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Kara Dao is Keen on Connecting Show Organizers

IAEE Community Engagement and Belonging Committee Member Kara Dao is passionate about helping the show organizer community maximize how they bring buyers and sellers together, as well as fostering deeper connections among all members of the industry.

By Mary Tucker | Sr. Communications & Content Manager | IAEE

Kara Dao, CEM, DES is an extreme optimist by nature with an unwavering belief in the possibilities. Her approachable and open demeanor instills confidence in both clients and colleagues, helping them achieve their goals. Kara’s impressive track record spans more than 25 years and includes managing a top-ranking exhibition that grew five-fold within two years. She has successfully led international trade shows, collaborating with remote teams and achieving remarkable profit margins.

However, Kara’s focus extends beyond successful shows; she prioritizes the people involved. Recognizing that business is built on relationships, Kara dedicates herself to understanding the needs of clients, staff, and suppliers. Even in challenging situations, she leverages her superpowers of positivity and compassion to find effective solutions.

Kara’s wealth of experience has also provided her with valuable insights into team building. She excels in sourcing the right individuals for specific roles, fostering collaboration while respecting individual autonomy and retaining key team members.

Outside of her professional life, Kara finds joy in spending time with her family and nurturing plants. She possesses a talent for cooking and transforming leftovers into delicious creations.

Kara holds a degree in psychology from George Mason University. She is certified by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) and has earned certifications in Exhibition Management (CEM) and Digital Event Strategist (DES).

Here, Kara shares her commitment to helping the show organizer community and how she sees the industry advancing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

What inspired you to serve on IAEE’s Community Engagement and Belonging Committee?

I’m keen on understanding our event community’s needs and improving how we meet them. Knowing what people value guides us in engaging and fostering a sense of belonging, a fundamental human need.

Which community do you feel passionate about?

I’m passionate about the show organizer community because facilitating meaningful connections between buyers and sellers helps grow an industry. There is a lot of conversation around creating more value to exhibiting companies. Whether that’s how to conduct rebooking, how to manage insurance or how to price a show hall, at the base of these discussions is answering the question of value.

What does your vision of an industry that embodies a sense of community and belonging look like?

An industry that prioritizes the values of all its participants naturally fosters a sense of belonging. When you demonstrate that you value what another person values, you’re speaking their language and forging a human connection, which leads to a sense of belonging.

Given the recent progress of DEI in our industry over the past couple of years, what would you like to see more of?

We’ve made significant strides in reducing the “churning and burning” mentality in the trade show industry. I’ve noticed organizers paying closer attention to the way they deliver experiences, aiming for greater impact and meaning. It’s clear that our audiences are no longer satisfied with simply walking up and down aisles. Organizers are intentionally redesigning their show floor layouts, integrating activities and content, and cultivating a festival-like atmosphere at their events. I can see the boredom dissipating, and it’s truly exciting!

What is a best practice that you’ve seen that creates a sense of belonging and inclusiveness at an event?

I’ve noticed a growing emphasis on addressing human needs at events, including features like lactation rooms, low-sensory spaces, remote working areas, and pop-up meet-and-greet zones, in addition to matchmaking services. These practices cater to attendees’ basic needs, fostering a sense of belonging.

Do you have any final thoughts on the importance of belonging and inclusion as it relates to our industry?

The heart of events lies in their people and the community they create. Prioritizing inclusion enhances the connections formed, adding value to the event. Attendees who depart with new and deeper connections will link those positive experiences with your brand and event, turning them into brand advocates. The true value of belonging and inclusion is the boost in brand value.

About IAEE’s Community Engagement and Belonging Committee

The volunteers of this committee strive to help establish strong connections among IAEE’s diverse member groups by providing programming and enabling our communities to foster innovation, adopting technological excellence, and exchanging insights and experiences – all in pursuit of enriching IAEE’s mission. IAEE Communities are created to nurture open, constructive communication and foster collaboration among the communities they represent.

Learn more about IAEE’s Community Engagement and Belonging Committee here.

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