on financial and operational success remains unwavering as we strive to be at the forefront of positive change and progress.

What do you think are the biggest challenges and opportunities facing event professionals in 2024?

In 2023, the global economy — ever-fluctuating — posed a significant challenge, requiring professionals to navigate uncertainties and adapt to dynamic financial climates. Price increases further compounded the challenge, demanding innovative strategies to maintain cost-effectiveness without compromising the quality of events.

In 2024, staff-related issues — from recruitment to retention — will continue to be critical. Striking a balance between meeting the rising demand for events and ensuring the wellbeing of event teams will become paramount. Also, the industry’s heightened mental health awareness underscores the need for supportive environments, acknowledging the pressures of orchestrating memorable experiences. Successfully navigating these challenges offers event professionals the chance to redefine industry standards, be resilient, be inclusive, and have a renewed focus on holistic well-being.

What are some of the greatest challenges for CVBs, venues, and other industry partners in 2024?

Effective collaboration is [crucial] in achieving seamless integration and curating attendee experiences that strike a balance between cost-effectiveness and enrichment. This approach hinges on fostering a robust partnership among key stakeholders, including the CVB, venue, industry partners, and planners. The current landscape underscores an immediate necessity to identify common ground and actively work together in a concerted effort to attain this shared goal. A united front is essential for success in navigating the challenges of cost considerations and the quest for meaningful experiences.

If you could wave a magic wand and make one thing happen for PCMA, what would it be?

If I were given the ability to wield a magic wand, my wish would be to secure additional funding for the PCMA Foundation. In envisioning this magical scenario, the infusion of financial support would empower our foundation to amplify its impact, broaden its reach, and advance our mission. The newfound resources would enhance our innovation, allowing us to implement transformative initiatives, especially for our student community, support deserving causes, and bring about positive change on a broader scale.

Casey Gale is managing editor of Convene.

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