Fueled by the Foundation: A Corporate Event Organizer Who Prides Herself on Shapeshifting

Author: David McMillin       

In 2017, the PCMA Education Foundation provided $500,000 in funding, thanks to more than 2,000 supporters who share a passion for powering the future of meetings and events. However, the organization is about more than numbers. Behind each dollar and each donor is something bigger — an inspiring story about a scholarship recipient who finished a degree, a project that will uncover new opportunities today, or a research grant that can pave the way toward a better understanding of tomorrow’s attendees.

“Fueled by the Foundation” is an opportunity to tell those stories. As leaders in the events industry continue to support the Education Foundation’s mission, this is where you’ll learn about where those dollars go, what those scholarship recipients learn, and how their knowledge will create a brighter future for the business of bringing people together face-to-face.

Starleetah Gaddis
Association Business Event Scholarship Recipient
American Chemical Society

Starleetah Gaddis has reached the upper echelons of the business event planning field, and it only takes a few seconds in her presence to discover why: She’s a positive force who has no fear of changing the game. In fact, Starleetah thrives on change. She says, “To grow, we need to change.”

Starleetah’s career path testifies to this. It all began in unexpected territory—studying sociology. Combining her understanding of what motivates people with a love of learning, she’s transformed her career path into a superhighway where she soaks up every new opportunity to learn and grow. She was first introduced to the industry fresh out of college as a program coordinator at the American Psychological Association. Starleetah then went on to become the meetings coordinator for the National Association of Elementary School Principals, where she discovered a passion for managing adult learning and educational content. That passion led to her current role, which she’s rocked since January 2017.

Starleetah shared her story with us as we explored what makes a scholarship-winning “Corporate Business Event Professional.” If you’re looking for inspiration—or even a boost of positive energy—to help you get through a crazy day, read on. You might just learn to shapeshift, too.

What do you love about this industry and your job?
Our industry is ever-changing and I absolutely love that aspect. I love walking into an event hall when it’s completely empty and then seeing it come to life, layer by layer, as we set up and the event unfolds.

What’s the most significant change you’ve witnessed in your career?
We’re moving away from traditional conferences with “talking head” speakers toward highly interactive experiences. This is great news, because people learn better when they’re engaged!

What’s the biggest challenge you face?
Many budgets are static or shrinking. So we’re exploring how to deliver training to those who aren’t able to travel by using distance learning innovation and technology.

What are the biggest challenges or opportunities for the industry?
I’d say we need to drive a “mind-shift” change around the perception of our role as simply party planners. If attendees feel like they’ve been at a party where they also learned something valuable, we’ve done our jobs well. But getting there involves many skillsets, such as finance, marketing communications, program management, technology proficiencies, and more.

Who has been a waymaker for you?
Amanda Rushing was the director of meetings and my supervisor at the National Association of Elementary School Principals. She invited me to participate in educational conferences and webinars with PCMA. She also introduced me to the CMP designation—one of the highest credentials in our industry, which I hope to achieve in January 2018.

Professional Motto: Be a chameleon! Every day, I embrace change to fill a need or drive my organization forward into new territories of content presentation. This helps me grow within the industry, too.

Event Planning Super Power: Shapeshifter. Especially in difficult situations, sometimes you just must shift your approach because you’re dealing with such a wide variety of personalities and not everyone is motivated the same way or understands the big picture.

Shout Out: PCMA, for awarding me the scholarship, which included access to the PCMA Business Events Bootcamp. These classes have shed light on so many things I want to learn even more about.

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