Director of Meetings, Sentergroup, Inc.
Rachel Walsh, CMP is the Director of Meetings at Sentergroup, where clients rely on her to catch all the details while keeping the big picture in focus.
Rachel discovered her love for working with associations while working with an Indianapolis-based event planning company and subsequently with Visit Indy, where she helped promote the city.
Rachel has a bachelor’s degree in communication and a minor in sociology from DePauw University and is a Certified Meeting Professional. She is a member of the Professional Convention Management Association and the Association Forum of Chicagoland.
Rachel Walsh: I’ve always been able to strike a balance between the big picture and the details, traits well-suited for the industry. Once I was exposed to this during an internship in college, I knew the industry was a perfect fit. It excited me to walk across a convention center show floor. Apparently that doesn’t excite everyone.
MM: Tell us about your role at Sentergroup?
RW: In the Meetings & Education department, we execute more than 70 meetings each year. I get to focus on the logistics and details of our events, whether it be a board meeting for 25 or an educational conference for 1,500. I am also responsible for all site selection and contract negotiations, budget development and monitoring, and I manage exhibitor and sponsorship sales for our groups.
MM: What is your favorite part of your job?
RW: As a planner at an association management company, I get to work with lots of clients, planning lots of different types of meetings. While this often means that no two days are the same, there is a common thread — the constant build toward the next event. Regardless of the client, the place, or how big the event, the best part is seeing all the pieces come together. Before you know it, though, it's over and on to the next. I consistently try to focus on enjoying the event as it unfolds, however many twists and turns may unravel. After all, this is why we put in all the work!
MM: Any interesting challenges you’ve faced and overcome in your position as Director of Meetings?
RW: During the planning phase for a conference, the schedule of events changed so that our lunch space became unavailable due to afternoon set-up needs. The meeting had grown so large that there was no other space in the venue to host the lunch, but we still had to feed close to 1,500 people in an hour. As an alternative, I worked with the venue to serve a strolling lunch in the exhibit hall. The attendees and exhibitors alike ended up loving it. There are no problems in meeting planning, just creative solutions waiting to be brought to light. It’s important to remind myself of that in stressful times.
MM: What challenges do you feel meeting and event planners face today and what is your approach to those challenges?
RW: Planners are constantly pushed to do more with less – whether it’s book more space with less room nights or deliver more value with a smaller budget. My approach to these challenges is to be practical, but innovative. I know that there are bottom lines to be met on both sides of the equation. By acknowledging this from the beginning of an engagement, I can work together with my partners so that we can all come out ahead, feeling that we have won.
MM: You are part of PCMA’s inaugural “20 in their twenties” class. What does this mean for you and how will you shape the meetings industry?
RW: It is an incredible honor to have been chosen as part of this inaugural class. This recognition has already given me, and will continue to provide me, wonderful networking opportunities. I have been introduced to 19 instant peers in the industry as an invaluable resource as we grow into this industry together. I think you will see this new generation of meeting professionals push technology to the top of the agenda, but surprisingly maintain stock in face-to-face meeting.
MM: How do you keep up on industry trends?
RW: You will catch me scrolling through my Twitter feed, which is full of great #eventprofs, whenever I can grab a few minutes! I also keep a stack of the newest industry magazines on my desk to flip through if I find myself with some extra time before a conference call or meeting begins. Another great resource I like to use is LinkedIn discussion boards. Specifically, I find the PCMA and Event Planning & Event Management boards particularly engaging.
MM: What new ideas are you bringing to the industry?
RW: I am all for the advancement of new technologies that allow me to do my job more efficiently and communicate more effectively with my vendor partners. Specifically, one of my “big ideas” is to change the way planners and venues communicate with each other. We’ve seen some huge strides with the roll out of brand specific apps for onsite communication, but I think this is just the first step in reimagining the way we get our jobs done.
MM: You’re passionate about this industry. What advice do you have for your peers when it comes to keeping that passion alive?
RW: Carve out time for professional education and find a space to engage with others (networking events, social media, etc.). It’s so easy to stay in the bubble of your own meetings and events, but I find that I am the most excited about what I do after talking to someone about their annual conference or reading an article about the latest trends in meeting design.
What would surprise people who know me: I must admit, I actually like when friends make our social plans. Sometimes people think I default into always needing to be in charge, but when I’m “off,” it’s nice to have someone else in charge.
Time of year/season: There is something about summertime in Chicago that cannot be beat.
Apps: Evernote, Shazam, Instagram, Kayak, Basecamp, Dropbox
TV: House of Cards, Scandal and The Good Wife. Are you seeing a political drama theme?
Dessert: Dark chocolate anything
Drink: I could drink fresh-brewed iced tea all day, every day, and I think every meeting venue I’ve ever been to knows it!