Collector - July 2018 - 56
Pulling Back the Curtain
Mary Thao, who helps bring ACA's events to life, knows a thing or two about controlled chaos.
By Katy Zillmer
NAME: MARY THAO, CMP
TITLE: DIRECTOR OF
MEETING AND EVENTS
EDUCATION: B.S., UNIVERSITY
PROFESSIONAL (CMP), EVENTS
PLANNER AWARD, 2014;
MINNESOTA MEETINGS &
EVENTS MAGAZINE'S BEST
MEETING PROFESSIONAL, 2012
ach year, hundreds of accounts
receivable management professionals
gather for ACA International's
Annual Convention & Exposition, and
Mary Thao, CMP, is an integral part of the
team behind the event's success.
As ACA's director of meeting and events,
it's Thao's job to make things happen: the
location, the food, the meet-ups and all
the other details that make ACA's events
so successful. It's not easy. In fact, there's a
reason why event coordinators consistently
make the top five in CareerCast's annual
Most Stressful Jobs list-just after police
officers and enlisted military personnel.
Here, Thao shares a little of what goes into
planning the association's biggest event of
You have more than 10 years of
event planning experience at ACA.
What do you find exciting about it?
The pre-planning process absolutely
has its ups and downs, but in the end
the reason why I love my job is because we
get to be on site to see that our hard work
has brought together a group of wonderful,
like-minded people who want to learn so
they can help each other and the industry.
What goes into planning
ACA's Annual Convention
Every ACA team member touches the
convention planning process, and my
job is to piece together all the moving parts.
We plan each convention three to four years
in advance to determine locations, and then
kickoff the process again about 18 months
prior to the convention. Aside from general
logistics, planning the convention also
includes music licensing, negotiating hotel
food costs and asking about construction
plans that may affect attendees, for starters.
We spend a lot of time behind the scenes
with both the city and the venues.
From an insider's perspective, how
can members make the most of
their convention experience?
Make sure you are saying hello and
connecting with the people next to
you, whether it's at the registration desk,
expo hall, sessions or special events.
Everyone at the convention is there for the
same reason, and connecting with them will
only help you!
Do you have any adventures or
mishaps to share from your past
The most fun I have on site is with the
ACA team. We get to know each other
on a whole different level. Everyone pitches
in, no matter what their actual job. We get
so busy we forget what day of the week it
is, so inside our staff office at the venue, we
post a daily sign that says: "Today is [insert
day of the week]."
As far as mishaps, one comes to mind:
For some of our keynote speakers, we host a
quick meet-and-greet after their presentation.
One year the keynote needed to be escorted
through the hotel service corridors to get
to the meet-and-greet so he wouldn't get
bombarded in the hallways. The hotel lost
him in transition. We had a line of people
waiting for him and I had a quiet panic attack
in the foyer with the hotel staff, only to learn
that the speaker had somehow found his way
into the room already. Crisis avoided!
Katy Zillmer is ACA International's