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July Coffee Talks with IAEE’s Marsha Flanagan, M.Ed.

IAEE’s Marsha Flanagan, M.Ed., welcomed Open Forum participants during our Month of July Coffee Talks, a monthly gathering on the last Friday of each month in IAEE's MemberLink Open Forum. Read the recap of the lively conversation.

The latest IAEE Coffee Talks Forum was hosted on 30 July by IAEE Vice President of Learning Experiences Marsha Flanagan, M.Ed. Attendees responded to questions that explored where the industry is at in terms of work environments, hiring practices and the outlook for upcoming exhibitions and events. Read on for insights resulting from their conversations.

“There have been lots of updates in policies over the past week – I am curious, what is your job situation like?  Are you still working from home or have you been going in the office?”

Russell Callahan, CEM, Director of National Operations, Quest Events replied, “We are 100% back in offices, gambling, and reopening our Los Angeles office on 1 August.”

Marsha added, “We have been reading up on the new mask mandates in Vegas… are you seeing any new tips or event protocols?”

Erika Welling, CEM, DES said, “The only thing new in Las Vegas as far as event protocols is vaccinated and unvaccinated must wear masks indoors.”

Russell replied, “It is all pretty new still but is currently 100% indoor masking. No other restrictions past that.”

Michele Bennett, CEM, Senior Exhibitions Manager, SPIE noted, “We are still 100% remote.”

Erika explained, “Here in Clark County, NV (Las Vegas) even though as of today we are back to wearing masks, most are still working office/home schedules as they have been. For example, some may have alternate days and others have been back full-time in the office. It is up to the organization.”

Mary Adler-Kozak, CEM, Sr. Director of Meetings & Expositions, National Association of College Stores added, “Still working from home. With no plans to go back soon. On another note… I’m going on my first site visit in two years on Monday!”

Wendy Freiwald, CEM, Global Sales Manager, EXPOCAD/ACT said, “Good Morning!  We have the option to go in to the office, some people go in every day, some just once or twice a week, some never.”

Robyn Davis, CPTD, Trade Show Trainer/Consultant, Exhibitors WINH LLC noted, “I have an office/virtual studio space in my home – no off-site office space for me, pre-pandemic or now.”

Richard Vallaster, CEM, DES, Marketing Director, Event Management Solutions, Personify A2Z Events added, “100% remote until 2022.”

Leslie Baltzley, Client Support Specialist, American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) said, “Our corporate offices are still remote with plans to slowly re-open on 1 September, but they are looking at scaling back on those needed to really come into the office since working remotely has shown to be successful.”

Marsha noted, “Looks like there is a mix of people still working from home and going into the office. IAEE Dallas offices are open but staff have flexibility to work from home.”

“What about anyone planning Fall events… How have the latest news impacted your planning?”

Robyn said, “I’m full steam ahead with most clients on in-person (or hybrid) events for the Fall and beyond… That said, I did receive one cancellation notice last week (event was scheduled to be in California and they’ve cancelled entirely at this point). Otherwise, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the rest to continue, as planned/expected, and feeling positive about the likelihood of that so far!”

Randy Bauler, CEM, Corporate Relations & Exhibits Director, American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) added, “The American peri-Operative Nurses (AORN) just cancelled their live event scheduled to start in Orlando on 7 August. Switching to a virtual-only event, as they had planned a hybrid approach for their 7-10 August event with 5,000+ nurses and hundreds of healthcare exhibitors.”

Erika noted, “I’m planning an event in October in Boston and they are still in progress to slowly open. For example, the Tea Party boat is currently closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays although they anticipate they will be back to open seven days by Fall.”

Justin Moore, MBA, CEM, Director of Meetings and Events, Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America said, “We have two events: one in Reno and one in Atlantic City. Both are in October and we are full steam ahead. These events are more regionally-based, which helps us be a little more nimble in our planning.”

Marsha added, “CEIR research does support the notion of regional events.”

Russell noted, “We are beginning to see show cancellations due to the Delta variant. Hard to tell currently but it is happening across multiple states, not just the usual suspects.”

Mary said, “Ours will be in February 2022 and I’m still concerned about contractual liabilities. P.S.: Does anyone have a revamped site inspection checklist they’ve been using recently? Or an old one for that matter?”

Erika replied, “Hi Mary, great to see you! Here is a link to the best templates that you can adapt to your needs:”

Richard added, “A lot of clients seem to be in either a wait-and-see stance.”

Marsha asked, “Rich, what are you seeing as far as timing for a Go/No Go date situation for these events?”

Richard replied, “Obviously the bigger the show, the more time they need. I would say, in general, larger shows are holding ground to meet. Smaller shows or education-heavy shows (who can convert to virtual more successfully) are a little more likely to pull stakes. In a lot of ways, this comes down to finances, even smaller in-person shows are proving more profitable with higher NPS scores of each audience versus virtual. Some can’t afford not to meet and are just adjusting expectations once again.”

Erika added, “In addition to my last response, I’m keeping an eye on local rules/regulations and any facility changes.  It is unnerving as we really want to have some stability in planning and going forward with the event.”

Michele said, “We are holding our first in-person event next week in San Diego. A much scaled-down version, but at least we’re getting one done. Staff will be wearing masks. Currently planning our flagship event for January 2022 in San Francisco. Fingers are crossed that California opens up conventions for 5000+ in time!”

Marsha asked, “Are you mandating that your attendees also wear masks or just staff?”

Michele replied, “Just staff… we are following any CDC and local guidelines and not implementing anything additional for attendees.”

