Born and raised in Indianapolis, IN, Mandy Hazlett, CMP, attended college at the University of Southern Indiana. Upon receiving her bachelor of science in communications/advertising, she did an event internship with the 500 Festival in Indianapolis. Her first event planning job was with a company called Brylane where she planned internal corporate special events. After working in marketing and events for a science education company in Portland, OR, she returned to Indianapolis. Today, she’s the Senior Event Manager with the National FFA Organization. Hazlett enjoys working out and baking, “they even each other out,” and she also spends time on a small crafting business on the side with her sisters, participating in a variety of craft and art shows.
Mandy Hazlett: The 500 Festival runs special events during the month of May leading up to the Indy 500. My first day on the job was the day of the parade. I showed up onsite and was picked up in a golf cart by a colleague and we proceeded to an area to pick up a couple, who were casted as munchkins in the Wizard of Oz, to take them to their float. I knew then, I had chosen the right career.
MM: Tell us about yourself and your job.
MH: I am the Senior Event Manager for the convention & events management team with the National FFA Organization. I have been with the organization since 2008. My team is responsible for the overall logistics & planning of the organization’s events. My role is to manage the team, site selections, vendor relations, contract negotiations, overall event logistics, budgeting, marketing, and city relations. We have an annual event in the fall, the National FFA Convention & Expo, that hit a record attendance in 2014 of 64,409. The event itself is four days in length and hosts more than 350 different meetings & events including competitions, general sessions, workshops, tours, community service projects, award banquets, concerts, rodeos, and an expo and shopping mall with more than 400 exhibitors and vendors. In addition to the annual convention we also plan another 20+ conferences and meetings throughout the year.
MM: What do you like most about your job?
MH: The different experiences being an event manager can bring. This job has given me the opportunity to meet and work with some incredibly talented people. I learn something new all the time, it’s never boring!
MM: What’s your approach to planning meetings and large expo’s?
MH: Organization, a “yes I can make that happen” attitude, and a great team. I’m only as good as those around me and for an annual event of our size I need good people.
MH: When I started with the National FFA it was two weeks before our annual convention that year. I didn’t really know what to expect and I was blown away in those four days. But the best part was the next year. After being able to plan the event all year, walking into the first opening ceremony and seeing all the FFA members in the sea of blue jackets together energized, singing, dancing, and knowing that I had a hand in making this memory for them, was pretty cool. I was hooked on this industry once again!
MM: What prompted you to obtain your CMP designation and do you have any advice to those looking to get their CMP?
MH: I am always looking for ways to keep learning and to sharpen my skills. Going after my CMP was a big goal for me and I knew it was what I needed to help keep myself renewed and competitive in my career. The best advice I can give to those seeking their CMP is time and patience to study. Balancing your job, family, and studying isn’t easy, but people do it all the time and it can be done.
MM: Describe your all-time favorite catering menu for an event?
MH: The best catering menu I’ve ever had was at a dinner event. Rather than going for the normal plated dinner of chicken with vegetables or chicken plus meat and vegetables, it was an assortment of themed food stations paired with drinks to match. There was something for everybody. It kept the food fun and it created good table conversation.
MM: What challenges do you feel meeting and event planners face today and what is your approach to those challenges?
MH: I believe one of our biggest challenges is making sure that our events and meetings stay relevant to our attendees. In this day and age, professionals have to be very purposeful within their budgets and where they choose to spend those additional development dollars. In my case, with our annual event we need to be conscious of all our attendees, which include students, teachers, and adult professionals. Seeking feedback from each type of attendee is crucial to success of our national event each year.
MM: What changes have you seen in the meetings/events industry during your career?
MH: I would be remiss if I didn’t answer with technology. I don’t just mean the advancements within audiovisual and the Internet, but I mean how people participate in your event, navigate through your event, and what they take with them when the event is over. In years past the only way to attend an event or meeting, was to physically be present. Now we have virtual event and meeting capabilities which allows the organizer to have a far greater reach to those who can’t attend, giving them an experience that while not like being there in person, allows them to still take advantage of what is offered. Experience customization is also now becoming more important. It’s no longer just an ROI on the dollars spent to come, but what did I, as an individual attendee, get out of your event or meeting and how can I incorporate that back home. Are my interests being met throughout each component of the event itself? It’s no longer just building workshop tracks to meet a certain criteria. You must align someone’s interest in all aspects. Within our annual event we are looking into different ways to customize ones experience based on studies or interests whether you are a student attending or a professional.
MM: What trends do you see emerging in the next five years?
MH: Not to be repetitive, but technology will continue to be a trend in not only how someone attends your event or meeting but how it’s planned and executed. Knowledge about your attendees is a key factor in the event’s future success and how can we gather that knowledge, by learning what they are doing through tracking data. More and more conventions and conferences are moving to RFID options for credentials and this is something we are now looking into. It allows the planner to gather feedback on traffic patterns within certain areas of the event, headcounts at workshops, sessions, and breakouts, etc. Since we have a large number of attendees that are minors, this type of credential will also play a safety and security role. For the attendee, it allows them to easily track what they participated in which can play a role in reporting out when they return home. It also eliminates the need for special event tickets within your convention or conference, making again a case for the overall experience as an attendee important.
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