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changing careers

Changing Careers in Meetings and Events Industry – Leanne’s Story

When I first started working in site selection over 13 years ago, not only was I embarking on a new career path in the meetings industry, but I also had to learn a completely different skill set in order to be successful.   When COVID19 hit and I decided to ramp up my social media presence, I found myself in familiar territory; changing careers and climbing a steep learning curve and learning new skills.

Back in 2007 when I joined site selection, my background was in meetings management – I was an association planner followed by corporate planning for almost 9 years before I hit the proverbial “career wall.”  I loved being a meeting planner and  the day-to-day challenges, but I was craving professional development and a new challenge.  To no fault of their own, the organization I worked for did not see our roles as meeting planners as an investment, and professional development/association dollars were not available.  Nor were the challenges I craved available either.  It was a downtown office gig with long hours and an even longer commute away from my young son (Sam was 3 years old when I left my corporate job).  So when the time came to leave and explore other opportunities, my first step was to figure out what opportunities were out there.

When I was changing careers and left the corporate world, I did two things that I feel opened the doors for what was ahead of me.

  1. I took some “career training” courses, which helped me nail down, at 35 years of age, what career paths were best for my strengths and talents.
  2. I joined Meeting Professionals International – MPI – and started to attend their local monthly meetings.

I learned a lot about myself during the career path training courses and exercises.  I learned about what I loved about meeting planning, and what I found challenging.  One of my biggest challenges is that I struggled with post-event reports.   I suffered from depression at the end of an event (the larger the event, the longer the depression), and I really struggled to “wrap things up” including budgets, PERs, and calculating ROI.  I realized that in order to be an effective event planner, I either learned how to do these things and butt against my natural inclination to look ahead rather than looking back, OR I had to find a different career path.

Then I started attending the MPI meetings – It was at the 2nd MPI meeting that I found myself at a roundtable with a friendly Texan.  I introduced myself… and the rest they say is history.

That Texan was with a large global site selection firm, and he came to my small Canadian city (with a large corporate culture) to build a site selection team.  I didn’t even know what “site selection” was, but there were a few things about this opportunity that really stood out for me:

  • This was my opportunity to build my own business from scratch
  • I would have the opportunity to work with hotel suppliers and  partners every day
  • I would no longer need to suffer through post-event depression and post-event reports

And that was all it took for me to take the leap and try my hand at site selection.  I was self-motivated and knew I could start and build a business, I was good at reviewing hotel contracts, and even better and building relationships with hotel salespeople and trying to find the win-win in negotiations.  And most importantly, no more post-event depression.

But what I did not expect, was the radically new skillset of sales required to FIND clients and build my business.  I flew down to Texas to do some onboarding and started to learn the sales ropes.  I can tell you, the onboarding did not go well.  Not only was I early on in my pregnancy with my youngest son, but sales training hit me like a sack of hammers.  Role-playing led to tears, and I thought I would quit long before I found my first client.  But a few things kept coming back at me as I struggled to learn the sales ropes:

  • If it was easy, everyone would do it
  • This new life-time skill would prove valuable in a number of areas in my life

Regardless of this new skill, it was still speaking to my passions, and let go of my challenges.

I stuck with it and over time I honed my sales skills.  It didn’t take me long to build a robust and successful business, one that continues today.

In 2020, we all seem to be faced with the challenges I faced when I changed careers way back when.  We are seeing colleagues and friends who are either changing careers, finding work in their current career or learning new skills because of new flexibility (or requirements).

Friend, you may find yourself here.  You may find yourself embracing the opportunity to learn something new or you may find yourself feeling overwhelmed as you step into unfamiliar territory.  Learning something new is not without its roadblocks, but the rewards are worth every tear and frustration experienced. 

Looking back I would not trade my tears for anything.  May you find yourself looking back at this time and not wanting to trade it for anything either.

PS.  Watch for a future blog post on different ways for you to identify your strengths.

RELATED – Personal Branding and Its Importance in the Meetings Industry


Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash