Brandi Davis’ initial career path was becoming a registered nurse, but after realizing her passion and talents were a perfect fit for the meetings industry, Davis found a successful and rewarding career with the Wisconsin Assisted Living Association (WALA) in Madison, where she has been since 2009.
Brandi Davis: WALA is a non-profit membership association that supports those who own and/or operate assisted living communities in Wisconsin. I was drawn to this position because of my interest and desire in providing care to people and this was another avenue for me to fulfill that need. As Education Director, I’m responsible for managing our annual spring conference which has over 800 participants including 105 exhibitors. Our spring conference is currently the largest assisted living industry specific event in Wisconsin. I oversee everything from designing the theme, developing marketing materials, generating sponsorships and coordinating the 45 or more presenters. I’m also responsible for coordinating and developing our educational courses throughout the year including two nine-day administrator courses, four two-day events, a fall symposium and anywhere from three to six additional educational events that are offered throughout the state.
MM: What do you find most rewarding about your role at WALA?
BD: I don’t know that I can pick just one! I receive a lot of joy through my work. I’m most energized when I have a lot of “pokers in the fire” and have the luxury of being creative on a daily basis. I get such a rush when I am able to experience the fruits of our labor at an event and see the appreciation and happiness from our attendees. Even more than the “event-rush,” the attendees I interact with are incredibly rewarding. The people I meet are incredibly hard working, heart-centered and incite me to provide the most valuable and educational events I can.
I’m also blessed to work with such a competent, professional and fun-loving staff. With our staff of six, we work as though we have a staff of twelve and have a lot of fun in the process.
BD: As a non-profit association, I struggle with the resources that would allow me to incorporate technology into our events as much as I’d like to. As it continues to gain momentum in the meeting/event industry, it is something that I’ll need to embrace for the betterment of our membership and the accessibility of our events. Our membership still prefers face-to-face interaction, but I foresee WALA doing live recording presentations of our conference, using real-time polling in our educational sessions and incorporating live Twitter™feeds at events for real-time attendee responses.
MM: How do you keep current with trends?
BD: I subscribe to trade resource magazines and e-newsletters. Peer input and experience is incredibly valuable and allows me to be proactive. I’m also one of those weirdoes who enjoys change. I’m always thinking about new things that can be incorporated into an event to make it more intriguing and valuable to the attendee.
MM: There are always challenges and last minute surprises in meeting planning, any interesting experiences with WALA?
BD: Event planning is never dull! This year during our spring conference event, our theme was “Born to be Wild. Live to Outgrow It!” Our opening keynote was going to be presenting with live animals on stage and use volunteers from the audience for his presentation; among the tiger cubs and baby bear was a ten foot boa constrictor! The keynoter came to me the night before and asked if the temperature of the keynote room could be adjusted to be in a range of 65-68 degrees because the snake he would be using on stage can get “bitey” around temperatures of 70 degrees or more. To avoid a snippy snake, I happily worked with the convention center to adjust the temperature of the room during the snake’s appearance on stage and then quickly adjusted the temperature back again for the comfort of the attendees.
MM: What advice do you have for your peers when it comes to keeping your passion alive for this fast paced and often high stress career?
BD: Have fun and smile! Event planning has tons of opportunity to get creative and bring new and fresh ideas to the table. Surround yourself with hard working people who energize you and want to have fun too. As the planner, the tone of your event can be set by you. To create an event that’s full of positive energy and fun, you need to embody that. If you embrace that attitude, it will be evident in your communications with your exhibitors, sponsors, volunteers and it is guaranteed to reach your attendees.