An Interview with Abby Eastman, Director of Events & Communications, SDI

by Monica Sager, Intern, SDI

October 23 is Event Organizers Day, a time to celebrate the centuries of event planning and the success that has come with it. Event planners have helped to pave a way through history, and, in our modern society, their tasks go beyond just sending invitations and finding venues. Due to the complexities of hosting an increasingly globalized audience, the responsibilities of event planners have also become more complex and challenging.

Our director of events and communications, Abby Eastman, is a Certified Meeting Professional (CMP), a designation recognized globally as a badge of excellence in the events industry.  As the pandemic took its toll on live-event gatherings, Eastman pivoted to help SDI clients, such as  the Sea Services Leadership Association and Mary Furlong and Associates, a leader in the longevity market, transition their large in-person events for 2020 to virtual formats, while mapping out long-term strategies.

Eastman shared her knowledge and expertise within the field with me during a conversation looking at the events industry, Eastman’s career, and what the COVID-19 pandemic has changed.

Monica: How long have you been in the event management industry, and what inspired you to get into it?

Abby: During my undergraduate career, I was always seeking opportunities to get involved on campus. The majority of the volunteer positions that appealed to me involved some form of event planning, and production. I served as a member of the student alumni association, class leadership, and held positions within my sorority that allowed me to develop a baseline of skills that I still use today. After college I knew I wanted to get into the hospitality and tourism industry. I’ve now been producing events for 10+ years and have loved each experience.

M: Why do you enjoy event management?

A: The most satisfying part of being an events professional is being able to see all of your hard work over months or even years come to fruition. Being onsite or virtually at an event and watching attendees engage in the program you’ve curated is so rewarding.

M: What has been your biggest event achievement so far?

A: It’s hard to pick just one! I think studying and preparing for my certified meeting planner exam and passing the exam was a big accomplishment for me and is a challenge I took upon myself to continue to develop personally and professionally in this field.

M: Is virtual easier than in-person events in any way?

A: Absolutely not! While virtual events have been around for a long time, they’ve now become a necessity. There are many organizations out there that have never hosted a virtual event. And because of that it’s been a big learning curve for not only planners, but also for clients, attendees, partners of events, etc. The most important thing is to not assume that individuals are comfortable in a virtual environment. You must account for that learning period in your event planning timeline and be able to pivot on a daily basis.

M: What is one thing you didn’t expect to see come out of the pandemic that has influenced events?

A: It is not so much unexpected, as it is an overwhelming feeling of pride to see how we as event professionals have banded together to help one another through the pandemic. The DC Events Coalition (part of the greater Live Events Coalition) has done a fantastic job bringing us together to discuss the challenges we are facing as an industry, ways others are overcoming it, and how we can find solutions to continue to move forward together.

M: Do you think events will be changed forever now?

A: Forever is a scary word for a lot of people. Do I think events in the foreseeable future will be changed? Yes. Do I think events will return to how they used to be before Covid? No, but that’s okay! There are so many new policies and procedures that have been implemented that would continue to prevent the spread of germs and other illnesses even after the pandemic is over. This whole thing has taught us the importance of contingency planning, escalation planning, maintaining sterile venues/facilities, overcommunicating to your attendees prior to the event, and minimizing multiple individuals touching the same surfaces especially surrounding food and beverage, audio visual, and registration check-in. As an industry we should continue to evolve and come up with new innovative ways to keep our audiences safe.