SMM Industry Observations

by Kelley Mahowald

Kelley Mahowald graciously guest authored this article she wrote while a student in the DCTC Hospitality and Event Management Program. She serves Canterbury Park as Catering and Event Sales Manager.  Kelley’s strong interpersonal skill are evident in the following article.  She puts those skills to good use in a career that is based on cultivating client relationships. Thank you, Kelley, for sharing your insights about Strategic Meetings Management (SMM).


Just as other industries have evolved with new technology, so has the world of meeting and events. Gone is the day where you show up for a meeting with a pen and notepad and move throughout the day incognito. In today’s world of information gathering and social media, long before the meeting begins you find yourself taking surveys, downloading apps, and networking with other attendees. Once you arrive at the meeting, you have the meeting organizers engaging with you via your smartphone; asking you to rate your experiences as you move throughout the day, offering you more ways to interact with other attendees and provide additional opportunities to observe break-outs you did not attend through live-streaming.

Why, you ask? Businesses are interested in making every dollar work hard and show a return on investment, which has propelled Strategic Meetings Management. SMM offers transparency into company spending, and tools, that allow meeting planners to show the effectiveness of each event by gauging the attendee’s expectations from beginning to end. One of the most important elements of information gathering is having a well-rounded test group. Technology allows the planner to see who is responding, how many are responding, and when they are responding, so they can react and continue gathering information as needed. Engagement before the event is essential; giving the planner time to adjust the meeting based on the attendee’s expectations. Exit surveys offer incomplete data sampling and the stagnant information gathered will only help with future events. Pre-event questionnaires and interactive technology make the information gathered advantageous. The importance of SMM has propelled the use of technology to capture as much information before and in real time to maximize the meeting’s outcomes.

SMM has become such an integral part of the meeting industry that it is not only affecting the meeting planning process but the whole hospitality industry. As Meeting Planners are tasked with stretching each dollar and creating memorable experiences for the attendees, they are looking outside the box for unique venues, which offer lower-priced room rentals and catering options than many hotels, while leaving a distinctive thumbprint in the attendee’s memory.  This is forcing hotels to look at how to position themselves competitively against newcomers to the game, such as Airbnb, as many traditional hotels cannot match their rates.  Another way SMM is affecting the industry is shorter more concise and/or smaller meetings to hone in budgets. This requires a clear understanding of the overall objective of the meeting, and from that, determine who the key attendees are and if there is an option of decreasing the size of the event or shortening the duration of the event. Both ultimately affect the revenue generated per meeting, thus changing the landscape of the meeting world.

Maybe the biggest contributing factor to the heightened need for SMM is transparency. Many companies have been unable to determine the effectiveness of the meeting content, gauge the outcomes, or track attendance. The new technology that is available allows for easy tracking with electronic registration, interaction with the use of apps, and real-time feedback which allows businesses to record and prove how meetings within their organization are aligning with global objectives. Even companies who have not yet implemented a strategic meeting management plan see the effectiveness of such processes, and more and more companies are following suit.

As mentioned in the article “Measuring Meets Value Guidebook,” the meeting planner has a much bigger task at hand than in years before, not only with the responsibility of coordinating the components of the meeting, but also proving the value and engagement of the meeting. The outcome will ultimately determine future approval for similar events. Smaller, more targeted meetings, such as training or team building events, are easier to gauge the expectations and outcomes needed for such events. Larger meetings, such as galas or product launch events, come under more scrutiny regarding how dollars are spent. The information needed to gauge the value will be obtained by gathering information from the participants before, during, and after the event.  SMM is a very intricate system that needs to be implemented in small steps, but those small steps can be very effective. Using the tools outlined in the article “Measuring Meets Value Guidebook,” focusing on Learning, Networking, and Loyalty can capture much of the data a meeting planner needs to ensure a well-rounded analysis of the expectations, engagement, and outcome of the event.

I recently interviewed Sarah Ruzek, Director or Education for Associations North. Associations North is coined as “an association for associations.” Their goal is to promote and educate their members, who are made up of trade and professional, both for-profit and non-profit. Sarah’s responsibilities include implementing the development of educational programs and marketing them to their members. She is tasked with keeping programs innovative and engaging, and her wheels are always spinning looking for new ways to “wow” their members and create experience and valuable learning opportunities. Data is gathered from their members by requesting feedback in various ways such as; planning committees, surveys, and networking events. These tools gather valuable information regarding member expectations, future events needs, and meeting focus. For larger events, such as the Annual Meeting and Expo, they track interest and engagement based on breakout session attendance and through social media regarding attendee expectations before the event. During this event, they also engage members with “pop-up” interviews as attendees leave their breakout session to find out what they took away from the session, as well as a live meeting app that allows for real-time questions and answers. The app lets attendees see the day’s agenda, check into sessions, rate sessions, and interact with speakers. These interactions allow them to gauge participation and meet expectations in real time. Circling back to the MPI article referencing loyalty, loyalty is one of Association North’s greatest measures of ROI. The number of returning members is a great reflection of how effective their programs are. Also, the success of their members and the success of the associations they belong to is a testament to their educational programs. They do often utilize Survey Monkey to gather direct feedback as well, at the conclusion of events. Overall, interacting with their members, learning what obstacles their members are facing – such as member retention, or highlighting trending topics and upcoming industry technology, they want to bring those solutions to their members.