Marsha noted, “Looks like most Fall events are still proceeding but with caution – that is good news.  Sorry about the one cancellation, Robyn.”

“Back to your company – for those who had furloughed employees or had to let people go, is your company hiring back any full or part time employees?  What are your challenges, if any, for onboarding?”

Justin replied, “We have been very lucky that my association has kept everyone at full-time during this whole ordeal. I count my blessings for that.”

Marsha said, “That is great!”

Russell added, “We are hiring both front line and management positions. Management positions have not been difficult to fill. Front line positions are very difficult. Many of the people that have been off for an extended period are ok with remaining that way. We have been able to bring back maybe 30 percent of the front line. We are having an extremely anemic response to ads and hiring. We have increased hourly wages in some cases over $4 more per hour. We are over $15 almost everywhere.”

Lisa Buchanan, Director of Membership and Chapter Engagement, IAEE said, “Hi Russ, you may want to check out our Career Center of resumes. I can assist if you need any help. We have about 600 resumes currently in there now.”

Marsha followed up with the question, “What does a front line worker for your company consist of?”

Russell replied, “The front line is an entry-level installer. No experience necessary, high school diploma is a plus.”

Randy noted, “We’ve been fortunate too. No layoffs or furloughs – even hired a few new positions.  Everyone working from home, except a few essential staff. Must wear masks at office and provide proof of vaccination to be approved to visit the office for essential business that cannot be done from home.”

Richard added, “We are in hiring mode and the market has changed. Working remotely is the new expectation. No longer can you circle a 30- to 60-mile radius from your office and consider that your hiring pool. The U.S. and, frankly, the world are a consideration. That is exciting from a talent perspective but also increases competition. Sadly, many event professionals have since moved on.”

Marsha said, “I read a recent article that said many employees would quit if required to go back into the office, but I agree – a virtual work environment opens doors for new talent pools.”

Russell noted, “We have had two people quit rather than return to the office. We were sad to lose them but working from home does not make as much sense for many positions in our company.”

Wendy added, “We are hiring too. Also having a hard time… normally we get hundreds of responses to ads, now single digits.”

Marsha asked, “Wendy – for sales positions?”

Wendy answered, “We are hiring for customer support!”

“We have seen that the more successful virtual events are content heavy, but for those of you planning content heavy events, are you hearing from attendees that their professional development budgets have been cut – even for those with professional certifications?”

Randy said, “Yes, our May 2021 virtual event with 6,900 attendees offered more than 300 pre-recorded educational sessions with credit – and they are still posted and available through 31 October to registered attendees. We had 114 exhibitors, who reported mixed results. We’re planning our first hybrid event for May 2022. Live, in-person exhibits but no virtual exhibits. Any examples or best practices for in-person exhibits and virtual exhibits to co-exist? We’re concerned about delivering results both groups of exhibitors.”

Erika replied, “Hey Randy, there is an IAEE member with an awesome live and virtual attendee/exhibitor engagement tool! The CEO is Matt Harris, who has been in the industry a long time with great success in his company and products. I can tell you more about it offline or connect you with him if you like. Here is the link:”

Robyn noted, “I’m curious to see what others say about this one… I haven’t seen as many budgetary issues (despite cuts across the board), perhaps because so many events/opportunities are being offered for free/reduced rates. I’m seeing more issues with bandwidth – limited budget and limited staffing means limited time to take advantage of the events/opportunities available. Plus, some professionals have gotten burned with poor experiences, so I’m seeing more professionals being choosy about how they’ll spend their time, regardless of the investment (rightfully so, IMO) vs. not being able to afford to participate.”

Marsha added, “All good points to consider.”

Russell said, “As the industry gets busier, people will be budgeting their most valuable resource – their time. I am not sure enough groups have been able to produce experiences during COVID, that will inspire someone to spend their time on that group. My hope is, overall, people have learned that digital is as much of an event as in-person. Hybrid cannot be a camera showing the live event and expect people to be engaged.”

“Many of you are hiring. What, in your opinion, is the NUMBER 1 skill you are looking for?”

Marsha expanded on the question, “Looks like many of the job openings require little experience.  I have a newsletter going out in another week to all IAEE Faculty members. If you have any job openings that would be suited to college students, please send me an email at and I can include your info in the newsletter that gets shared with student members.”

Randy answered, “We tend to hire for ‘culture fit’ first as long as they have some experience or training in the specific job requirements. We find most candidates who understand how non-profit associations and societies work (mission over bottom line) get up to speed faster than from a corporate background.”

Marsha commented, “Getting new candidates to understand the membership association model is so challenging.”

Russell said, “Agility, flexibility and grit.”

“If IAEE had a new employee onboarding program, would that program be of use to you?”

Erika replied, “Great idea, Marsha! Love that, because many do not have the time and onboarding of employees, especially those new to the industry. I think would be a real asset.”

Russell agreed, “Yes, it would be helpful. Onboarding is challenging at all levels.”

Richard added. “Yes. I created a document for a new employee and I had to point her to places like this (which she has already contributed), newsletters she should sign-up for, hashtags for the events business, etc. I was fortunate she had events experience but since the business is getting an influx of new folks, they don’t know where to look.”

Randy commented, “Thanks for the offer, but we prefer to use our own onboarding process, as it’s specific to our organization and healthcare associations/non-profits.”

Would you like to join the live Coffee Talks discussions? The online forum is held the last Friday of each month in IAEE’s MemberLink Open Forum available in the IAEE Member Dashboard.

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