Renee J. Lewis, CMP, has more than 21 years of experience in the areas of event planning and operations, association management, project management and marketing and public relations.
What I Like...
Prior to 2013, Renee served as the Executive Director of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Greater Detroit Chapter from May 2011 through August 2013. Renee also spent almost 14 years as the Director of Publishing & Event Services for the American Concrete Institute (ACI).
Renee is a member of the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA), Michigan Society of Association Executives (MSAE) and Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP). She earned the designation of Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) and is currently working toward her Certified Association Executive (CAE) and Certified Meeting Manager (CMM) designations.
Midwest Meetings: What was your first experience with the meetings and events industry? What do you remember most about it?
Renee Lewis: When I was a freshman in college, I volunteered for an event called Christmas on Campus at the University of Dayton. Each December the students put on an event for 1,200 inner-city children who were “adopted” for the evening by a student. The students took them around campus to different classrooms where there was entertainment, arts and crafts, food and beverage, a carnival, petting zoos, etc. I had volunteered on behalf of the student organization, American Marketing Association, to lead the decoration and activities for a classroom. Our theme for the room was “Christmas in the City” and was modeled after what you would find in NYC.
MM: What’s been the most challenging part of starting your own company and working on ASAE 2015?
RL: I would say time management. Not that I’m unable to manage my time; it’s finding the balance between running my own company and establishing that rhythm you get when you work for an organization or are working on an event, and working with ASAE 2015 which is new to Detroit and Michigan and you don’t know what to expect, every day is different.
We’ve established a rhythm with our clients at Infinity Management Group and that makes things easier. ASAE is the future for Detroit, especially with meetings and conventions for associations, so there is a lot of emphasis on this project, it’s very visible.
My challenge has been to manage everything I have going on and keep things moving ahead. I’m always working to ensure I’m using my time the best way possible and also keeping some balance in my life.
MM: What is most rewarding about your job; what makes it all worthwhile?
RL: I believe that if designed well events can be an experience for attendees. Experiences change people. It makes all the hard work worthwhile when the event “fires on all cylinders” and delivers the experience that changes people.
MM: What challenges do you feel meeting and event planners face today and what is your approach to those challenges?
RL: Generally speaking meeting and event planners, particularly managers or directors of meeting or event departments, still struggle to gain a “seat at the table” or be a part of the leadership group of many organizations. I think part of the issue is that sometimes leadership does not understand how including planners can positively impact the objectives of the organization. Planners need to show an interest in those objectives, take the initiative to help solve organizational problems and not be afraid to speak up.
MM: Any interesting challenges you’ve faced and overcome over the years?
RL: LOL! Sorry – don’t mean to laugh. I think I could write a book on this. Unfortunately I’ve had to deal with a lot of “emergencies” or “incidents” before or during events. I have encountered everything from power outages to a major medical emergency in another country. I have learned first-hand how important it is to have a plan and revisit that plan before every event. One of the most challenging situations I have encountered was after Hurricane Katrina. The convention I was working on was eight weeks away and suddenly we had to move the program. I reached out to several CVBs and within 48 hours we were reviewing ten different options. A week later we were doing a site visit and signed contracts with all suppliers while there. The convention was moved to Kansas City that year. I learned how important it is to lean on and trust the suppliers you hire.
MM: How do you keep up on industry trends?
RL: I read every day, but not just about the meetings/events industry. I read about technology, business, leadership, non-profits, design and of course, Detroit!
MM: What’s the newest, freshest approach you are bringing to your job/the industry?
RL: I’m not sure this is the newest or freshest approach, but I try to look at the event from the attendees’ point of view. All decisions and plans are done with their needs and wants in mind.
MM: What advice do you have to offer those who aspire to work in the meetings and events industry?
RL: If you have not worked in this industry, or if you are currently a student, get as much experience as you can. I’m a huge proponent of getting practical experience in addition to your education. Join student groups, volunteer at organizations, look for internships… These are simple things you can do to gain that practical experience in this industry. As a student, I volunteered and interned where I could. These experiences are where you meet people and those people can later speak to what you bring to the table.
Even if it’s not something you want to do long-term - say you work in catering over a summer or do an internship, and maybe you don’t want to be a caterer forever - use that experience to help you be a better planner.
MM: Any advice to your peers on how to manage the stress and keep the passion alive?
RL: Over time, you learn to manage the stress better. I can remember a time when I would wake up in the middle of the night to take notes, when it all would keep me up at night. At some point, I just learned to turn it off. I would still check emails and voicemails, but I learned that I had to get rest and not let it keep me up. You have to be fresh to think through situations. Planning and operating events often requires critical thinking skills. The only way you can do that really well is by taking care of the basic needs… you need to sleep, you need to eat. The more you do events, the more you recognize when you need those things and you have to tell yourself it’s ok to do that.
That would surprise people who know me: I told my parents I wanted to be a grocery store “checker” when I was a kid. I thought it would be fun to organize the groceries in the bag.
About myself: I won’t give up to find a solution or get the job done.
Hero: My parents are my heroes. My mom is a role model to me because she set an example of how to balance a full-time career and family. My dad instilled in me a strong work ethic and an understanding of the importance of having a passion for what you do.
Possession: Photos - because they capture memories that you can relive every time you look at them.
Apps: Dropbox is my file cabinet on the go. I also listen to Spotify to keep me going through the week. The newest apps I am using are Visit Detroit and Countdown.
Dessert: Anything with cinnamon, caramel or chocolate and peanut butter
Drink: Non-alcoholic: cranberry and soda with lime; alcoholic: margaritas
Quote: Destiny is a matter of choice.