Heather Wakefield, 39, works remotely in Nashville, Tennessee, as a senior manager of education and events at Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society. As a 2019 40 Under 40 honoree, Wakefield discusses her passion for the events industry.
What I do: I am a results-oriented, event and education professional with more than 10 years of experience in healthcare nonprofit associations. I have a combined deep industry knowledge with experience design and project management, while maintaining excellent stakeholder relationships to elevate customer engagement in my company’s annual conference.
How I got here: I graduated with an architecture degree and was introduced to association meetings early in my career while working in an academic setting. When I moved to the Washington D.C. metro area in 2007, I had the opportunity to start working in a medical specialty association on educational programming. I have since worked for two additional medical specialty associations and have grown in my responsibility and understanding of all aspects of annual conference design and execution. My background in architecture has helped with the event design aspects, project management, and balancing budget, scope and quality.
Greatest career accomplishment: During some leadership gaps in our organization, I partnered with our director of stakeholder engagement to revamp our annual conference strategy to be aligned with current best practices and our member journey, launch new initiatives focused on customer experience, re-evaluate contracts to look for alignment and gained efficiencies, and get us up-to-date on site-sourcing for optimal options.
Impressive stats: Increased revenue by 12 percent and decreased expenses by 24 percent between 2016 and 2018 for our annual conference.
A specific improvement I’ve made to my organization’s meetings program: Researched and introduced a complete technology solution to collect abstracts; managed speakers and exhibitors; displayed program online; collected, managed and displayed presentations; provided the event mobile app; and collected evaluation data. Major efficiencies were gained and duplicative efforts eliminated through the introduction of this tool and process.
What are you working on right now that you’re excited about? In 2018, we piloted a first-timer welcome activity and a more experiential community gathering general session which were very successful. For 2019, we are taking this a step further and introducing an “unconference” participant-driven general session featuring key challenges facing the industry.
What I do outside of work: I enjoy the simple things in life. Time with family and friends; a delicious meal with great conversation and good company; traveling to new destinations; and learning something new.
Favorite vacation destination: The first place that came to mind is Hiša Franko in Kobarid, Slovenia. It is local, private and gorgeous, and is where Ernest Hemingway likely wrote "Farewell to Arms."
Favorite icebreaker line: If you could take a month to travel anywhere, where would you go?
Travel hack: Order foreign currency from your bank before you leave home to make sure you have cash on hand when you arrive. I am also a fan of packing in space saver bags.