Laurie Powell: “Listening skills are the best skills a leader can have”

You have two ears and one mouth — Use them in the same proportion. Or as Burr says in the Broadway show, Hamilton “talk less, smile more.” Listening skills are the best skills a leader can have. By listening to my clients over 30+ years, I have been able to bring in hundreds of thousands of incremental […]

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You have two ears and one mouth — Use them in the same proportion. Or as Burr says in the Broadway show, Hamilton “talk less, smile more.” Listening skills are the best skills a leader can have. By listening to my clients over 30+ years, I have been able to bring in hundreds of thousands of incremental dollars…too many examples to give.

I had the pleasure to interview Laurie Powell, Vice President of Business Development at eventPower. Laurie has over 30 years of sales and management experience in both events and publishing. Laurie started her career at Miller Freeman, which at the time, was the largest business-to-business publisher and trade show producer in the world. At Miller Freeman, Laurie was Publisher for various trade magazines and the Director of Sales for its events. In 2001, Laurie joined Access Intelligence, another publisher and trade show producer, where she served as a Group Publisher of several magazines, websites and events. In 2010, she joined eventPower as Vice President of Business Development where she handles over 50 clients per year that have exhibit and sponsorship components. Laurie manages a sales team and customer support managers. Her team has managed clients with exhibit halls as large as 1,000 booths, 740 exhibiting companies and hundreds of sponsorships.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I started my career in Business to Business publishing and trade shows in 1987. I worked for Miller Freeman, which at the time was the largest b2b publisher of magazines and trade shows in the world. I started as an account executive and then moved up to be the first woman publisher of the commercial real estate magazine group, Commercial Property News. It was the 2nd largest property at Miller Freeman. I worked there for 13 years. After that, I followed the former CEO of Miller Freeman to Access Intelligence. I worked there for 8 years. I met my husband on vacation while working at Access Intelligence. It turns out he owned a company that produced conferences and events for the government and military. Being that there is a parallel with b2b magazines and b2b conferences it only made sense that eventually I would work for him. Fast forward 2 years, we got married and I was brought on to lead Business Development. Since then the company has evolved and now not only do we still produce conferences, we also offer software as a service for meeting planners.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

When I started with eventPower we were exclusively third-party meeting planners for the government and military. In 2010, events in the government and military took a huge hit. There were travel restrictions which hurt conferences due to the fact that attendees could not travel. There was sequestration and a story aired on CNN about how one government meeting spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a boondoggle. This perfect storm affected our event business with the government/military and it declined by 85%. We went from 25 events to 5 events in about 5 months. We knew we had to act fast and come up with a new value proposition to stay in business. We had already started creating meeting planning technology for our existing clients and thought…why can’t we market it to other meeting planners who needed technology to create efficiencies. Within 2 months, we rebranded to eventPower (formally Technology Forums) and signed up to exhibit at a meeting planning conference (Meeting Planners International — WEC). By doing so, it saved the company and we evolved from being a meeting planning company to a technology company that offers solutions for meeting planners.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I am not sure this is a funny story but it certainly is a true story — when I accepted the job with Access Intelligence, the CEO hired me based on my reputation at Miller Freeman and my ability to grow revenue exponentially. He put me in charge of three publications that were declining and hoped that I could turn them around. Not only did I not turn them around, but they ended up being the least successful magazines at Access Intelligence. God bless the CEO, Don Pazour, he never held it against me and still saw something in me. To this day, he still sees me as that woman who drives revenue.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We are the people behind the technology. Most developers of meeting planner software and technology are programmers and gear heads. We are meeting planners who by “accident” created technology for meeting planners. If it wasn’t for a bad situation with the government doing dramatic cutbacks, we would’ve never marketed our software.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

The number one initiative for this year is to revamp our exhibitor/sponsor contracting tool. In the meeting planning technology space, there are very few companies that offer this type of tool. We are hoping that by focusing on this tool and what the industry wants we’ll be able to get ahead of any potential competition.

In addition, we are always enhancing our tools. We are unlike most software companies that roll out different versions. As we add enhancements, all of our clients benefit from those enhancements and if a client asks for a customization, we rarely charge for the customization. We approach most customizations as looking to the future and figuring out how these customizations can enhance the product and bring in more clients. We truly listen to our existing customers to make our technology even better.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Honestly, I really don’t think of it as advice for other female leaders. I think it is for all leaders. You are only as good as the people who work for you. If their successful, it will bring you success. Listen to others. Just because you are a leader does not mean you have all of the solutions and all of the answers.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Listen, give your team the power, let them make mistakes and let them learn. And most importantly, make sure there is a work — life balance. You need to be happy in life to be successful and happy with work.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I started my first job at Miller Freeman at 23 years old. I was green and was learning. My first boss/mentor is a man named Adam Japko. Adam currently is the CEO of Esteem Media and has led many extremely successful companies like PennWell Corp and DigitalSherpa. Adam always believed in me. Fast forward, 30 years later, Adam found out about eventPower through a mutual friend. He has now hired our company to help him with his two conferences.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

My greatest joy are my children. My eldest son, Harrison was adopted at birth. As a result of his adoption and the joy it has brought to my husband and I, I decided to help others who are less fortunate and do not have the ability to afford adoption. I sit on the board of Gift of Adoption which does grants for people who are looking to adopt. I have taken my business development and sales skills and have helped convince others to support the organization.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. You have two ears and one mouth — Use them in the same proportion. Or as Burr says in the Broadway show, Hamilton “talk less, smile more.” Listening skills are the best skills a leader can have. By listening to my clients over 30+ years, I have been able to bring in hundreds of thousands of incremental dollars…too many examples to give.
  2. Be persistent — If you truly believe your company and its products really can create value to a potential prospect, don’t give up. I remember calling on a client, Stephen Roth the CEO of The Related Companies. At the time I had no idea how big he was in real estate and how much he was worth. I just knew that his company should support my product. I was so persistent that I got a meeting with him. What was unexpected was not only did he buy from me, but he also offered me a job (which I did not take).
  3. Learn to walk away- Sometimes your product is just not the right product for your prospect. Learn to accept that. I think every good sales person and leader has too many examples to share. You should always know when to walk away.
  4. Listen to your employees — Take the time to listen to your employees and if you see the value, go above and beyond for them. I recently made a mistake and did not listen enough. Ultimately, I lost an employee because I was afraid that if I acted on her behalf, I might hurt the feelings of another employee. Not only did I lose her, the other employee found out that I did not act or talk to her and it ended up damaging the relationship in the short term.
  5. Give feedback — The greatest thing you can do is give feedback. Sometimes positive feedback means more to an employee than a financial bonus. Our company recently started an employee of the month award. There is a minor financial incentive (a $100-dollar gift card) but I have noticed that the employees that have won are more about the feedback and less about the financial incentive.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I truly believe that everyone matters and can make an impact. I think of climate change. So many people say “I am one person how can I make an impact?” We are stronger as a whole but each individual makes that whole. If everyone was more conscious about how their actions affect the world we live in, the world would be a better place.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“No one ever said on their deathbed I wish I worked more.” I am not sure if this is an actual quote but my Dad, at 69, said this in his hospital bed the day before he passed. He had only retired 8 months earlier. I try to remember what he said, especially when I am working morning, noon and night. In an instant, your life can change.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Michelle Obama. I just read her book. She is a person of drive, integrity and compassion. She was not handed her life path; she created it. I truly believe that so much in life IS in your control. Like Michelle, I have always taken a can-do attitude which has paid off in the long run.

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