Experience Creators You Should Know - Laure Herzog, Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America

Laura Herzog, of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, 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: Laure Herzog

Company Name: Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America

Job Title: Education and Meetings Manager

Years of Experience: 5

How did you get your start in the events industry? What made you pursue this role?
The opportunity to get started in the events industry was a bit of an unexpected turn for me. SHEA was my first “office” job after I had graduated from college. The role I started in was a bit of a catch-all position, focusing on committee and volunteer management. I assisted other departments when needed, but for the most part, was not involved in events other than assisting with onsite registration and the membership booth at our Annual Meeting. I stayed in that role for about 3.5 years and, during that time, started to assist with our annual meeting more and more and realized I really enjoyed being involved in the processes. I was learning in abundance and wanted to be more active within the Education Department. When the Education and Meetings Manager position opened, I started to feel like I wanted more out of the role I was currently in and needed a change, so I decided to go ahead and apply and go through the interview process. And now here I am, about 5 years later, as the Education and Meetings Manager. It’s been a great journey and I’ve learned a lot and am excited to see where the industry and I go in the future.
How would you describe your role or responsibilities as a professional event planner?
My responsibilities can be divided into 3 categories: Logistical Management, Program Strategy and Content Development, and Communications. Obviously, those are pretty large umbrellas and can mean a lot of different things based on their interpretations. Something that’s really cool about events, in my opinion, is that the role and responsibilities can be incredibly unique to the event, audience, organization, etc. In this role, you have to be extremely adaptable and able to collaborate with so many people, personalities, vendors, and stakeholders.
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?
Our members are Healthcare epidemiologists and COVID is still very present for us and is now a big part of our planning process. We had to develop on-site COVID procedures, vaccination requirements, exemption processes, and contingency plans should a speaker, staff, attendee, or vendor be sick. Pre-pandemic, a lot of us would still work and travel with a stuffy nose or a cold. Post-pandemic, even with a scratchy throat, you’d still show up, but post-pandemic, contingency plans for speakers and folks that will likely not participate because of very mild symptoms, a backup plan is key to making your event successful. We also realized the need for human interaction. We were glad we were able to pivot our in-person events to virtual and hybrid, but when it comes down to it, in-person events are the preferred way to get an education. Networking is a large part of any event, and when those events are virtual, something is missing and doesn’t quite hit the mark. Another learning curve was hybrid meetings. It is not as simple as just live streaming the content. You must make the virtual component of a hybrid meeting engaging for the audience to make sure they are able to interact with speakers and other attendees as well as feel present and not online. Essentially, you have to plan 2 different meetings within the same timeline and budget of one. Not so easy to do, it turns out!
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 think everyone can relate to this – but budget. We all have grandiose ideas on how to make an event better, but it comes with a cost. And with the prices of everything on the rise, it can be difficult to accommodate great ideas to improve the conference. I can’t say we have overcome this per se, but we do have sponsorships and submit to grants to help offset costs, but they are also not always successful. This is something we continue to learn from and improve upon.
How do you determine which vendors are best suited for your stakeholder's needs while also finding those providing competitive services at affordable rates?
We try to find someone who is hand on, patient, and willing to work without members and attendees when they have any issue that comes through. We have to remember that not everyone is as well versed in technology or specific language that pertains to a vendor. We’ve used the same AV company for 5+ years now because they know our attendees and their needs. You have to find someone that will go that extra step and be personable and adaptable.
Are there any key lessons or insights that have shaped your approach to event planning over the years?
Be adaptable! If you aren’t open to new suggestions or changes, your event won’t be the best it can be. Another big-ticket item for me that is is mental wellness. It’s very easy onsite at a meeting not to meet your basic human needs like eating or drinking water, which can take a toll on you physically and mentally. Taking 5 minutes in your staff office, where you can grab a granola bar, a drink of water, and have a few moments of silence with some deep breaths, will surprisingly go a long way! It will improve your overall performance, which in turn will improve your event.
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?
As always, having patience is huge.
Are you approaching contracting with hotels differently, post-pandemic?
Not really. Our first back-in-person event (it was hybrid), we lucked out and were already booked somewhere that had great outdoor space we could utilize for all meal functions, and it allowed our attendees to be able to be present at the meeting but comfortable with social distancing.
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?
As always, having a timeline is very helpful, and both parties agreeing to a timeline for review and edits is very beneficial.
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?
This is not necessarily new for us, but we are heavily using an App for Q+A and discussions during sessions at our events. Before, we had a stand with a microphone, but not everyone was confident enough to go up to the mic to contribute. This also helps avoid “mic hogs.” Using an App lets everyone get a turn, and have their voice heard.
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?
Join an association/society like PCMA or ASAE and attend their events. Volunteer and get involved in them if you can as well. We can learn a ton from each other!
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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