Meeting Executives: Taking Risks, Leading Through Uncertainty

Blog > Featured Blog

Meeting Executives: Taking Risks, Leading Through Uncertainty

By Kristi Casey Sanders | Sep 28, 2020

For the uninitiated, walking through the woods can be terrifying. However, if you know where to look, blazes painted on trees reveal the safest path to follow. The pandemic and resulting economic upheavals have disrupted our industry, creating an unclear path forward.

However, there are trailblazers ahead, lighting the way. Spotlighting them and sharing their stories is a primary focus for the MPI Meeting Executives community, a collection of meeting professionals who occupy executive and other leadership positions.

A prime example is MPI’s own director of events, Melinda Burdette, CMP, CMM, HMCC, who manages the team that produces digital and face-to-face signature events for the world’s largest association of meeting professionals. Her team is charged with creating a roadmap for how to convene large groups safely as they organize the 2020 World Education Congress (WEC) in Grapevine, Texas. Originally scheduled for June, WEC Grapevine has moved to Nov. 3-6. The event features a more robust hybrid format than originally planned to accommodate closed international borders and attendees who may be hesitant to travel.

“‘We take risks so you don’t have to’ has been an internal events team mantra since I started at MPI, and it’s never been more evident than with this particular WEC,” Burdette says.

“I want there to be an opportunity for everyone in this industry to get back to business.”

As the first major industry event to push forward with a face-to-face component, WEC has attracted both praise and criticism. But Burdette says it’s necessary for MPI, as the largest and most influential association for meeting professionals, to blaze the trail so its members can learn how to adapt to new constraints and get back to work.

“We are leading through this pandemic,” she says. “We’re positioned as the leader in the space. WEC will just further that reputation if things go well. Even if they don’t, if we’re transparent, we’re still leading that charge.”

This dedication to lead by example extends to the resources MPI is posting on its WEC website, instructing attendees about its duty of care efforts and pointing U.S. attendees to voter registration information so they understand how to vote by absentee ballot, if needed (Nov. 3 is election day in the U.S.). Additionally, MPI has published Navigating the New Normal (download it for free), a guide filled with tips on how different event elements might need to be adjusted.

Two Meeting Executive Re-Think Tanks—one in May and one on Sept. 25—featured meeting executives from different segments of the industry discussing how COVID-19 has changed laws, logistics and other elements of meetings management. Since Burdette’s participation in the May panel, WEC has gone through 10 budget revisions.

WEC Grapevine: Reunite for Recovery

“All meeting professionals have a really good understanding of how to have a Plan A, B, C and D, but once you get to the LMNOPs, then we’re all stressed out,” she says. “I don’t think anyone knew that the worst case during this situation might have to be a Plan Z.”

As a result, Burdette needs to constantly remind herself to focus on what she can control to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

“Meeting professionals are control freaks,” she says. “If I wear my mask and socially distance, then I don’t have that fear. But I can’t control what anyone else is doing, or what the governors say. You can sweat over having to adjust the budget because now you have to package all the food individually. You can control that. But you can’t control that your neighbor down the street had a party and no one was wearing masks.”

Burdette says being forced to move all events to digital platforms or put them on hold was a wake-up call for everyone to add digital event production to their skillset.

“Fortunately, the quarantine gave me the opportunity to get additional knowledge on how to lead during and after the pandemic,” she says. “It’s kind of nice to take a breath and get that education that we don’t normally get because we’re typically going MACH-7 with our hair on fire.”

Like her peers, Burdette is anxious for some sense of normality to return.

“I want there to be an opportunity for everyone in this industry to get back to business,” she says. “That’s what MPI is for, and, hopefully, WEC will be the start of that.”

Meeting Executive Learning Opportunities

Join valuable discussions right now in the MPI Meeting Executives community, sponsored by Hilton. Visit the MPI Academy for a library of on-demand content for meeting executives, and here are some important upcoming opportunities.

Oct. 19-22 & Dec. 6-10: Certificate in Meeting Management training with Indiana University (F2F and distance learning) 

Nov. 3-6: WEC Grapevine (F2F and Virtual Pass)

Community Sponsor




Kristi Casey Sanders

Kristi Casey Sanders, CMM, CMP, DES, HMCC is the Director of Community for MPI.