Planners You Should Know - Carla Williams, 340B Health

Carla Williams, of 340B Health, 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: Carla Williams

Company Name: 340B Health

Job Title: Director of Events

Years of Experience: 16

How did you get your start in the events industry? What made you pursue this role?
My interest in planning events was born in 2001, at my first association job that I held part-time why still pursuing my Bachelors degree. There I became introduced to membership, conferences, logistics and the various parts that entail executing a well planned event. I was lucky to start my career at that job, that I obtained through a temp agency. It was a great foundation for learning the core competencies of evening planning.
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?

Planning my first post-pandemic conference was a rollercoaster. It was a step out into the unknown, after two years that shook up the entire industry. What was different, unique and even necessary was the commitment that we as an organization had to keeping our attendees safe, engaged and connected. We implemented many safety measures, offered a digital live-streaming option for those who could not attend and worked with our venue to make many first time on-site tweaks to maximize comfort levels and safety. After a very somber two years, what was similar to pre-pandemic planning was the excitement our attendees had to return to face to face networking and learning. Our vendors were also steadily committed to helping us deliver a quality even given the unique circumstances.
What was your number one challenge in hosting your first in-person event(s) and how did you overcome it?

The whirlwind of not knowing if the event would actually happen or not was the number one challenge for me. I had to plan and cover all bases for the in-person event, while knowing that it could all change at any point where I would have to pivot to virtual. Our first in-person event was in late January of 2022. After two years of completely virtual events, I did not know if circumstances beyond our control would lead us back to that place. I remained in close contact with my CSM at the hotel, stayed abreast of the latest COVID developments in the state and county where our event was held. Eventually the decision was made to move forward with in-person. Being prepared for anything that could happen helped overcome the fear of the unknown and ultimately resulted in a very successful post-pandemic conference.
What is the top learning that you uncovered from the last two years that you’re implementing in your planning process today? (any other tips or tricks you want to share?)
A learning lesson from the last two years that I am implementing into my planning today, is to take full advantage of and feel comfortable using the networking tools and resources available to me from my fellow planners. I reached out to several other association planners to garner feedback on how they were planning their post-pandemic conferences, what that looked like, how amenable venues were being with contracts and the resources they were using. They all were amazing and gave me their feedback and shared their experiences. This was invaluable and really helped to jumpstart the mindset of getting back to some sense of normalcy. My advice is to ask, most of the time our industry peers will have an answer!
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?
My advice is for planners to be very specific in the RFP. Make it clear what your must-haves are. Be flexible when possible. This will save time in the overall process. Always choose a top three and narrow the hotels down from there. As I have discovered, there is always a second option client who is waiting after so many meetings are being rescheduled from the pandemic.
Are you approaching contracting with hotels differently, post-pandemic?
Yes, I am approaching contracting very differently. We are scrutinizing clauses more closely and overall penalties on performance from F&B spending minimums, room blocks and space.
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?
I think hotels can improve on offering alternate solutions if they are not able to meet the primary requests. Perhaps indicating that shifting date patterns would work better for the hotel where for example all of the function space and sleeping rooms would be available. Planners want to make choices and need all of the pertinent information or back up proposed options available to assist with decision making.
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?
We are leveraging and promoting the use of our mobile app more than before. It has replaced a number of printed items we used pre-pandemic.
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?
Absolutely! PCMA and ASAE are two giants in the association support arena. Taking advantage of webinars, joining local chapter groups and networking within these groups and without is very vital in connecting with your peers across the industry. Joining a Facebook meeting planners group was also a great means in connecting me with my industry peers.

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. 

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