This year, PCMA’s 20 in Their Twenties program honors its 10th class of exceptional young leaders in the business events industry. Class member Siena Manoogian, annual meetings coordinator at the American Urological Association, shares her thoughts on how face-to-face meetings have changed since before the pandemic.
As in-person meetings have resumed, what — if anything — do you think has changed about gathering face-to-face compared to pre-pandemic events?
This is a face-to-face industry. Although virtual components provide great value and flexibility, I don’t believe they will ever replace being able to physically unite people from around the world. Our show went virtual in 2021 and we were able to successfully provide educational content to our attendees using livestreaming. Seeing those same sessions come back to life in person at AUA2022 was exhilarating. We also saw the collaboration and discussion that only face-to-face meetings can facilitate. People really took the time to engage with one another and discuss the topics of the day, ask questions about content, network after sessions, and catch up with old friends. I believe many people had a greater appreciation for the in-person experience post-pandemic, because they know what it is like to be without it.
What do you like most about your job?
I love that I work with so many different people. In one day I can collaborate with our marketing team on branding and signage plans, and then brainstorm with our industry relations team on sponsorship strategy, and finish the day discussing with our vendor partners how to move seven tons of sand into McCormick Place. I can be creative with my colleagues as we produce impactful activations for the AUA Annual Meeting. I think that I am fortunate to work with so many amazing partners and team members who are incredibly supportive, creative, and just fun to be around. This industry can be stressful, and I find that the people make it all worthwhile.
What’s the best advice you’ve gotten from someone in the industry?
The best career advice I have ever received was to work in as many different sides of the event industry as possible. I began my career as an intern at a DMC, landed my first job as a conference coordinator with the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, joined Freeman, then became an intern at AUVSI during the pandemic, and finally became an annual meeting coordinator at the American Urological Association. The experience of these varied positions within the industry allowed me to gain an understanding of the multiple roles required when standing up a convention on any scale. It wasn’t until I joined the AUA that I realized how much knowledge I had acquired in such a short time. I found that I can look at meeting specifications and floor plans from multiple perspectives to benefit not only my association but the venue and our vendor partners. It was the best advice I ever received — and it was from my dad.
What have you learned about yourself — and the industry — during the past few years of uncertainty?
I have seen the resilience of the people within the event industry as well as within myself. I grew up in the industry and I have coworkers who have known me for most of my life. In 2020, I was working for Freeman and when the pandemic hit, I was furloughed. I saw the exciting world of meetings and trade shows that I knew begin to struggle. It would have been easy to leave the industry for fear that it would never truly be the same again. However, I never once considered changing fields and I could say the same for a great number of my friends and colleagues. This industry did not give up; we found different ways to meet, we adjusted to the ever-changing rules, and we supported each other. I am proud to be a part of an industry that is resilient and thank all the amazing people who worked tirelessly to keep it alive.
What skills have been key to your success during these uncertain times?
The ability to adapt and strong communication skills have been key. Post-pandemic, we have had to alter plans quickly and prepare back-up plans. Three weeks prior to AUA2021, we chose to take our meeting virtual, and as a result, most of our team had to work out of their comfort zone and job scope to host a successful virtual meeting. I was able to learn how to assist in a virtual world in three weeks. What I loved most about this experience was the opportunity to work with new colleagues and departments, which allowed me to gain an understanding of each of their jobs and I was able to better deliver on their needs the following year. Clear communication is an essential skill in any workplace, but it is especially important in our industry. As we plan AUA2023 we constantly communicate between departments, external vendors, hotel and convention center partners, and cities with professionalism, empathy, and mutual respect. This skill requires a great deal of patience — and it is a skill that I am constantly working on.