• From graphics to gatherings
• Company longevity and lifelong learning
Maureen T. Fitzgerald is a born and raised, Midwest woman with a heart for family. The youngest of three girls born within three years, Maureen grew up knowing the importance of family for companionship and to help with the farm work. Her youth was filled with family, 4-H, reading, and more. Upon high school graduation, she attended Iowa State University and received her Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Design and Journalism. She later attended the University of Nebraska at Omaha to receive her Master’s Degree in Public Administration.
True to her roots, for 25 years, Maureen has been a county and state 4-H judge. She is also an annual judge of the Nebraska State entries of the National “Make it With Wool” competition, sponsored by the American Wool Council, The American Sheep Industry, and American Sheep Industry Women. Yet, if you ask, she will still tell you her favorite hobby is reading. Maureen also sits on the Board of Restoration Exchange Omaha (REO), which seeks historic preservation and adaptive reuse of building sites, instead of demolition. In part to this groups’ efforts, Omaha has seen several buildings restored into historic hotels.
During her 20 years at CityMatCH, Maureen has been involved in many groundbreaking projects with national impact, from addressing racism in public health to advancing women’s health through the annual National Training Course in Maternal and Child Health Epidemiology. It is through these national conferences that Maureen was brought into the meeting and event industry.
Midwest Meetings: What was your first experience in the meeting/event industry?
Maureen T. Fitzgerald: My first experience was at The Western Regional MCH Epi Conference at the Wyndham in San Francisco, in June or July of 2011. Our meeting staff left with two weeks’ notice, and I was offered her job (along with most of my own work still, at that point).
I said yes, not knowing what she actually did, but was sure I could figure it out. Ha! At one point the hotel called me to say we are getting close to deadline on F&B, do you have that ready for us? I honestly thought she was swearing mildly at me. Of course, I was embarrassed when she explained what she was actually requesting. With tremendous help from hotel staff, the local CVB, and other staff here at CityMatCH, I pulled it off, including organizing the poster session, plus creating the content, layout, design, and production of the program (Ohh that pesky graphic design degree). Trial by fire!
MM: What do you like most about the industry?
MTF: Honestly? The Friendships! I love meeting new people and have met some amazing planners and suppliers during my years in this industry. Beyond that, change, pizazz, and new ideas. I get excited when a webinar shows me a new tool for contract negotiation, or a cool win-win clause never seen before.
MM: To what do you attribute your success?
MTF: I attribute my success to the industry itself. As a newbie, I have been a sponge, and asked every supplier question. If they had a CMP on their nametag (well, first I had to ask what that meant), I asked them about the test, about what organizations they belonged to. I went to meeting planner events, joined PCMA and MPI. I attribute my success, to date, to all the countless people who shared a good idea, penned one up in an industry magazine, or shared a new site with me.
MM: Can you describe a time when something didn’t go as planned at an event and how you overcame the situation?
MTF: There is no such thing as a perfect event! But, in terms of a bigger glitch, the best strategy has been to go with the flow, and if it cannot be fixed, work around the new reality.
MM: What is the best advice you have ever received/given?
MTF: From our Director of Operations, before the 2010 Conference: 3 P’s for success: Poise, stay Positive, and be a Pick-me-up. Seriously, our attitude affects everything, and that can be for good or bad, depending on my choices. If I believe a glitch can destroy my event, it will. Vice versa.
His other sage advice during another newbie glitch moment, given when I forgot to make all the copies needed for small group meeting materials, and freaked: “Don’t over-apologize, do not lead with “I’m sorry,” and don’t over-explain. Focus on a solution, and move ahead.” I had just wasted more time bemoaning, apologizing, and whining than it would have taken to have my CSM run some copies while we moved on with another agenda item.
MM: Tell us about the most complicated event you have helped plan?
MTF: Every other year, we co-host a National MCH Epidemiology Conference in conjunction with our conference. We don’t have big budget glitz, so it’s not about that. What we have are hundreds of very knowledgeable and exacting scientists and doctors. We have hundreds of scientific research abstracts submitted to that conference which must be independently peer reviewed by three, mean scores obtained, and then accepted content is grouped into sessions and poster sessions. This is combined with award nominations and review categories for both conferences, accepting and reviewing an additional two other types of scientific/policy sessions, and all the regular stuff of a conference. The level of detail required in that one, the accountability, is what makes it complicated. People are interested in accuracy to the one-one-hundredth of a percent. Good thing I like math.
MM: What is your favorite snack at a meeting/event?
MTF: Our participants love healthy snacks and are often vegan, vegetarian, or have food allergies. So, basically anything with a variety of pieces that people individually tailor: yogurt with granola and a million toppings, all kinds of veggies with unusual dips and flavors, and when we go off the rails: bite size desserts, so you can try several!
For Maureen's 'Meeting by the Numbers' view our digital edition.