I chose to interview Sarah, as I admire a role such as hers, where trying new approaches to meetings is encouraged and accepted. Association North offers many types of events, big and small, educational and fun. Their offerings cater to the attendee’s needs and expectations, but also push them to new learning environments – which promotes growth, both personally and professionally. Sarah is tasked with finding balance within a broad spectrum of needs for their diverse members. She can utilize overarching themes, new technology, and inspiring keynote speakers that peak interest and transcend industry lines. I admire Sarah’s courage, professionalism, innovation, and determination; all of which are essential attributes to becoming a successful meeting planner.

Before researching Strategic Meetings Management, I wasn’t aware of the impact it has on the industry. In a world where expectations are high and resources are scrutinized, it is more important than ever to maximize meeting outcomes and effectively engage attendees. This knowledge and understanding will help me greatly as I explore opportunities within the meeting and events industry. Taking on an SMM approach to meetings – focusing on outcomes, budget and data gathering will allow me to be a valuable addition to any organization.


Hospitality & Event Management Perspectives #3

This series of mini-stories will touch your heart, inspire you to action, and always make you smile.  Thanks to the amazing students and alumni of DCTC’s Hospitality and Event Management program for this 15-year collection! Thank you also to DCTC Foundation donors. Kate tells here how the Student Emergency Fund saved her!

Thank you, Kate!

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at DCTC, and would very much consider continuing my education there. I first started out in Interior Design, but found that Meeting and Event Management was better suited for me. During my time there, I was a part of the student senate, and eventually became the senate secretary. Everything seemed to be going well for me, and then life caught up. I started to have health problems, and vehicle problems, and I felt that school was taking a back seat. I didn’t like that.

I was told by the student senate to check-out DCTC‘s emergency fund for students. I knew Dr. Thomas from senate meetings, and I went to speak with him about my issues, he directed me right to Student Services and I got my loan right away! I was so happy I cried on my way home. Even though it didn’t cover everything, it helped me make the steps out the hole I was in.

I went on to graduate and was incredibly excited to start job hunting. I truly wanted to get first-hand experience to build my resume. Meeting and Event Management with Rosealee was so great, she is truly a mentor to me. If there’s any question about the industry, she could answer it with an experience she has, because she has literally done it all! It took me awhile to find a job right away after school however, I struggled with being on unemployment. Within a year I did find a job at a hotel as a front desk clerk. I remembered Rosealee stating she got her start at a hotel and built up from there. I was starting to get stable again, learning a ton, and meeting wonderful people.

Before I knew it, the position of Hotel Supervisor came up, and I thought I’d take a shot at it. After only 5 months of being there, I got the job of supervisor! I have now been supervising for a year, and I love that I can put this on my resume.

I truly can’t wait to move on and get more experiences in this industry, and I love that the choices are limitless.

Thank you, DCTC!

Hospitality & Event Management Perspectives #2

This series of mini-stories will touch your heart, inspire you to action, and always make you smile.  Thanks to the amazing students and alumni of DCTC’s Hospitality and Event Management program for this 15-year collection!

Thank you, Sarah!

Dakota County Technical College’s Meeting and Event Management Program, along with Rosealee Lee, has provided so many great opportunities and has opened several doors for me. As a graduate of the then certificate only program, I couldn’t have asked for better education or experience going into this ever expanding industry.

The education portion of the Meeting and Event Management industry is so new compared to the wide array of experience professionals out there. My competition, both as an individual in the industry and as a business owner, come from those who have been in the industry, whether on purpose or by default of their job description, for more than 20-30 years! The education I’ve received gives me a different approach to the industry, in which I hope to provide a new perspective to my employers and clients.

Through hands-on activities, real-life experiences and opportunities, and plenty of role playing, Rosealee and the Meeting and Event Management Program have been two of the best resources I have as an Event Planner and I’m thankful for the insight and experience they’ve both provided. I highly recommend the program for current planners in the industry seeking a fresh or new approach or for anyone seeking a career change.

