• From planner to coach and consultant
• Lessons learned
Dana L. Saal was born and raised in Illinois, where she still resides today. She is a past president and volunteer for the Illinois Society of Association Executives (ISAE), a member of PCMA Heartland Chapter, and volunteers with SPIN, the Senior Planner Industry Network, most recently as a member of the convention planning committee.
While contemplating a college degree, Saal wanted a career where she could “organize things.” Meeting planning wasn’t a common term in 1979 and thus her degree in Photojournalism and her Father’s involvement with the Illinois Press Association placed her in the right place at the right time to interview for the association’s newly created meeting planner position. “I couldn’t believe that such a job existed and couldn’t wait to start. I was googly-eyed by the time the interviewer said, ‘You’d do everything down to picking centerpieces for the tables,’” expressed Saal.
From 1986-2000 Saal worked full time in association planning and management and was an independent planner until 2016.
Midwest Meetings: Tell us about yourself and your job.
Dana L. Saal: I am thrilled that I plan zero meetings per year. I am equally thrilled that I now guide associations to renovate underperforming events into meetings people want to attend. I help them create excitement for an event that will meet participants’ needs in a way which inspires them.
MM: What was your first experience with the meeting/event industry?
DLS: Since I fell into meeting planning, I still remember my first site visit in St. Louis. I didn’t even know it was a site visit; I was just checking out the hotel. I checked in, took the key to the room and opened the door to a… suite! Are you kidding?! A suite! It was amazing. At that moment I realized I had a sweet job. After 32 years the suite doesn’t amaze me as much, but the fact that I have the privilege to be using one still does. I try never to take it for granted. Which reminds me of the night I spent in a hotel in Chicago on leisure travel and my view was the lovely brick wall of the neighboring building…about 15 feet away. That can humble a privileged planner!
MM: What meeting planning mistake(s) will you always remember?
DLS: 1. In 2007, when I told my registrar to stay and pack boxes; I could handle banquet check-in. I carefully arranged tickets in stacks of 10 and, oh my gosh, my guarantee was 50 short! To make a long story short, I was NOT 50 short, but my counting skills were in poor form. The caterer charged me only for some extra salads that were plated, and no one let me handle any aspect of registration ever again.
2. In 2010, I planned one of the last reunions of the General MacArthur’s Honor Guard. I scheduled a river boat tour for Wednesday and the bus to take them there for Thursday. So, there on the corner of 7th and Locust streets, in downtown St. Louis, stood many elderly men, their elderly wives, and some elderly-ish children who accompanied them, waiting for a bus which was not coming. Geez! I am grateful to this day that when I called the bus company, one of its drivers was returning from another gig and headed our way to save the day.
Read more in the Fall 2018 Digital Edition.