Interviews with Planners - Lisé Puckorius

As CEO of the OLC Education and Conference Center, Lisé Puckorius is responsible for managing and overseeing the day-to-day operations of this 14,000 square feet state-of-the-art conference and training center in Rosemont, IL, a venue that hosts conferences, seminars, educational meetings, and special events for participants from around the world.

A veteran in the meetings industry, Puckorius brings extensive experience in event planning and education management to the Center. Prior to joining the OLC, Lisé was the global event strategist for the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine (ACRM), where she managed a virtual team for the organization’s annual conference that experienced rapid growth during her tenure. Lisé also gained immeasurable knowledge in the meeting and events community working with a wide variety of healthcare organizations as senior vice president of event services at SmithBucklin, and while working at AT Kearney, and the Chicago Convention Bureau.

In addition, Puckorius served as executive vice president of Embark, LLC, where she helped create an innovative website – ConferenceIQ - that hosts the world’s largest online directory of events for promoting meetings and events, and connecting attendees, speakers and event organizers.

What is the best advice you have ever received as an event planner?
1: Remember the fundamentals. What is the purpose of your event or meeting? Understand your organization’s objectives, and what you are trying to achieve. Keep a focus on those goals and make sure you are planning the event or meeting from your audience’s perspective.

2: Have a master plan that includes flexibility. No matter how well every event or meeting is planned, down to even the smallest details, changes will happen. Make a “what if” plan for what could go wrong, and it won’t be a disaster when something doesn’t go as anticipated.

What is the most unique location you have ever planned an event at? What was great, what was challenging?
While at AT Kearney, we hosted 100 international executives at Texas Stadium, where the Dallas Cowboys used to play. At the time, it was one of the largest stadiums, yet we were hosting an intimate group for an exclusive recognition event for the Dallas AT Kearney corporate headquarters’ office.

Of course, like every other event, we had to stay on budget. We were entertaining global executives who were not familiar with American football in general, let alone any players! In addition, we had secured a famous former Dallas Cowboy player for the event and he wasn’t allowed to wear any team attire.

First, when we brought the executives on the field, we highlighted their names on the Jumbotron. We brought soccer balls out onto the field, and the global executives proceeded to play an impromptu game of “football” (soccer in the U.S.). The former football player was also on the field dressed in a suit, which allowed the executives to interact with him one-on-one and ask questions. To give our guests a taste of the U.S. we created a menu that was all about a taste of the NFL – we highlighted local favorites from different NFL cities.

Despite the challenge of placing a small group event in a mega venue on a tight budget, it was a memorable experience that exceeded everyone’s expectations. The executives especially enjoyed getting out from around the table to meet and mingle with each other in a unique setting.

What advice would you give to someone entering the event planning business today?
Service to others and staying positive is at the core of event management. In most cases, if someone pulls off a successful meeting or event, no one knows. If you like being in the limelight, or want public recognition, this may not be the industry for you. However, when an event goes well, there is tremendous satisfaction and gratification of a job well done.

If you are just getting started, shadow someone. You will see what it’s really about behind the scenes and what it takes to be successful – surviving long hours and days, and sometimes getting yelled at because the chicken at lunch was cold.

In the hustle and bustle of our day-to-day lives, one of my key mantras I try to do each day is: Always do something for somebody else, always do something for yourself, and always learn something new.

What do you see as the most challenging aspect of being an event planner, and how do you overcome that challenge?
It goes back to understanding your meeting or event goal. The most successful event and meeting planners are those who can understand the importance of working to accomplish those goals. And at the same time, it is important to be able to operate in a business environment. Meeting planning includes overseeing a budget and often a team so you will need the business acumen to responsibly manage those also. 

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How do you think the meeting and event planning industry will evolve in the next five years?
Walt Disney said it first: “It’s a small world.” Yet, I think our world will get even smaller. We have to understand and realize that we are all in this sandbox together. So, whatever is happening here or in other parts of the world affects our meetings and events – whether travel restrictions mean it will be harder for attendees to attend our meetings, or we have to pay more for orange juice at breakfast because of the recent natural disasters.

What makes you successful as an event planner?
One, I constantly develop my skill set. For me, reading is a priority. I read non-fiction, then fiction, then non-fiction again. It helps keep me current on ideas and topics so I can have an intelligent conversation on hot topics with all the different people I encounter daily.

Another is the concept that meetings and events often provide the only face-to-face environment for adults to learn. I try to keep up-to-date on new ideas and trends in adult learning techniques.

In your opinion, what is the best and worst industry trend of the year?
Technology is obviously changing the face of meetings and events, but we can’t let it detract from our goals or the experiences we are trying to provide. As more and more people work remotely, there is a good chance they are interacting less and less with their peers. That means the events or meetings they attend are so much more critical for interaction. We can’t let technology take away from those valuable face-to-face connections, but use it wisely to augment those in-person connections.

Also, it’s a good thing more planners and venues are looking at food and beverage differently – sourcing ingredients locally and sustainably, or selecting menus with allergy or dietary restrictions in mind. While menu selection was much easier when I started, an increased focus on attendee food preferences is healthier for everyone.

What are the best industry books that have helped you as an event planner?
Some of the best books that have helped me are business books: 

Lisé A. Puckorius, CEO
OLC Education & Conference Center
Affiliations and Memberships:
American Society of Association Executives
Meeting Professionals International
Professional Conference Management Association
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