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AVNation ICONS: Maria R. Davis, CMP

Creative Collaboration for Memorable Meetings and Events

03/21/2024 – Sometimes, an experience inspires us and lights a fire that becomes a passion. Even a career! For Maria Davis, a 23-year career in hotel convention sales and operations began with a stay in the Al Bustan Palace, a 5-star luxury hotel in Muscat, Oman, while visiting her father over the Christmas Holidays.

“What impressed me most was the hospitable and elegant environment – marble flooring, gilded ceilings, crisp staff uniforms, food displays, the smell of flowers, etc.” notes Davis, “I thought it would be nice to work in that kind of environment someday.”

Davis made it happen, first earning a Bachelor of Science in Tourism Management from the University of the Philippines – Asian Institute of Tourism. She went on to work for several international hotel chains, including Holiday Inn, Hyatt, and Hilton. Much of her career was spent in a convention sales manager role, working closely with meeting planners searching for the right conference venue. Davis is also a Certified Meeting Professional (CMP), an internationally recognized certification through the Events Industry Council.

Her experience and expertise led to her moving on to ‘the other side’ in 2014 when she became the Director of Meetings and Partner Relations for Missouri REALTORS, the largest trade association in the state.

“Due to all the meeting planner interactions while working in hotel sales, I was able to see what their challenges were and what they needed help with,” Davis says. “When I switched sides and became a meeting planner at Missouri REALTORS, it was an easy transition for me since I was familiar with the operations side of the business.”

Collaborating With CTI

Davis was nominated for her AV ICON award by CTI, a nationwide audio-visual live events and integration company with which she collaborates regularly. “Not often do you find a meeting planner that cares about her attendees but also cares about the people that she hires,” notes Tammy Joiner, an Event Sales Consultant in CTI’s Saint Louis office, adding, “It’s rare you find a meeting planner that cares about the people that she hires as much as the attendees. She takes great care of our technicians. We feel like we’re part of her staff.

Davis, her team, and CTI act as the hub for the hundreds of moving parts related to a conference or event, and working to manage details that change by the minute or by the second can be challenging. Joiner notes, “Maria is incredibly organized and always keeps us in the loop. She’s responsive and moves fast. She wants to understand and learn. That’s all less common than you’d think in the events industry.”

“Events can change, sometimes at the last minute,” says Joiner, “and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Maria without a smile.”

The feelings are mutual. “The meetings industry mantra is: ‘When We Meet, We Change The World,’” says Davis, “My mantra for CTI is: ‘With CTI collaboration, meetings change for the better.’”

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“When COVID hit, we started revisiting how we were delivering our conferences to our members. That’s how CTI came into the picture,” notes Davis, “because we really needed to upgrade our services. It wasn’t going to strictly be an in-person meeting. Therefore, we needed to engage people online and switch to a hybrid format, especially for the bigger sessions on the agenda. CTI was instrumental and very helpful as we moved back to in-person meetings.”

Meeting Planner Essentials: Passion, Organization, Humor and The Grid

“Some people think conferences are easy to put together,” Davis says, “but there’s a lot of detail and research that goes into it.” At a typical Missouri REALTORS Business Conference, those 40 to 50 separate meetings will take place within two to three days. She starts two years in advance to find the right venue because finding one with the size and time availability can be challenging.

“I look for a venue that can hold our agenda,” she says. “The way I’m able to determine that is, I look at the biggest meeting we’re going to have at a particular conference. For example, the venue needs to accommodate classroom seating for 300 or more, 100-plus for theater-type seating, and a stage in front of the room to hold a head table for seven.”

Davis puts together a grid, which lays out all the meeting space with the capacities. She then assigns meetings to each room using blocks of time. If the space can support the entire agenda and required room block, along with additional meeting requirements, she initiates the contract negotiation process.

The grid becomes a reference for the twenty staff members in Davis’ office. They can see the entire conference agenda, the list of speakers, the types of AV needed, room assignments, food and beverages being served, and all the timelines. All the departments use it to execute all the conference details. CTI’s Joiner adds, “It really helps all the individuals involved in the event. For our team, several documents show the room turns, the start and end of each meeting, and event specs for each room, such as room layout, the a/v equipment, who is providing the gear, etc. It’s a step-by-step walk-through of the entire event, every day, from start to finish! That kind of preparation is incredibly useful.”

“You have to have a passion for meeting planning, a genuine desire to help people and give them an excellent, comfortable environment to meet in, to be successful,” Davis says. “I love what I do because of the people that I get to work with. The energy, enthusiasm, and creativity from the endless collaboration make a vision become a reality. Working with CTI is certainly a large part of this endeavor.”

“This job is not for the faint of heart, as things can change in an instant. You deal with a whole range of personalities. There’s a lot of stress and a lot of hours on your feet,” Davis says. “But, with humor, calm, and quick thinking, I’m always ready to start planning another conference/event.

“It’s very rewarding to see everything fall into place, resulting in a memorable event enjoyed by many.”

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