by Sarah J.F. Braley and Michael J. Shapiro | February 01, 2016

A recent Forbes report on Millennials delineated some basic characteristics of this generation that perhaps verge on stereotype: They love technology, they're very social, they love to collaborate, they seek adventure and they're passionate about values. In compiling this special feature, we found such descriptors to be quite accurate, certainly with respect to our subjects' involvement in meetings. Here are 22 up-and-coming young professionals whose talents and passion portend well for the future of our industry.  


National sales manager
Experience Columbus, Ohio

Just three and a half years into her time at Experience Columbus, the destination marketing organization for the 15th largest city in the U.S., Barnhardt handles the Washington, D.C., market, the Northeast, and events featuring 551 people and more on peak night. She credits colleagues Dan Williams, CTA, vice president of convention sales, and Angela Hammond, director of sales, with allowing her to learn as she goes. On her own, Barnhardt created a program in partnership with Designer Shoe Warehouse to meet with planners throughout the country, introducing them to Columbus, her own hometown.

"I didn't even know hotels had salespeople until three years ago," says the kickboxing aficionado who also has a love of craft beers.

Barnhardt plans on earning her CMP credential by year's end.

Director of global sales
Ovation Global DMC, Dublin, Ireland

Shortly after joining Ovation nearly a decade ago, just out of college, Aoife Delaney got involved with the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence. By 2009, she was co-chair of the SITE Young Leaders Committee, and two years later she was chosen to chair the SITE International Conference in Las Vegas. Now she is the youngest president-elect in the history of SITE, set to take the helm in 2017.

Concurrently, Delaney has climbed Ovation's ranks to become director of global sales for the destination management company, and she serves on the Education Committee for Financial and Insurance Conference Planners.

"I'm also a qualified yoga instructor," Delaney points out. "This industry is quite taxing on the mind and the body, and I needed something to help myself not burn out."

Delaney is pleased to note the gradual shift in the industry toward wellness, which she incorporates into programs when she can. "When I started 10 years ago, it was not cool to not drink and stay out late at an event," she recalls. "Whereas now it's very acceptable in the industry to turn in early and get up for a run before breakfast."

Account manager
AlliedPRA, Las Vegas

A former professional cheerleader, Thuy Diep still exudes a cheerleader's energy and enthusiasm. In addition to her account manager job at AlliedPRA, a destination management company, she is the director of education for the International Special Events Society and a young professionals member of the National Association for Catering and Events. She is on track to earn her CSEP, CPCE and DMCP certificates over the next two years.

Diep attended the International School of Hospitality in Las Vegas; looking back, she counts the school's administrators as important early mentors and a continuing source of professional inspiration.

One piece of advice she likes to give: Choose a company based on the culture you want to be a part of. "I knew I wanted to work at AlliedPRA," she recalls. "The only opening they had was for an administrative assistant, so I applied." Diep got the job, which got her foot in the door, and within a year she was promoted to sales coordinator and then to account manager.

"I like that progression," says Diep. "You can't do a round-off back handspring without learning how to do a handstand."

Sustainability project manager
MeetGreen, Portland, Ore.

As with many people working in the meetings industry, Aaron Elliott came into it in a roundabout way: After stints as an environmental scientist and Washington, D.C., lobbyist, he landed a job with MeetGreen, the Portland, Ore.-based sustainable-events firm. Today he works with planners and suppliers as a consultant to make events more environmentally friendly.  

Elliott credits MeetGreen's director of sustainability, Shawna McKinley, with teaching him how the industry works. "Just watching her be patient with people, how she works with hotels that don't often do sustainability, is very educational," he says.

Elliott spends his spare time playing bass guitar, but his work at MeetGreen can be all-consuming: "I've learned you're not going to win everything," he says, "but if you can make a small change, it can make a huge impact."

Marketing coordinator
Caesars Entertainment, Las Vegas

As a marketing strategy specialist who gets a rush from planning big events, Molly Ferree has found the perfect role at Caesars Entertainment, where she can do it all. As lead marketer for the upcoming Meeting Professionals International World Education Congress, for example, set for June at Harrah's Atlantic City, she is responsible for all of the myriad venue details. "I love working with others on a big project like this," she says. "To have a leading role in making sure it's successful for Caesars, Atlantic City and MPI is an awesome challenge."

Born and raised in Missouri, Ferree attended university in Spokane, Wash., and completed her MBA in London -- which included a research stint in Thailand. She says she keeps herself so busy that her friends make fun of her for not being able to relax at home. When time permits, Ferree takes advantage of the local area's great outdoors by climbing and hiking, and indulges her passion for food. On her to-do list: Find the best off-the-Strip restaurants in town.