- Planning an annual statewide convention called the Kansas Agri Business Expo (KABE), known to be the largest indoor agribusiness show in the Midwest (covering 95,000 sq. ft. of tradeshow floor space in which she markets with an average of 1,200 attendees);
- Weekly receptions (14 total) for state legislators and lobbyists;
- Legislative fundraisers both at the state and national level;
- Five golf tournaments;
- Seven board meetings for both associations;
- A Kansas Grain and Feed Association (KGFA) annual meeting (250 in attendance) and the Kansas Agribusiness Retailers Association (KARA) annual meeting (150 in attendance).
Bennett is a member of the Kansas Society of Association Executives (KSAE) and has served on KSAE’s conference committee for five years and chaired the committee two years. She is honored to have received the Lloyd D. Burling & Winton Etchen Annual “Excellence in Trade Shows, Marketing & Events Award” sponsored by the Agri-Business, Fertilizer & Ag-Chemical State Affiliated Associations in 2007 and 2014.
Shari Bennett: Assistant to the Senior Vice President of Food and Beverage for Brock Hotel Corporation (BHC). In the late 1970s to early ‘80s, BHC was one of the top hotel corporations - owning and operating 65 Holiday Inn hotels in the US. Working for Brock Hotel Corporation gave me the restaurant and hospitality experience I needed for transitioning into event planning.
MM: What was your first experience with the meetings industry and what do you remember most about it?
SB: Assisting in the planning of the Kansas Livestock Association (KLA) Annual Meeting and Convention in 1990. I remember how exciting it was to see the show come together after working on it for many months. It was then that I knew event planning was in my blood and that I had found the perfect profession for me.
MM: What made you choose this as your career/what do you like most about being a planner?
SB: I actually didn’t choose the career path of an event planner, it chose me. I started out working full-time and going to college part-time to be a school teacher. I come from a family of school teachers, so naturally I thought teaching would be a good fit for me. While working at KLA, my boss at the time was planning our events, but didn’t enjoy it at all. Since I am a very organized and detailed individual, known to be a little obsessive and compulsive by co-workers at times, all event planning at KLA was added to my job description. I have never regretted my decision to become an event planner.
I enjoy all aspects of event planning, but at the top of my list is the fact that it is not a redundant job. I have planned events at a 10,000 acre ranch, a custom-built hot rod shop, receptions on Capitol Hill for our US Congress, legislative fundraisers held in peoples’ homes to planning a golf tournament at a world-renowned golf course. What is not to love about the job?! As you can see, no two events I plan are ever the same. Each event has its own challenges and obstacles to overcome, but I feed off any challenge that comes my way.
MM: What is most rewarding about your job?
SB: The “Aahhh” factor when you have worked so very hard for months on end to pull off the largest indoor agribusiness show in the Midwest; walking through the entrance of the tradeshow floor when the show opens and seeing it all come together perfectly and the magnitude of the show. I also have a great deal of appreciation and gratitude for our great staff and member volunteers who put their blood, sweat and tears into our convention which has helped make the show the success it has been for many years. Our show is very well respected in the agribusiness industry. Our agribusiness exhibitors come from all over the US to participate in our Expo and our members look forward to attending every year as our convention provides first-class speakers and entertainment, continuing education, networking and the display of the latest products, equipment and technology offered in the agribusiness marketplace today.
MM: What do you like most about this industry?
SB: The people I’ve met and continue to meet in this profession. It has been a real privilege to meet and work with my peers from other associations as well as CVB and hotel staff and many others along the way. I have learned so much from so many in this industry. The friendships I have formed I could never replace. These people are like family.
MM: What’s your approach to planning meetings and large expos?
SB: Always make a site visit to the host hotel and/or convention center, meeting with everyone you will be working with on your event. Developing a strong rapport with hotel and/or convention center sales and catering managers is key to a successful event. Once I get back from the visit, I put together a very detailed timeline. I break it down month-to-month, but review it daily. I am old school and still like to have a paper timeline with a checklist. This approach makes me feel like I am making progress when I can check an item off my list.
MM: In addition to the Association’s major meetings, you also plan golf tournaments. This issue includes a highlight on golf. Any best practices or advice to planners that have been tasked with planning a golf tournament?
SB: Interestingly enough, I do not golf. Golfing is not my friend and it is brutally cruel to me. However, I do know a lot about the game and I really enjoy planning tournaments.
I have learned that if you want to make money from a golf tournament, stay with a really nice public course. Private clubs are more expensive and are limited to certain days of the week for tournaments. We are fortunate to have award-winning golf courses in Kansas that are both private and public, so I use both.
If you want to raise money for your scholarship program, leadership program or your political action committee, having a golf tournament is a very good way to do it. I suggest searching the internet for golf promotional companies, as they do offer discounted hole-in-one prizes along with inexpensive insurance for the prize(s). They also provide lots of other creative ideas for tournaments.
MM: Do you have advice for your peers or those aspiring to work in the meetings and events industry?
SB: I know you can read magazines or the internet and download apps these days, which are all very important and helpful as trends and technology are ever-changing in the event planning world. However, seeing is believing… so it’s a huge benefit if you can visit other conventions and tradeshows that are related to your industry. I have taken away so many great ideas from other shows and have incorporated them into our convention. If you don’t change your events often they get stale. Attendees don’t like stale.
For those aspiring to work in the meetings and events industry, it is a fast paced, always-changing, exciting occupation accompanied by travel and long hours at times. If you are a high energy person that is detail oriented, likes change and can travel, I would encourage you to pursue a career as an event planner.
People who know me would be surprised to learn that I am a member of the NRA.
If I could plan any event it would be the Olympics. I love all competitive sports and have played sports most of my life.