Tyra Hilliard is an expert in reinvention—professionally and personally. Her passion for change is reflected in her career which has included management roles in hotels, travel, meetings and events, law, catering, and academia. 

 Whether acting in her capacity as a speaker, an educator, or a writer, Tyra is driven by a mission to bridge the gap between knowledge and action, theory and practice, goals and achievements.

She is the co-author of a book on Event Project Management as well as a blog, The Irreverent Professor, where she writes about life, learning, and change in a uniquely blunt and sometimes comical way.  She is also published and widely quoted on legal and crisis management issues in academic and industry publications. 

 She has been invited to share her irreverent approach to life, business, and hospitality with groups worldwide.  She also teaches college courses in business, hospitality, and event management.

 Tyra has been honored for professional achievement as an Educator by the Professional Convention Management Association and received national recognition for her contributions to best practices initiatives with the Convention Industry Council and Meeting Professionals International. 

 She is one of only two people in the world to have a law degree, a PhD in Hospitality, and a CMP.

Our hero, Tyra Hilliard’s bio speaks well of her and as a friend, I would like to add that she is wickedly smart and has an enormous heart.  She is passionate in her belief that we can make this world a better place and encourages all her students to be a part of a bright future.  Tyra is an inspiration to so many of us in this industry as well as a trusted colleague when thoughtful guidance is required.

During this interview, at a time of heightened tension around the world, she offers sage counsel to professionals in the meeting and event industry.  We share her wisdom with you…

What changes do you anticipate in the meeting and event industry in the next five years? Are there any trends that concern you?

One change I hope to see is more variety within meetings and events. Most conferences I attend are mirror images of each other.  No matter how much the word “innovation” is thrown around, I see very little of it in our industry.  I see different room sets, calls for more “interaction,” and uses of technology, but too many of these things end up just being gimmicky rather than meaningful differences. Until meeting and event professionals start focusing on people first and then building meetings and events around their differences and preferences, there will be no true innovation.

How do you see external threats such as terrorism or extreme weather impacting the industry?

I was recently reading that one of the trends for 2016 is increased concerns about safety and security.  This of course concerns me, not so much because I think there are greatly increased threats.  I find that people are more influenced by popular press than the realities of risk.  Rather, it concerns me because fear affects our industry much more than any actualized threat ever will. When something bad happens anywhere in the world, travel is one of the first things affected.  And it is affected not just in the locale where the adverse event occurred, but in nearby and remote areas.  So with a heightened concern for safety and security, there is a big concern that we will see overreactions that will adversely affect our meetings and events in the near future.

On the up side, a heightened concern about safety and security may also mean meeting and event professionals will spend more time becoming crisis prepared—creating a risk management plan, training staff, investing in equipment, and so on.

One more thing to add – the big difference between terrorism and extreme weather is that people are much more resilient to an event like extreme weather, where no one is at fault.  If a destination or venue is not so damaged by an extreme weather event that it affects it from a desirability standpoint, there should be a very small window of impact around an extreme weather event.  A terrorism event, however, strikes fear into people’s hearts and has that compounding effect I mentioned earlier.

What advice do you have for industry professionals in dealing with any of these issues?

Make decisions based on the facts.  For example, surveys regularly show that international meeting planners say one of their top fears is terrorism.  The data shows that very few U.S. travelers die from terrorism.  The vast majority of deaths are from road traffic.  So in making decisions about what to prepare for, make plans based on facts, not fears—have a plan for terrorism, but be sure you prepare for pedestrian and traffic accidents, too.  Likewise, educating attendees about the facts and keeping them apprised of the real situation is critical.  They will be seeking out information.  They can either make their decisions based on the inflammatory information they find on the Internet or on the dispassionate facts you have gathered from on-the-ground sources specifically for them.

What do you wish you knew when you first started in this business?

I wish I had known that were so many different avenues to take in the meetings and events industry and that I didn’t have to worry about getting “bored.”  I am infamous (at least in my family) for getting bored every 3-4 years and making a major overhaul in my life—whether it’s going back to school, adding a family member, or moving to another state.  So when I chose meeting planning as my career, I immediately worried about what I would do “next.”  Twenty-five years later, I am still in the industry.  I’ve been fortunate to be able to do many things in and around the industry by re-tooling and re-inventing myself every few years without ever having to leave the industry and the people that I love.

Are you involved in any new initiatives in 2016?

A friend (and you know who you are, Nancy) has encouraged me to do some writing for the industry.  I hope to become disciplined enough to find time enough to do that.  There are some resources that I think the meetings and events industry needs that I would love to help create.

What inspires you?

I am greatly inspired by my son.  I love how creative he is—how he can turn six paper towel tubes and a roll of carpet tape into a pine cone shooter mounted on a magnolia tree. I love how adventurous he is—even when he makes my already high blood pressure race when he waves at me high up in the oak tree he’s climbed. I love how “focentrated” (focused-concentrated, his word) he can be when he’s trying to figure out how to build something with spare pieces of wood and lengths of rope.  He can be snuggly and sneaky, funny and frustrating, cute and curmudgeonly. He is six years old and he marches to the beat of his own drummer.  I want to be like him when I grow up.

There is no better inspiration than seeing the world through the eyes of a child.   Tyra, you have always marched to the beat of your own drummer with your authentic, irreverent style.  Thank you for sharing your time and thoughts with those of us who want to be just like you when we grow up.