The Events Expert Interview Series #4: Christy Lamagna
By Tom Pick
Over the course of the next several months, we’ll be interviewing some of the smartest, most interesting event professionals around–sharing their insights, advice, and unique experiences. This week we sat down with Christy Lamagna, one of the most engaged and passionate industry leaders we have had the pleasure of taking with.
1) You’re a CEO, strategist, speaker, coach, mentor, and of course, writer—you contribute some great pieces to Corporate Event News, for example, on a pretty regular basis. Could you tell us a little bit about a typical day looks like for you now, what types of clients you generally work, and how you got to this point?
My typical day is a wonderful mix of writing, coaching, running Strategic Meetings & Events, building the strategic movement to change how the event industry works, marketing SME as well as my speaking career, professional reading and philanthropy. I love so many things and am motivated by my desire to teach, give back, continue learning and share SME’s amazing skills with clients; it’s a very busy way to live but so much of it makes me happy that I don’t want to give any of it up.
It’s surreal to be at an age where people want to know ‘how I got to where I am.’ as I feel like I still have a long way to go and so much to still learn. That said, I have always believed that the only person who could limit me was myself, so I do things that scare me or intimidate me and continuously find out that much of life is just showing up and being willing to do the work. I have never been someone who could just take a paycheck and coast. The moment I master something I get bored, so I’ve continually found new ways to challenge myself. I taught strategic planning to college students for ten years. Initially writing that curriculum and teaching a year long course excited but intimidated me. I started to get bored and have since moved on to professional speaking both inside and outside the event industry, with a huge focus on strategic planning and helping the industry evolve. It is there and in writing two books that I have found my latest challenge and passion.
As for Strategic Meetings & Events, our clients come from almost any industry and host events anywhere in the world. We work with people who recognize the value of strategic events and want to harness their marketing and sales power. If someone just wants to go through the motions and check a box, we’re not a good fit for each other. My team takes tremendous pride in helping our clients set and then achieve client’s goals, identifying ways to reduce costs, drive revenue and redefine excellence-we won’t just take someone’s money. We have to partner with an organization that want us to help them drive change. I hire over achievers who have the same work ethic and pride in their talents as I do, so staying true to that our allows us to thrive. I have the ability to set the tone and culture for our company and I take that commitment very seriously. The result is a happy team and that translates into fantastic client relationships. Bottom line, I’d rather make less money and be happy than to sell out.
2) What’s the biggest challenge you face in your work?
My greatest personal challenge at work is reminding myself that I can’t take on new projects right now. I want to read every book, accept every paid offer to speak, mentor and coach everyone who asks for help, add more charities to the list I already support. It’s a lot of work to stay on track as there’s just so much I want to do, learn and share.
Landing new clients is always a work in progress. It’s my responsibility to make sure we have not just the right clients but the right number of client events on our calendar. That means not over extending as producing events ‘the SME Way’ requires an incredible amount of commitment and attention so we can’t take on too much at once. At the same time, I want to keep hiring new people and give them the opportunity to be part of the industry so I have to keep feeding the machine while maintaining a balance.
I have an enormous challenge with the industry as a whole-how planners are perceived, how we behave, how we allow ourselves to be treated. Until we evolve from event planners into event strategists we are going to be overlooked, undervalued, overworked and frustrated. I have the tools and roadmap for upping our game and learning more sophisticated ways to plan and think about events that I write, speak and coach on. My textbook on strategic planning will publish this year. That will be a huge step forward to achieving my goal to transform the industry.
3) What types of event-related technology do you use or interact with?
My team has taught me to embrace social media in a way I never would have without their encouragement. (That’s a nice way of admitting they had to shame me into it.) We use online registration systems and mobile apps that we customize for clients, have built out proprietary programs that check people in, in real time onsite, have embraced SMS marketing, audience response systems and RFID technology. Our social media presence is formidable and has really helped with awareness for the Strategic Planning Movement as well as showcasing the exceptional work SME is doing. It’s important to point out that a very smart and talented group of people do all this wiz-bang stuff for me/SME. I can’t take a bit of credit for our technological prowess.
4) What do you see as the biggest trend(s) in events this year, particularly in relation to event technology?
Technology can be a powerful tool to streamline processes, automate tasks, encourage networking, track attendee behavior and provide real time information. What it can’t do is replace the face to face experience that is unique to events and that is integral to building relationships and trusted partnerships. Think of how great everyone seems in their online profile and how often those same people are duds when you meet them in person. It’s imperative for people to remember that events can be enhanced by technology but cannot be replaced by it. There is too much to gain by sitting across from someone, getting their vibe and looking them in the eye.
Technology is changing the length of general sessions, how content is formatted and presented, how people process information and what they expect/need to remain engaged. AI and VR are on their way to the events world and, in my opinion, will transform tradeshow floors in particular.
5) If you could give event planners / marketers one piece of advice, what would that be?
Understand the power of events and what it means to be a strategic planner. Take pride in the work you do and learn how to do it well. Events are not glamorous and are not fun most of the time. They are powerful tools to support marketing and shorten the sales cycle. Understand the role you can play in helping your organization achieve their goals and adding to their bottom line. Take this job seriously and present yourself as a professional. If you want to be a planner for a living because you like to decorate and choose florals, be a wedding planner or a social planner. Corporate event planning is about goals, budgets, communication strategy, effectively disseminating content, leading teams and keeping your attendees safe and comfortable. If you don’t want to work that hard please find somewhere else to be, not just for your sake but for the sake of those who have committed their lives to doing this job with dignity and professionally. That may sound rude but we’ve allowed the profession to be peppered with people who don’t respect what we do or want to live up to high standards. Until we are willing to say the hard things, we won’t see change. My goal isn’t to be popular, it’s to be effective. The people I offend are almost always the ones who I’m politely asking to reevaluate their choices. I’m willing to do that if it helps the industry as a whole.