Mentors Open Doors to the Future, For Others and Themselves

Thank you for the positive response about my recent Mentor post, Mentors Make a Difference! Now it’s time to pay it forward. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about mentorship and realizing that we all are mentors.  We may mentor in different ways, but we all model behavior, skills, and values — that’s mentorship!  For many individuals, the act of mentoring goes still further.  And the really great thing is that mentors gain more than they give.  I’ll get to my ideas on that in a moment, but first, let me give you the Hospitality Alumni Mentorship Application.

DCTC alumni are needed to bring education full-circle.  Hospitality and Event Management certificate or degree graduates are doing amazing things in business worldwide.  Pass it on! Graduates, here’s the application you are requesting.

DCTC Hospitality & Event Mentor Program Application

Graduates here is just a partial list of what’s in it for you, besides the obvious “feel good — give back to the community” feeling you get.Develop your own careerhands_circle_team_19002 (1)

  • Get a great addition to your resume
  • Attain increased visibility within the professional community and your workplace
  • Grow your network
  • Add to your collaboration and communication “toolbox”

More mentor initiative information is available hereConnect with me on LinkedIn at any time.

In Case You Forgot

CheckInEasy has done a good job of reminding us all about some forgotten essentials. Forgotten, perhaps, if you haven’t experienced the Event Management Certificate at DCTC.  Either way, it’s a great article that gives me ideas for a larger list.  Hmmm. . . I feel another article coming on.

Read 10 Forreminder_finger_string_3209gotten Essentials When Planning an Event.

Then, check out your future at the Hospitality and Event Management program!  Meet me on LinkedIn to find out more.

Rondi Pacheco is Making Every Minute Count


Rondi Pacheco is having quite a year!  She completed the trifecta of education — degrees in accounting, law, and meeting-event management. The latter degree, earned at DCTC, was instrumental in what she describes as, “finding my true calling.”

For Rondi, a self-described “idealist”, promoting other people and their talents is part of who she is.  Equally important to her is volunteerism.  In her words, “I’ve been given some special gifts and talents and I need to share them with my community.” Her infectious energy and love of people are all part this sparkly package that her native-Hawaii is sharing with Minnesota.  Those of us who know Rondi, chuckle when she introduces herself as an introvert.  Yes, she loves to dance, sing, read comic books and is in a bowling league, but few would categorize her as an introvert. She lives her belief that, “I don’t have a lot of time here on this earth, so I better make every minute count.”

At the recent Best of Minnesota 2016, Rondi was MNME7832_0617_Bestof2016Awards_RN_0004inducted into the Minnesota Meetings and Events Hall of Fame and honored with the coveted “Up-and-Coming Meeting Professional” award.

It was a magical evening with great friends and entertainment.  Rondi was visiting her family in Hawaii and asked me to accept the award on her behalf.  The number of DCTC program alumni in the audience that night made it feel much like a DCTC-alumni reunion.

A few months ago, Rondi was awarded Leader of the Month by the MPI Minnesota Chapter. Rondi volunteers with MPI on the team that manages the organization’s social media accounts and promotes activities on social media platforms. During her time in that role, MPI has seen engagement and page visits increase exponentially on Facebook.  In fact, during one week, MPI MN experienced a 375% increase in page visits and 47% increase in engagement.  The nomination for this award describes Rondi succinctly: “Rondi has been an absolute JOY to work with; flexible, responsible and really stays on top of her game.”

Rondi’s leadership and dedication to the industry are best summarized by a statement she made recently for the pressselfie pics at MPI: “The Meeting/Events/Hospitality industry is about providing service to others.  It is an industry where individuals cater to and care for the needs of our clients and guests.  This is an industry that thrives on creativity and inspirational genius.  My personal passion of helping and guiding individuals to create their own unique experience is what motivates me to blaze a path for others coming behind me.  I want to share my experiences so that others will not fall and flounder but instead grow and prosper.  This is why I love this industry and will continue to share this love for years to come.”


Where are the cookies and coffee?

I’m cheering?  Can you hear it?  Engagement is fashionable — finally! Twenty years ago + I pushed the envelope on meeting breaks by adding entertainment, dancing lessons, mini-round tables, and more.  I loved attendee reaction and ignored laughter from my peers.

Congrats to Angela Gaffney for shining fresh light on an old issue.  The days of standing in line for the payphone are over.  We may still need to stand in line for the restroom, but that still leaves time for reflection on what was just heard in the session and engagement with other attendees.  Read MeetingsNet recent article: 15 Ways to Power Up Your Meeting Breaks

What fresh ideas do you have for breaks that spawn engagement and fun?  turtle_floating_water_relaxing_251