Experience Creators You Should Know - Danielle Samuel, Upstream USA

Danielle Samuel, of Upstream USA, discusses how she honed her skills over the pandemic to now be in position to overcome the challenges that the new meetings/events landscape brings.



This post is part of the HopSkip Planner Spotlight Series where HopSkip spotlights planners across the industry to bring awareness of how they adapted to COVID-19, communicating and lessons learned and sharing how they are viewing the meetings and events industry in a post-pandemic world. 


Name: Danielle Samuel

Company Name: Upstream USA

Job Title: Experiential Events Specialist

Years of Experience: 14

How did you get your start in the events industry? What made you pursue this role?
A leader at my university called on me to step into a gift they saw in me. From student representative on a panel amongst professors to student life leadership, then quickly producing and hosting events on campus for multicultural organizations and the general public. After college, I tried the traditional corporate route; and after a layoff, I decided to go back to what made me feel happy and fulfilled. I started my own event planning company before continuing into non-profit work as a Fundraising Events Specialist. || I came to Upstream in 2019 and have since been working directly where my heart desires: in an impactful organization alongside amazing people, with the opportunity for me to express my creativity with purpose.
How would you describe your role or responsibilities as a professional event planner?
I believe my role is to bring the client's/organization's vision to life and make it memorable and impactful.
How do you compare planning your first in-person event post-pandemic, to planning meetings/events pre- Covid? What was different and unique? What was similar?
To me, what was so different and the most challenging was bringing the in-person energy and experience fully virtual. It is so easy for people just to turn off their cameras and tune out. Also, allotting time for technical difficulties and making sure my colleagues and staff are prepared to handle them efficiently. This requires many one-pagers! :-)
What challenges have you faced in your work as a meeting and event planner, when working with suppliers or sourcing a venue and how did you overcome them?

I find it difficult at times to find someone who balances a sales approach with a genuine interest and professionalism in what they do. I overcome this by asking about the team that executes the tasks, and, when possible, meet with them as well.
How do you determine which vendors are best suited for your stakeholder's needs while also finding those providing competitive services at affordable rates?
It starts when I reach out- to how they respond/if they respond. If they are professional, do they provide insightful information and a strategic/thoughtful approach to completing the task?
Are there any key lessons or insights that have shaped your approach to event planning over the years?
Leverage your relationships, and keep diversity around not only race but culture/education/and experience in mind. In regards to aspiring meeting & event planners, I would say to make (sure) the vision (is) clear. Find your niche, and remain open to learning.
With hotels short-staffed, and RFP lead time shortening, what is your advice to other planners to overcome these obstacles when requesting hotels for proposals?
Be clear in your vision, understand the venue's parameters, over-communicate, and be creative in your approach.
Are you approaching contracting with hotels differently, post-pandemic?
I always had safety and cleanliness top of mind, but the amount of time and effort I put into the ADA approach has heightened. Since so much is digital now, I have found myself consulting with a dear friend of mine over Communications at National Disability Rights often to make sure I am thoughtful and considerate in our virtual approaches as well.
What is the biggest area of improvement that you think hotels can make when either responding to your RFPs or during the contract phase of your event?
Hotels can benefit more from considering the potential client (event planners) and our timeline and vision. We can all work together to respect venue parameters while executing the tasks. Thankfully most of my experiences with hotels have been amicable, but I have heard and had horror stories at others and non-hotel venues.
Due to the pandemic, our events community had to evolve, adapt, and grow. Many planners started to embrace new technologies as a result of the pandemic. What new tech are you using today in your planning process as a result?
I use a mix of innovative ways to accomplish the same task with what is new or better to accomplish a task in a virtual space. When I spoke to other professionals in this industry at the beginning of the pandemic to compare and contrast approaches, what I realized was that many of us were assuming and guessing. So I switched to speaking to past clients and other companies outside of our industry and listened to their insights/gripes/opinions, and came up with solutions. For example, I implemented timed entry for clients I had who were already introverts. At another event, I hired a live closed captioner.
Since education and relationships are two major pillars in the meetings and events industry, any suggestions on how other planners can learn and network with their peers across the industry?
Volunteer when you can! Now I am not necessarily a fan of working for free, but you can learn so much about how other industries and event setups approach our craft, and it can either help you do/get better, or learn what not to do. And to me, that is invaluable. :-)
This post is part of the HopSkip Planner Spotlight Series where HopSkip spotlights planners across the industry to bring awareness of how they adapted to COVID-19, communicating and lessons learned and sharing how they are viewing the meetings and events industry in a post-pandemic w,orld. 

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