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Leigh Bentley

By Leigh Bentley, CMP | Feb 11, 2021

I joke that my introduction to event planning was the coordination of my first slumber party in the third grade. My family owned a restaurant and catering business and I’ve been around event planning my entire life. My first professional involvement with meetings began when I worked for a restaurant company in its training and development department. We were responsible for the general manager meetings, multi-unit operator conferences and annual vendor conventions.

Even though we weren’t able to travel to our planned destination in July 2020, we held a very successful online Annual Convention. The structured learning as well as the “on your feet” education were the most stressful aspects of event planning I’ve ever experienced. We, fortunately, were able to hold our incentive trip in person in Miami this past November. We all appreciated the opportunity to see each other and have a change of scenery from where we had been for the previous eight months. Even though the event looked different from previous years due to social distancing and wearing masks, everyone enjoyed the trip.

I had the opportunity to participate in the inaugural MPI Virtual Event & Meeting Management (VEMM) course presented through the Event Leadership Institute. The timing of the course was perfect: mid-April to the end of May. We decided to move our convention to online in early May and held it the first week of July. I was able to put into practice most everything we learned during the course.

Who would have ever thought the location of a meeting would have the biggest impact on whether or not it could take place? My biggest concern is finding a destination that will welcome our upcoming meeting(s) and permit us to include as many of our franchisees who feel comfortable traveling to the location. Our group has participated in several industry calls and We had the opportunity to attend an in-person event sponsored by Associated Luxury Hotels International in August. That experience provided so much quality information about how to successfully hold an in-person event while maintaining the health and safety of attendees.

When I was with O’Charley’s and since I’ve been with SERVPRO, we have given away vehicles during our conventions. The coordination, safety and logistics of moving some of those vehicles up to a ballroom level provided many challenges. The most significant of the vehicle challenges happened on two different occasions—an executive drove a motorcycle through the ballroom. Talk about a clutch situation! Luckily, all of the truck, sportscar and motorcycle maneuvers were safely executed.

As someone who grew up in the restaurant industry, I have always had an appreciation for how hard people work in the service industry. Due to my time with meetings and particularly my interaction with people in hotels, I have a new appreciation for the work they do. Unfortunately, many of these same people have been the most negatively impacted by the loss of business due to the pandemic.

To borrow a line from Hannibal on The A-Team, “I love it when a plan comes together!” Seeing the months of work the team has put into preparing for a meeting and then experiencing all of it coming together onsite, I’m pretty sure that’s why we all do this—day in and day out.

My involvement with MPI has enabled me to meet many new people. The networking and educational opportunities have been helpful as we all have been working to learn new ways to meet.

We need more people like Michael Dominguez who will communicate the contextual facts about holding meetings and events, promote the responses the meeting and event industry have implemented and share the successes of in-person events.

I have always enjoyed traveling and spending time with family and friends. So much of that has been put on hold this past year. I am ready to get back to visiting with people and traveling to new (and familiar) places. As Andy Dufresne says in The Shawshank Redemption, “It’s time to get busy living or get busy dying.”



Bentley Headshot
Leigh Bentley, CMP

Leigh Bentley, CMP, is Meeting Services Division manager for SERVPRO Industries LLC. She rejoined MPI in 2020.